By Scott Kiloby
Many mornings, I wake up, go workout (three times a week) and then go eat breakfast at one of my favorite local spots. I enjoy the quiet peace of early morning, before most people are out of bed and before the world gets noiser and busier. Breakfast is a way to practice and live mindfulness in many ways, and mindful eating leads to an increase in mindful living throughout the day.
No matter what my choice of food for breakfast, mindful eating always makes it more enjoyable. It also helps for losing or at least maintaining my current weight because the more conscious I am during meals the less likely I am to overeat. I am simply more tuned into my body during mindful eating. I am not skinny by society’s standards. Nor am I obese. But during law school ten years ago, I was almost 20 pounds heavier. Mindfulness has taken that weight off and kept me at my current weight.
Mindful eating also helps to quiet the mind and tune into the present moment without thoughts taking up all of my attention. This instills the sense of peace and stillness inherent in the present moment. For many years, I drank coffee during breakfast. But as I became more mindful during breakfast, slowly the coffee drinking fell away. I now live caffeine-free. There is evidence showing that mindfulness also reduces cravings for all addictive substances and activities. You can find that research on our blog at kilobycenter.com. From my own experience, eating mindfully helps to bring an increased mindfulness to all activities during the day. This is why it helps with all other addictive cravings, including cravings towards tobacco, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling and just about any other addiction you can imagine.
Here is what mindful eating looks and feels like:
I sit down, aware of the pressure of the seat on my body, aware of my breath, aware of the sounds in the restaurant and the colors and shapes everywhere. Once my food arrives, I watch my hand go to the fork. I watch the fork meet the food on the plate. I watch the fork move to my mouth. I feel the sensation of every bite and every movement of my jaw as I eat. I feel the sensation of the food going down my throat. Between bites, I drink water and watch and feel the water moving from the glass to my mouth, down my throat and into my stomach. I pick up my fork again and go through that whole process. Normally, when I am very mindful of each bite, I do not eat the whole plate of food (maybe half). I listen to my body, rather than my mind when it comes to determining when to stop. By feeling the food and water go all the way down into my stomach and keeping my attention in the inner space of my stomach, it is easier to tell when I am just full enough to stop. There is no need to overeat.
Usually, being this mindful lends itself to continuing mindfulness as I walk out of the door of the restaurant and start my day. Sometimes, I eat fast. I sometimes do other activities during the day quickly. Yet I find that I can still be mindful when eating or doing other activities quickly. The key is to watch any thoughts that judge myself around eating and any other activity during the day. This includes watching any judgmental thoughts when I do overeat or eat something sweet. There are also times when I am not very mindful while eating. But I can watch any of those judgments too. Shame is a big part of addiction. Judgmental thoughts that lead to shame often fuel more overeating. But those thoughts can be watched so that they dissolve. And any shameful feeling can be felt directly and allowed to be as it is. This practice alone has virtually eliminated all shame I have around eating and many other activities.
I sometimes do not take my IPAD to breakfast so that I have no distractions during breakfast, even though there is usually work to be done. I know I can do that work later. But even during times when I do bring my IPAD to breakfast or even if I do my work after breakfast, I can practice mindful living while working on the IPAD. I remain aware of the sensation of the keys under my fingers, the sensations in my body as I read emails. I stop looking at the content of emails sometimes and instead just notice the color of the screen, the shapes of the letters and the shapes on the screen. I stop and take moments away from the IPAD. I breath and notice my breath and rest in the thought-free space of the moment for brief moments, experiencing the moment without labels. This helps to bring more space into my worklife.
As the day progresses, I can remain mindful of all of my activities, including when there is a lot going on or I am feel excited or a bit anxious about getting work done. These are all sensations that I can drop down and feel (without thoughts on them) at any time. If thoughts arise about needing to get somewhere on time during work hours, I can watch those thoughts and any judgments around those thoughts. Watching these thoughts doesn’t necessarily lead to complete peace. But it does unhook me from feeling stressed about the thoughts.
At the Kiloby Center, there is a lot of work to do and quite a bit of activity (groups, private sessions, emails, insurance work). The nature of this activity has to be fastpaced sometimes, in order to get everything done in time. Therefore my body sometimes experiences a feeling of excited movement. I can stop and feel that sensation also, letting it just hang there in the open space of the moment. In this way, all thoughts, emotions and sensations are there during work. But I don’t have to judge them. I can notice them and remain mindful of the entire movement of working, whether it is a peaceful moment of sitting with a group of clients or a highly activated moment when there is a deadline to meet and an anxious sensation accompanying it.
This kind of mindfulness can be extended to all activities of the day, no matter what they are. For example, a client at the center may be encouraged to be mindful while eating, smoking, walking, working out or during any other activity. Taking short moments during these activities in which one suspends thought for 3 to 5 seconds brings space into the activities and helps to ground one’s awareness to the task at hand. This kind of ongoing mindfulness can have a profound affect even on cravings for very addictive substances like alcohol, painkillers, meth or even heroin.
How does one start to bring mindfulness into all daily activities? Take a closer look at what I’ve written above. Notice the mechanics of mindfulness. Start with mindfulness when you wake up. Practice mindfulness in the shower, while eating breakfast and during all other activities during the day. Most of us were never taught how to be mindful while growing up. It is a process of learning. But once you begin the process, it starts to take over. There is a strong pull to continue living mindfully because it brings such peace and well-being into your life. The key is to start and stay with the practice until it begins to take over automatically for you.