I’ve been reading the book, “Less is More” by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska, a collection of essays written on voluntary simplicity. One essay in particular captured my attention. It was titled, “graceful living” and was written by Jerome Segal; this particular piece was originally published in his book, Graceful Simplicity.
Below, Jerome explores the grace of reflecting on the abundance of a meal:
“When one does approach a meal gracefully, one can consider what one has with what others do not. This means seeing things against the backdrop of poverty, of hunger, of times and places of suffering and deprivation… Then there is another perspective, one that does not take power form the contrast of the suffering and deprivation, but rather seeks to put us in touch with the abundance that is in front of us. Here the appreciation for food rests not on an awareness of hunger, but on how good this food is, of how remarkable a thing a potato is or the diverse ingredients of a salad or the crust on a good bread. And then to take a look around the table and take stock of those who are there, valuing them not against the possibility of lonliness but in virtue of the richness that they provide.
Here appreciativeness goes beyond thankfulness to being open to the values that are inherent in something. This kind of appreciativeness requires a certain kind of experiencing. It is not primarily a matter of intellectual assent, but of an openness, an accessibility to what is valuable, be it another person, a peice of music, a work of art, a spring day or a great ball game.
I love the above paragraphs because he explores what is missing when we talk about gratitude in comparison to what others have or have not. Even when we are grateful for having food or for having shelter, there is something painful about it, because we are still comparing ourselves to others. What about those who lack food or lack hunger? Are we taking pleasure in not being in their state? And what happens when we find ourselves in that state of suffering, are we no longer able to feel gratitude? The process of simply being mindful and aware of the beauty, complexity and curiosity of objects and life before us is an opportunity for great joy, and does not require the painful contrast of human suffering.
I’ve been thinking lately of how to bring more awareness and mindfulness into my life. I’ve been contemplating taking on new challenges, like attempting to eat mindfully for a given period of time, just to see what it feels like. I find eating alone without any distractions difficult. Even the times when I do shut down the computer or the book, I can feel my mind clicking away, instead of just giving in to Here, Now. Maybe it’s because it’s challenging to come face to face with the reality that I am eating alone, without the companionship of the partner I once had. But there can be great beauty in that concept itself, of nourishing oneself, of enjoying silence, of having the freedom of choice, and the ability to sit silently and contemplate the food and its complexity of flavour, its texture, its aesthetic value, its aroma and its ability to nourish. Futhermore, even when I am alone, my connectedness to family is still present in my home; looking at my kitchen I notice that my wooden chair and tables once belonged in my childhood home, my placemats were handmade by my sister, the dried flowers in the vase were once plucked fresh from my Nana’s farm. Even my cooking style and knowledge have been influenced by the women in my family.
We often forget our senses for our brain. While the mind whirrs away, we forget that we have five senses in which to play with, to delight in. These are gifts, to enjoy and to explore. I don’t want to let my instincts to worry and plan overtake the gentler, more patient senses, which need some space in order to thrive.
What is your meal-time routine? Do you have a ritual or practice that enables you to enjoy your full senses while enjoying a meal?