Buttery toast. One of life’s simple pleasures. But how many of us really taste everything when we eat? Not just when we’re eating toast but with anything we consume. I try to eat my food mindfully when I can – although that’s easier said than done with a small toddler waving spoons of mashed potato around – but when I do have a meal to myself, I try to savour every moment, observe the colour, texture and taste, slowly and with full awareness. (Well, when I remember.)
I always think fondly of the delicious vegan food from the 10-day silent retreat in Dharamshala a few years ago, not just because the food was full of rich Indian flavours but because at every meal time, with no distractions, no talking, no iPhones, no television, your full attention was spent on each mouthful – just you and your plate.
Last week, my new yoga teacher read the following guided meditation during relaxation at the end of the class and I was keen to share it with you. Not only did I leave the class more focused than before but all I could think about for the next 24 hours was buying a loaf of my favourite sourdough bread from my local baker. (Ha! It worked on two levels.)
If you feel like giving this simple meditation a try then simply have a read and then the next time you make some toast bear in mind what you’ve read below. You could also ask someone to read it to you whilst you sit with your eyes closed somewhere peaceful.
The idea is to pay attention to what is happening right here and now, to be fully present during everyday experiences and extract yourself from the dreamlike stage our mind wonders in.
Toast: A Meditation
Toast a piece of bread and as it’s cooking, savour the distinctive aroma of white or brown, ready-sliced or crusty, seeded or unseeded. Note any happy mental associations that arise. Spread the toast with butter, Marmalade or whatever takes your fancy, listening to the rasp of the knife and appraising the texture of the toasted bread as you do so. Notice and accept any frustrations as they arise in your mind. Perhaps the butter is straight out of the refrigerator and difficult to spread? Perhaps some sticky marmalade has found its way onto your fingers?
When the toast is ready to eat, look at it as if you had never seen a piece of toast before. Notice the fine structure of the bread still visible around the edges where the spread hasn’t reached, the difference in colouring and texture compared with the crust, the smoothness or runniness of the butter, the glossiness of the marmalade, its contours on the bread, its colouration and constituents. Maybe there are fine strips or chunks of orange rind, tiny air bubbles, flecks of darker colour. None of this is beneath your attention.
Sniff the toast and marmalade. Take a bite. Observe how the jaws, tongue and salivary glands immediately go to work of their own accord. Don’t try to stop them or slow them down, just note the crunch of each bite and the accompanying sounds inside your head. Now that you are actually paying attention, it might be surprising how loud these sounds are. Notice the changing texture of the food in your mouth as the teeth grind it down and saliva dissolved it. Give your full attention to the sharp acidity and sweetness of the orange, the oily butteriness of the butter, the butty toastiness of the toast.
Try all the fully automated movements of the tongue, jaws and lips as you chew and finally swallow. Notice the unfolding of all these behaviours as they happen, the almost unstoppable motivation to take another bite, and then another. All your impressions are valid, both the positive and negative. You may discover that you are enjoying the toast a whole lot more than if you’d just wolfed it down without thinking. Or perhaps you find the whole experience slightly disappointing. Maybe the toast is cold and chewy, the marmalade too sweet? There may be bitter, burned bits.
Accept it all with equanimity. This is simply how the toast is.
The above meditation was taken from the book Siddhartha’s Brain – The Science of Meditation, Mindfulness and Enlightenment by James Kingsland.
And if you’re reading, Hester – thanks for sharing this!