Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eating and Reading

Last week I resolved to stop reading while eating. I had some kind of buried thought that it wouldn't be that easy to do, as it has been a lifelong habit of mine, but it's been much harder than I imagined.

Why do this at all? you might ask. No real reason beyond just trying to be more mindful in my daily life. I've done some basic mindfulness meditation here and there (of the vipassana tradition) and have found it to be very helpful, and have always wanted to use the practice a bit more in normal, habitual life outside of sitting down for a twenty-thirty minute session. And food and eating is very important to me, something I give a lot of thought and energy to.

One reason I thought it might not be too hard is that I often find myself, somewhat comically, struggling with my book, trying to keep it open with one hand while I try to eat with the other, putting it down a moment and losing my place, fumbling clumsily with my food, trying to saw through a piece of vegetable with a didn't seem like it would be hard to give that up. Plus, I would often realize that I'd been reading virtually the same paragraph the entire time, meanwhile barely noticing the food I was eating. I wasn't really aware of either the food I was eating or the book I was reading.

And I think it would be good to train myself not to obsessively keep my mind going with some sort of stimulation constantly. But there's the rub! It's agony. If I sit down to breakfast, alone, and I don't have a book at hand, my mind goes a little nutso. If I treat myself to a lunch out on my day off and forget to bring something to read, it seems like torture, and I feel naked. It's such a firmly ingrained habit that I've mostly forgotten about my resolution this last week, almost every time I sit down to eat, catching myself as I start cleaning up my dishes.

It's no big deal, I suppose, and thus far my lack of resolution has been mostly humorous, but I'm going to keep trying. Of course, my subconscious keeps bringing up one of my favorite little lessons I learned once, which goes something like this: At a meditation center, two students noticed that their teacher was sitting at breakfast and reading the paper. Remembering that he often instructed them "When eating, just eat! When reading, just read!", they went up to him and asked him why he was doing both at the same time. He looked at them and said "When eating and reading, just eat and read!" I suppose it's no surprise that I like that story, as it provides some justification for one of my favorite pastimes. But I think the deeper message is not to be dogmatic about these instructions, or anything else by extension, which is a very valuable lesson, I believe.

No comments: