What is most eye-catching is the expression on the baby’s face. It expresses sheer delight. It seems to say, “I am eating the most wonderful thing on earth. And I am having immense fun eating it.” The baby has its eyes solely on the rice. It is totally wrapped up in the business of getting the rice in its mouth. The only thing on its mind is enjoying what it is eating.
That is precisely the way I don’t eat now. I eat now, like everybody else I know, as if I am performing a chore. Something I have to do. Or something I need to do. So, I eat fast. Before I have finished a mouthful, I shovel another mouthful. Before I have fully chewed a morsel, I swallow to make place for the next morsel. On the occasions that I eat something I really love, I also do what others do. I eat faster.
When I attended a Buddhist retreat in Virginia, the dinner hall amazed me. It was preternaturally quiet, most people eating in silence. The food was healthy and modest, and the monks were eating it leisurely and respectfully, heedful of what they were taking in. It was a stark contrast to the noisy, rambunctious scene of the average restaurant, which often takes on the semblance of a brassy pagan festival of Roman times.
I was surprised to discover how little was the hunger pang I felt. I realized that I eat more from habit than from need. My body certainly does not need all that I am stuffing into it. It may be a great idea to stop and give the body a chance to tell you it needs sustenance.
Instead of feeling feeble or depleted, my body functioned superbly. Maybe it enjoyed the relief from its digestive duties. I did not have any inkling of weakness. On the contrary, I felt a certain keenness of mind, some ease of focus, an easier slide into a meditative frame.
Since I prepare my own food, I relished the holiday from buying, cooking, baking and washing. Including the time for eating, I felt I had an extra length of time gifted to me. My reading improved and my writing increased.
The biggest windfall was that I learned or re-learned how to eat. After the fast, I went to eat some cherries. They were red and luscious, and I put a bunch in my mouth. I realized my mistake immediately: I was gobbling, not eating, not really tasting the cherries. I started putting them in my mouth slowly, one by one, letting one dissolve completely before I tried the next. I tasted each one, discretely and pointedly. They were unspeakably delicious.
Just as my mother would have fed me.