A natural foods chef looks at how meal blessings can fundamentally change our relationship to food, and help repair our relationship to the natural world.
by Marcella Friel, originally published in the Shambhala Times
Several months ago, I was visiting a dear sangha friend who read to me the following excerpt from Acharya Jeremy Hayward’s book, Warrior King of Shambhala: Remembering Chögyam Trungpa. The excerpt recounts a comment made by a Tibetan lama named Thrangu Rinpoche, who was one of the Dorje Dradul’s closest heart brothers and friends:
[The Dorje Dradul] told me that America is a very developed country, in many ways. But there was a problem because there’s been so much destruction of the land, the land has been wasted and destroyed…. Also most people in America aren’t from this land but come from other places originally, and are not indigenous to the land, so they don’t have any particular native culture…. So although externally it is a highly developed country, the people suffer inwardly from diminished or depressed life energy, and depressed or damaged drala….
In the instant I heard these words, I recognized the root of our collective struggle with mindful eating.
Food culture is the basis of human culture. For millennia, indigenous societies have anchored and organized themselves around the tribal rituals of growing, hunting, harvesting, preparing, and eating food. The reliability of those cycles—planting in the spring, tending in the summer, harvesting in the fall, and storing for the winter—connected human beings directly to each other and to the rhythms of nature. It created a sense of belonging both to the tribe and to the dralas, or elemental forces, that birthed the food on the table.
According to renowned Zen chef Edward Espe Brown, the cultures that are still connected to these rituals have the lowest occurrences of eating disorders. “Conversely,” Brown explains, “we see that ours is a culture with few eating rituals and numerous disorders.” In modern society, few of us, as Thrangu Rinpoche noted, live on the land we came from. We eat a diet that’s not only radically different from our ancestral fare; it’s a diet that’s disembodied from the earth itself.
Divorced from the natural cycles and tribal activity that brought food to us in the past, our industrialized food system erases all continuity outside of its appearance on the supermarket shelves or in the fast-food menu. It’s the food of the setting-sun world, in which, as the Dorje Dradul explains, “everything is compartmentalized, so you can never experience things completely.” That compartmentalization leaves us prone to damaged drala: the compromised life force that manifests as food addiction, disordered eating, and degenerative disease.
Isolated within our own thinking, we beat ourselves up for our addictive eating habits. We solidify our sense of ourselves as weak willed, unworthy, and undisciplined; our lives and our society become barbaric. Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. We can heal this dismal predicament through the practice of Great Eastern Sun vision. The Dorje Dradul describes Great Eastern Sun vision as an ecological approach “based on appreciating ourselves.… We take care of our bodies, we take care of our minds, and we take care of our world.”
How do we turn the setting-sun habits of our addictive food behaviors into Great Eastern Sun vision? We begin by slowing down. We practice simple rituals and blessings before we put the first bite in our mouth. Author and physician Gabor Mate points out that the ceremonial use of a substance is the direct opposite of the addictive use. Whereas food addictions reinforce our alienation in a hostile world, food rituals elevate our consciousness and celebrate our connection to a larger, benevolent universe. They also, according to chef and nutritionist Rebecca Katz, downshift our nervous system out of fight-or-flight mode and into a parasympathetic state, which makes our food easier to digest.
My favorite mealtime ritual is putting my hands on my heart, closing my eyes, and taking three conscious breaths. Much like bowing before entering the meditation hall, such a gesture creates an energetic transition from everyday speed into sacred space. Meeting our food with meditative awareness, we relax our harsh self-judgment into simple witnessing. We dowse our emotional landscape for the groundwater of compassion, where it forms the touchstone of unconditional self-love, which in turn is the greatest gift we can give others.
While we might not ever return to the foodways of our ancestors, we can invoke the consciousness of sacred appreciation through the simple act of slowing down, pausing, and recognizing the interconnected constellation of beings seen and unseen that ensure our daily nourishment. Through the power of Great Eastern Sun vision, we restore our damaged drala and emerge from addictive bondage to recognize our lives as worth living and our earth as worth saving. Cultivating this vision is our sacred task at this time.
Marcella Friel is a natural foods chef who has cooked and taught in meditation retreat centers throughout North America. She now runs Tapping with Marcella, a food and body image coaching practice that helps health-conscious adults love and forgive themselves, their food, and their figure.
Editor’s note: readers interested in learning more can consider taking Marcella’s upcoming class, “Mindful Eating: Joining Heaven and Earth at the Meal Table,” which opens April 30, 2016 through Shambhala Online.
In this clip, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche responds to a question from a young man who is inspired by The Shambhala Principle, but struggles with how to live and embody it, given his challenging circumstances. This took place on May 7, 2015, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. To see the entire video talk, click here.
Enjoy this short clip of Acharya Eve Rosenthal, speaking from Mexico City on how every human can engage both feminine and masculine energies — accommodation and activity — in a dynamic and healthy way. In English with Spanish translation. For the entire talk, click here.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche will give a live talk on The Strength of Basic Goodness from Amsterdam on Friday, September 26 at 3pm Atlantic. See it live and/or watch the recording at any time over the weekend. This one is open to the public, so invite friends, family and the Shambha-curious. More details here.
Then, the Sakyong will teach on the Shambhala Sadhana on December 6, 2pm Atlantic, from Halifax. Gather all Sadhakas; gather, gather, ho! Register here.
This morning as I was driving to Boulder to pick up the camera for a Shambhala Online Kasung program, I was feeling a bit disappointed because the Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche is giving a special weekend of teachings at the Boulder Shambhala Center. I knew of this long ago and planned to attend, but I didn’t register before it was sold out. I told myself I could just go to the teachings he’ll be giving in Denver (where I live), but learned on Thursday that program was two weeks ago, so I missed that as well.
I’m driving and feeling a little low, wondering if maybe I could just drop in and listen to a talk by Thrangu Rinpoche (of course not). My phone was on shuffle, playing random musical selections, when a talk by Sayong Mipham Rinpoche comes on about the importance of the view. One of the things he says is that the mind of the budhha is not different from ours. It’s all one mind. All from the same family. Of course he’s right, and as I listen to the Sakyong sharing these insights, I feel better, blessed even. There’s nothing to see, nothing to miss that isn’t already right here. This richness that we enjoy as part of this lineage is so precious.
Listen to the post here:
Or, The Importance of Daydreaming
“In practicing awareness in everyday life, at a certain point, the wandering mind itself, the daydreaming mind itself, turns itself into awareness and reminds you.” The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume 2. Glimpses of Abhidharma, p. 291.
As meditators we train the mind for stability, focus, and awareness. While we strive to be present and awake at every moment, it turns out the brain (not to be confused with the mind) needs to go into wandering mode every so often in order to function optimally. It’s just how the brain rolls, according to an article on the neuroscience of attention by Daniel J. Levitin in the New York Times.
One of my favorite neuroscientists, the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, advised meditators to take a break to refresh the mind when the mind can no longer hold to the object of meditation. “Fresh start,” he called it. His methodology for studying the mind, which relied more on the bare bulb of awareness, preceded the flowering of the cognitive sciences, but his conclusions are in line with today’s brightest minds, so to speak.
The brain reaches a point when it is saturated and needs to switch out of focused problem-solving and into daydreaming mode. That’s when the brain relaxes, and moments of insight and creativity are most likely to arise. Our culture’s emphasis on productivity can make taking an intentional daydream break seem like a travesty; in reality, switching from focused mind to unfocused mind is a necessity. If we don’t do it consciously, the brain will do it for us. Taking a walk or listening to music can act as a neural reset, refreshing the brain for more sustained periods of focus.
Surfing, tweeting and emailing do not count as zoning out, however much we may think of these activities as down time. “If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods,” suggests Levitin. Focus on a single activity for 30 to 50 minutes, then take a break.
If you think of open meditation, or resting the mind without a focal point, as simple awareness, which attention system is in play — focus mode or daydream mode? What do you think?
Some 20 warriors took the lifetime oath as Dorje Kasung in mid-July at Shambhala Mountain Center, as the Sacred World Assembly drew to a close. Kasung Kyi Kyap Jesse Grimes and Dapon White and Master of the Court Mark Thorpe officiated the event, offering words of inspiration to the group of 50 Kasung. (There was so much khaki in the room, even the photo is khaki colored!)
After the oath ceremony, the lung was read for a special vajrayana practice for Kasung. Shambhala Online will host an online practice for this in August 2014. Stay tuned for details.
Over this last week tulip leaves and brave crocuses poked through the cool ground to see the sun, only to be covered by a wet, sloppy snowfall. Now the snow is receding and the bulbs hold forth. These seasonal moments bolster my sense that a huge flowering in Shambhala is rumbling underneath the surface, like so many overwintering bulbs just ready to burst through the cold ground seeking the sun’s warmth.
At Shambhala Online we have a tiny window on the aspirations of Shambhalians around the world. People email us to say, “I’m hoping to go to Enlightened Society Assembly this summer and need to take…” Or, “How can I finish my group ngöndro credits in time for abisheka?” It’s as though we are all seeking the light, reaching out for the next phase of growth. Before long, groups will gather at the land centers to study and practice, to teach and learn, to meet fellow travelers and share a moment, a meal, a mantra.
The senior teachers of Shambhala – our amazing group of acharyas – are gathered now at Shambhala Mountain Center. They’re hearing the Sakyong teach, catching up with one another, planning for the year to come. We will enjoy the fruits of their retreat, as they teach in the months to come. Like so many sunflowers turning toward the sun, we will absorb what is given, bloom forth and drop the seeds along the way for others to discover.