Talk to a Monk, Experience Real Mindful Eating the Zen Way

Talk to a Monk, Experience Real Mindful Eating the Zen Way

Whether we feel joy, gratitude, anger, or sadness, our minds always react to various situations with different emotions. However, instead of accepting those initial emotional impulses, the Japanese try to be more mindful. By thoughtfully changing the way we react by consciously being more neutral, we can theoretically spend our days more comfortably. A monk at a temple in Shizuoka said, “by reacting either very negatively or extremely positive means you are walking on the edges of the path. On the other hand, people should decide to be more neutral, walking firmly down the center of the path.” 

While we stayed at the temple, the monk taught us that we should be aware of the mindset of walking down the middle. But it’s hard to earnestly stop your mind from automatically reacting! For example, when we received happy news from friends and family, we were also annoyed by noise made by neighbors in the next door apartments… our minds always seemed distracted, swinging left and right. We asked the monk, “How can we reduce these unnecessary mental reactions?” He replied, “Be aware of the sensations in your body.” The typical way to change your mindset is to do something else, such as listening to music or going for a stroll, but that doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. It just causes the mind to move on to another action. If you take a break from your mind or thoughts and focus only on the senses in your body, your mind’s reactions will calm down, and your stressed and frustrated mind will feel much better. Several specific methods can be done easily daily to help. The three methods listed here are not the technical names of Buddhist studies, as we asked monks and gave each method our respective names.

The first is a “Mindful Cleanse” which can be done by just closing and opening your eyes. Close your eyes and recognize the thoughts that naturally pop up in your mind, such as anger or fear of someone, anxiety about your well-being or your financial situation, etc. Keep your eyes closed for about thirty seconds to one minute. Then open your eyes, focus on your real sight, and take a good look at your surroundings. You will realize that nothing is happening in front of you right now, and you will be able to reduce your mental reaction.

The second is a “Foot Meditation,” which uses the sensation of the soles of your feet on the ground. For example, let’s say you have an angry partner or boss in front of you. Your mind will react to the person, and you will be filled with anxiety and anger. Before this happens, focus on the soles of your feet, and be aware of your presence. If you focus solely on the sensations in the soles of your feet, such as feeling the hardness or warmth of the wooden floor or the texture of the fluffy carpet, your mind will gradually stop responding and begin to calm down. Eventually, you can reduce your reactions by maintaining that peaceful state of mind and responding to the other person with the rest of your awareness. It is important to give priority to your state of mind while interacting with others, rather than being moved by them.

The last is “Walking Zen” —it teaches you to walk with a keen awareness of your feet. When you walk, you count each step in your mind and be aware of the sensation of the soles of your feet, just imagine you are connected on the earth. It helps combat unnecessary or negative thinking. Before starting to walk, decide how far and how long you want to walk; avoid talking to other people while walking; and a walk-in rhythm at a slightly faster pace, keeping your posture and breathing constantly. Some monks advocate walking 1,000 steps, but the idea is to gradually increase the number of steps at your own pace.

We personally also recommend “Silence Me-Time”. For example, try going alone to a coffee shop in a faraway town where you don’t bump into anyone you know. Even if it’s just once a week, just taking a few moments of silence without talking to anyone can help you recover and relax your mind away from external stimuli.

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