The holiday season, a time of mindless living?
Well, it’s that time of year when I can find myself mindlessly “getting and spending,” not to mention overeating, simply because these are part of our holiday norms. I’m guessing that many of you can relate! A friend sent me some great websites related to mindful giving and I thought I would share some of these with you, as well as a couple of my own favourites. Also, I’ve been reading Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays and thought you might find her ideas interesting, so you’ll find a few of those in this newsletter as well.
Since we have had several requests to run A Year to Live again — some people are actually doing it a second time! — we will be offering it in January, 2012. I know that many of us have been affected by the recent death of Steve Jobs and his declaration that knowing he was going to die soon helped him to see what was truly important. He said,
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
According to physician and Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays, hunger is not simply that sensation we feel in the stomach when it is empty. She outlines seven kinds of hunger vying for our attention! In Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, she describes a hunger of the eyes and the nose that are motivated by the visual appeal and the aromas of food. Mouth hunger is guided by the tongue’s desire for new sensations or textures and is one of the more challenging hungers. The author calls the mouth a ”cavern of desire” because it is never satiated!
Bays also reports a hunger of the mind, fed by thoughts about what we should or shouldn’t be eating as well as a hunger of the heart, fueled by feelings of loneliness or emptiness. Finally, she describes a more profound bodily hunger than simple stomach hunger. According to Bays, the body has a cellular hunger that enables it to call for specific nutrients that it needs, such as meat in the case of protein deficiency.
Bays advises that if we are to have “a healthy and balanced relationship with food, it is essential that we learn to turn our awareness inward and to hear again what our body is always telling us about its needs and its satisfaction. To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”
Mindful Eating Practices
(really, at Christmastime??)
Some of the things I find helpful are remembering my intention before eating (ie to be present for the meal & respectful of the food itself) and to stay in one place while eating. The latter can be just as challenging as staying put while brushing my teeth! Bays recommends:
Opportunities to give for good
- World Vision has been one of my favourite sites for a few years. When I eat mangoes, it connects me to the friends I bought mango trees for and to the two girls in India who got to go to school because they could bring home fruit to feed the family.
- Atin Afrika: This project is
very touching and inspiring. It was started earlier this year by Chelsea, the young woman who rescued my dog from the street in Mexico last year. A few months later, she was counseling pregnant teens in Uganda and met many street children. They were dirty, hungry and frightened.
One little boy in particular pulled at Chelsea’s heart. One morning after his only possession (a toy truck) was stolen by the police, her heart sank for him. She had a hair elastic on her wrist and in a desperate attempt to make him smile again, took the elastic and put it around his wrist. It was just an elastic, yet, the little boy lit up as though it was Christmas morning. Sometimes, she said, he just wanted to sit and hold hands, to have that personal contact that he no longer received from his deceased mother. Chelsea said that at times, that contact meant more to him than eating that day.
Their aim is to offer love and support to vulnerable children, to treat each one as a unique individual and ensure that they reach their full potential. This quote comes from their site:
If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
— Betty Reese
- Good Shop (Good Search): Choose a cause, shop, and Good Shop will donate with every purchase. Over 2400 retailers to choose from with a percentage of each purchase going to your chosen charity.
- iGive: Change shopping for good. Shop using iGive AND up to 26% of your purchase at over 900 great stores is automatically get donated to your favourite cause.
- The Hunger Site: Every purchase fights famine in Africa and combats hunger in the U.S. Each item you buy funds at least 25 cups of food for the world’s hungry — at no extra cost to you! Charities include Mercy Corps, Feeding America, and Millennium Promise. Check out how you can click to give for free too!
One Year to Live
There is a cartoon a student sent us that I particularly like. It shows a couple—possibly on vacation—approaching a road sign by car. One says to the other, “We made good time. We’re already in the valley of the shadow of death.”
We rush through life, attempting to achieve this, to purchase that, thinking that one day we will have enough, or be enough, to finally know true happiness. How sad to realize, at the end of a life, we drove right past the Promised Land of peace and delight again and again. Day after day.
Each moment of our lives is precious and holds the potential for fulfilment. And like all precious things, life is made so by its transient nature and the very thing we most fear and resist: Death.
When I begin to tell students about our Year to Live course, the cringing is almost audible! After all, who in their right mind would want to pay money for seven weeks of cultivating awareness of their own mortality and begin the process of addressing unfinished business? Life is hard enough. Must we also be reminded of its brevity? Won’t looking more closely at death make me feel worse?
Actually, no. As any good spiritual teacher will tell you, to understand life, you must begin with an awareness of death. It is everywhere. There is nothing you could point to in the universe that is not constantly changing and will one day pass away.
We fear death and understandably make the mistake of thinking of it as life’s opposite—its enemy. But in truth, life and death are one, just as to breathe involves both the out-breath and the in-breath.
For your beautiful infant son to become a thriving adolescent and grow to be a man, he must undergo change—constant emotional, mental and physical change. Cells, thoughts, feelings and body sensations are “being born” and “dying” without end. Just as the magnificent Spring cannot arrive before Summer’s dying into Autumn and Winter, your son cannot become a young man and, eventually, an old man, without the death of what came before.
One Year to Live, far from being morose or macabre, is designed to awaken us to the exquisiteness of life. In accepting life’s brevity and preciousness, we learn to let go of the petty stuff and move toward what is meaningful and essential to us. Surprisingly, there is often much laughter. Occasionally, some tears.
With each passing year, the next leaves more quickly. We are indeed making good time.
“May you live all the days of your life.”
Brett & Marian