Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 20, 2012

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Eating Presence

(Presence in Daily Life: Part 8)

Why is gluttony considered a sin? Does it matter how or how much we eat? Certainly overeating can damage our health. But does that make it a sin? How does it concern our soul? We can explore several layers in these questions.

First, we are given this body of ours and as we mature we also come under the obligation to take care of it. Overeating places the health of our body in jeopardy and is thus irresponsible. Being responsible is fundamental to any religious or spiritual path, because it goes right to the heart of who we are, our will, and to our relationship with the sacred through conscience. Will and conscience, among other things, move us to act responsibly in all matters, including eating.

Second, if we practice presence seriously, we notice that, whenever we eat more than our body needs, it has a negative effect on our ability to be present: our energy somehow gets depleted and our will to be present loses its efficacy. We lose our efficacy. This simple, inverse relationship between overeating and our immediately-subsequent diminished presence can be verified by each of us just by noticing how we are after a too-large meal.

Yet we must eat. We have no choice in whether we will eat or not. But we do have several kinds of choices in how we eat. For example, there is the question of the quality of what we choose to eat: is it nutritious, balanced, and healthful?

Then comes what is for many of us the difficult issue of how much we eat. Yes, of course we enjoy eating. It is natural that we do. And that natural joy in eating often tempts us to overeat, to get greedy about the pleasure of eating. That gluttony comes straight from the grasping nature of our self-centered egoism. Itís all about me and what I like. So exercising our will to curb our overeating directly engages our egoism. But ego is slippery and takes both sides of this battle, saying how much better Iíll look and feel if I lose weight. So if we approach the issue directly, we start small. Perhaps we cut out one particular mode of overeating: maybe forgoing snacks or desserts or measuring out a particular food we eat. Perhaps we count calories or put other limits on our eating, but very gradually, so that any changes become stable over time.

One indirect approach to limiting overeating, namely presence, also helps us build our soul. The more we taste our food, the more we appreciate it and the less we are driven to overeat. If we do not taste our food fully, we tend to eat extra to make up for it, so that our total satisfaction will be sufficient. This principle applies to the whole experience of eating and thus gives a central place to presence. Eating less, but with full presence, can be just as, or even more, satisfying than eating a larger amount inattentively. We stay aware of the visceral, bodily act of eating, of bringing the food to our mouth, of its aroma, of biting into it, of chewing, of its taste and texture, and of swallowing. We stay aware of our inner reactions to the food, the liking or the disliking, the wanting, the craving for the next bite, perhaps even the gratitude. We stay aware of our whole body and ourselves, of I am eating. And we do all this while appearing to eat normally, at least to any outside observer.

Something surprising also begins to open when we eat with full presence. Besides the scientifically-known, nutritional components of our food, there are spiritual energies within the food we eat. By eating with presence, we gradually come to be aware that presence unlocks those energies from the food and enables us to absorb them as food for our soul. So when we eat inattentively, we miss this important opportunity.

It helps if we set our intention to eat with presence at the beginning of the meal. A brief prayer of gratitude before the first bite, whether done inwardly for ourselves, or outwardly with our tablemates, can create the tone of presence for the meal. We eat with respect for our food, as our essential lifeline. How we eat is one indicator of the state of our soul.

For this week, please practice eating presence.


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