How Not to Eat Hypnotically – Mindful Eating for Physical and Emotional Health

Oriokyi-meal-ritual-bowls-utensils-cloth-napkinI’ve often heard people say that we eat mindlessly. This isn’t quite accurate, though. Actually, while we eat, we spend most of our time daydreaming. This daydreaming is a form of hypnosis.

Under hypnosis you can become so focused on the contents of your mind that you lose awareness of the external environment. You can even lose awareness of your body. When we’re eating, we maintain just enough awareness of our body and environment to get the food into our mouth, and to get an initial taste of it. But then we go off into fantasies of various kinds.

We eat hypnotically.

If you’re anything like me, you have many memories of finishing a meal and realizing that you hardly noticed eating it because while eating you were lost in daydreams. You may also remember times when, after a meal, you felt bloated and too full, having eaten too much food, too fast. When this happens it’s a sign that we have turned the taste of food into an unhealthy hypnotic induction that separates us from a kind and gentle awareness of ourselves, and of the food we are eating.

It’s as though a hypnotist had given you a weird suggestion:

“As soon as you taste your food, you’ll forget who you are and what you’re doing, and you’ll fly off into elaborate fantasies of the past and the future. You will only return to conscious awareness when there’s no more food remaining to stimulate your taste buds.”

Eating-mindlessly-mindful-watching-tvOften the content of these fantasies is negative. Let’s say you’re sitting down to dinner and you’ve had a rough day at work — your boss really came down hard on you. If you begin to replay a memory of the harsh words your boss said to you, while adding in what you wish you had said to him (that you couldn’t say because you didn’t want to lose your job) your mealtime fantasies will be filled with negativity. You’ll be eating your resentment and anger while you eat your food.

In other words, we eat our emotions. If those emotions are negative, we have turned our food into a kind of poison.

When I first became aware of this hypnotic quality in my own eating patterns, I had been trying to eat according to a fairly elaborate Japanese Zen monastic mealtime ritual called oriokyi. Aside from meditation, eating is the only other activity allowed in the meditation hall. It is considered to be a crucial spiritual practice — equal to sitting meditation. The mealtime practice of oriokyi is designed to help the practitioner stay mindful of the food, and of the act of eating itself:

Mindful eating: the practice of oriokyi

You spread out your mealtime cloth. You set out your 3 bowls, your chopstick, and your spoon.

Then you sit mindfully, waiting for the server to bring you a portion of food. When your server appears, you and the server bow to each other, and then you hold up your bowl to receive the food.

Then you sit mindfully, and wait for everyone else to be served.

Once everyone is served, you chant together. The words are about appreciating the gift of food, and about eating it with mindful appreciation.

The challenge of this practice is to keep coming back again and again to the experience of eating: holding the bowl, seeing the food, tasting the food, feeling your mouth chewing the food. This is a challenge because our habitual thought patterns constantly pull us into past and future fantasies of all kinds, causing us to lose awareness of what we’re actually doing in this moment: eating precious food in order to nourish our precious life.

Monk-folding-oriokyi-napkin-end-of-mealWhen practicing oriokyi, after you’ve finished eating you clean your bowls and fold the bowl and your utensils into your mealtime cloth and table setting. You also have a napkin cloth. When you fold this napkin cloth, you hold it in front of your face in a particular way: You flip the cloth toward yourself as you move to fold it. This little flip of the cloth causes a slight whiff of air to hit your face. No big deal, right?

Well, one day I had been able to remain mindful throughout the whole meal. As a result, I was feeling very relaxed and present in my body. At the end, I folded my napkin as I had done so many times before. Because I was so calm and clear, when that little breeze from the napkin hit my face, my whole being responded with a surge of joy. I realized in that moment how extraordinary every single aspect of so-called “ordinary life” truly is.

I realized that the way to restore our health, to eliminate “bad” or “addictive” eating habits is to cultivate a clear, present mindfulness of our food and of the way in which we approach and eat our food. As our awareness of the preciousness of these simple moments grows, the confused, hypnotic wildness of our mind (that accompanies dysfunctional eating) will disappear.

You can learn to eat more mindfully, appreciating the gift of yourself and the gift of your food. If you’d like to cultivate this practice at mealtimes, this¬†hypnosis audio (mp3) offers support to do that. It’s called “Weight Loss, Health Gain.” This audio is intended to help you cultivate mindfulness while eating, while clearing up emotional blocks to eating in a healthy way.