The Zen of Eating

In response to one of my food-related entries, I recently received this note from a fellow blogger; “Nicole in Pittsburgh.” Since I’ve been so big on this idea of mindfulness lately – reading through a few of my old Thich Nhat Hanh books, and all – I thought this entry (and the thread it apparently started) was worth a little stream-of-consciousness philosophizing.  Nicole says:

enjoyed reading this very much.  in fact, i quoted you through commentary on my blog entitled, “french women don’t get fat.”  please check out the comment sequence which has turned into a debate about spiritual connections with food v. eating for fuel.  and of course, the central theme is my endorsement of the vegan diet.

what do you think about this?  should a person spiritually connect with their food?  or should they simply eat for fuel?  i think that food is something that our bodies need for survival and not for profound relationships or zen-like epiphanies of greatness. spiritual connections with food, in my opinion, are equivalent to eating disorders. relationships with food should be stopped directly at the consumption for survival level.

pleasure can also be experienced from food, as i am extremely pleasured by pinot noir wines. but i do not have a spiritual connection with wine. ha! 🙂 ~ nicole in Pittsburgh

Thanks for the note.  Cool contemplation material.   Love that these kinds of conversations are going on around the web.  This is a deep subject, so I wish I had the luxury of time for a more thoughtful response and a more thorough read-through of your discussion.  But, here’s a quick thought or two that comes to mind:

Since you mentioned “Zen” in your email, there’s an old Zen proverb you’ve probably heard that says:

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

To me, this means that our experience of a “Zen-like” deeper awareness doesn’t necessarily change what we do each day, but it does change our experience of what we do, because now we have a greater capacity for mindfulness… for being truly present in the moment with the experience, no matter how routine or mundane it might be.

As I see it, the essence of Zen philosophy revolves mainly around the notion that EVERYTHING is spiritual by nature… that there can be no inherent separation between anything in this three-dimensional universe because everything is “of spirit,” created by, and as an extension of, the God Force, the Almighty, the All-That-Is, or however you wish to refer to that singular Source of energy that comprises all aspects of our universe.  (Or you could use the “everything is energy” or “everything is connected at the quantum level” perspective if you prefer a more scientific explanation.)  Therefore, we are not inherently separate from anyone or anything, and once we truly realize this, we are on our way to “enlightenment”… to understanding the deeper Truth of it all.

Ultimately, this means that it really isn’t possible to compartmentalize any person, place, thing or activity as being “non-spiritual,” even as certain people, places, things or activities might promote ideals that seem anything but “spiritual” in terms of their divisiveness.  Again, the divisive, hurtful or separatist nature of something speaks more to the level (or lack thereof) of consciousness involved, and not necessarily to the inherent nature of the event itself.  In other words, someone could say that a nasty eating disorder is not very “spiritual,” but that doesn’t mean eating food isn’t spiritual.  It just means that the person with the eating disorder doesn’t happen to have a particularly mindful connection to eating at the moment because they are using food for destructive purposes and are not operating from the fullest capacity of their awareness.

So to me, saying that food is ONLY for fuel, is like saying sex is only for procreation.  Sure, sex can be used to create human life, but there is also a whole range of other ways to experience it.  It can be functional, recreational, and yes, even spiritual, based on the level of mindfulness (awareness) we bring to the experience.

Likewise, eating can be functional, recreational or spiritual, as well.  You can shovel down each bite while watching TV, not even thinking about your food, OR you can really contemplate each bite, considering the elements of enjoyment, gratitude, satiation, perpetuation of nonviolence (as part of a vegan eating philosophy), etc.

If you’re interested to read more about this perspective of conscious eating and how we have the opportunity for a “spiritual experience” every time we sit down to eat, scope out this blog entry/book excerpt when you have a moment:

Also, you mentioned that while you enjoy a certain kind of wine, you don’t have a spiritual connection to it.  Are you sure?  Have you ever felt a spiritual connection to a forest, the ocean, or your dog?  And if so, what was the criteria for you to feel that? Chances are, we are not aware of this connection every single second we are in front of a bunch of trees, for example.  But then sometimes we are.  What makes the difference?  The trees haven’t changed, only our awareness of them and the level of mindfulness with which we observe and appreciate them.  Hell, for that matter, if our head isn’t in it, we sometimes don’t feel a spiritual connection during activities where we should be feeling it (like with meditation or Yoga).  Point is, I believe we control when, if and how we feel a “spiritual connection” to something – anything – and it all gets down to our own moment-by-moment fluctuations of awareness… or consciousness…. or mindfulness.

So again, I would point out that, to the extent you are fully in the moment as you enjoy the beverage… mindful of every swallow, the way it hits your tongue, the way it feels going down your throat, the way food interacts with its flavor… thinking about the grapes, the vineyard, the dirt that supported the vines, the weather that supported the dirt, the full process of what went into producing that particular bottle of wine… the sight, the color, the aroma, the bottle it was poured from, the way the light reflects off of it in your glass, etc., (all of these observations coming to you via a non-drinker, mind you!), I would think the opportunity to “connect” is there, so long as your mind is open to it.

Just a little food for thought, so to speak…


About Bobby Rock

Bobby Rock is a world renown drummer, the author of nine books, and a recognized health and fitness specialist with certifications in exercise, nutrition and meditation. He has recorded and toured with a variety of artists, released three CDs as a solo performer and is recognized as a top drumming educator. He is currently touring with rock icon, Lita Ford. Through speaking, writing and activism, Bobby remains committed to a number of animal and environmental causes. Bobby lives in Los Angeles.
This entry was posted in Mind/Body, Nutrition. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Zen of Eating

  1. Trevor says:

    Might be a little off topic, but the question as to whether or not Jesus was a vegetarian/vegan (or would he be if he were alive today) crosses my mind regularly.

  2. Bobby Rock says:

    Yeah… that’s a tough one. We have to remember that he lived in very different times back then, so a lot of things he did were probably more congruent with the overall collective consciousness of those times… like having 12 men and 0 women on his “advisory board,” for example. (I bet that ratio would look very different if he were kickin’ it in modern times!)

    It is thought by some that Jesus had ties to the Essenes… a special sect of people from back then who were known for their “vegan” style diet and ways of extreme non-violence as a lifestyle. (Would probably be tough to verify that one, though.) I would have to believe – in the here and now – that Jesus, with such an expanded consciousness, would probably be very thoughtful about his food choices and would not likely be one to promote or propagate industries where killing and exploitation were inherent to the products.

    Then again, one would think that the Dalai Lama would make such conscious choices, but for reasons that completely escape me, he does not.

    Still, I would like to think that Jesus would be vegan if he were with us in the flesh today. It’s a dietary philosophy that is certainly most congruent with his teachings… that’s for sure.


  3. Bobby, the Dalai Lama is born on a torn world and his most urgent task is of bridging these many facets. He is a diplomat with a message. If he is too different or astray from contemporary trends, he would never be heard, thus never being able to fulfill his task of uniting people. That is why these important lifestyles choices for a conscious person are not addressed by a man how is seeking to communicate with the unconscious world part of the world. He is an agent in disguise!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s