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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

In the comments to Dogen’s “Instruction for the Zen Cook”  Uchiyama Roshi mentions frustration with his own inability to chase away “hungry ghosts” when he started serving as a tenzo in the end of 1940s. At the time food was scarce so I imagine talking of “hungry ghosts” was more than a figure of speech. In notes to his own comments he explains what it means in the Buddhist context,

“Hungry ghost” is a literal translation of the Japanese word gaki. Ga means to be famished or hungry, and ki means a demon or ghost. In the context of Zen Buddhism, gaki refers to that which arises which arises inside our us human beings, and which is never satisfied with what we are or what we have.” (p. 108)

Reading these lines and my own observation of being around the food made me think of the “hungry ghosts” that I’ve been having visits from. The days of food shortage are over (food coupons we had after the fall of the Soviet) but not the feeling of hunger, of not having enough of something. Staying with the issue of food alone, I can see how mindful eating (through engaging all sensory fields) can enrich my own experience of food.

In this post I’d like to share the exercise called “Who is hungry in there?” that I transcribed after the Tricycle magazine’s podcast episode called “Are you hungry inside?” . The instructions are about 7 min long but exercise itself can take longer.

Who is hungry in there?

In this exercise we access the seven different kinds of hunger.

Preparation: sit down with some food in front of you. The amount of food does not matter (it can be a whole meal, it could be one cracker). Start by doing it alone, so you don’t feel awkward. Do this exercise at least once a day until it become a second nature.

Each of the seven hungers is associated with different parts of the body. In ME (Mindful eating) before we eat or drink we look inward and we ask each of this body parts if they are hungry. If the answer is Yes then we ask that part how hungry it is on the scale of 0 (Not interested at all) to 10 (Famished). The parts of the body that we look at are the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the stomach, the body or the cells, the mind, and the heart.

Begin by sitting down with some food in front of you. Take a deep breath and relax a bit.

Before you begin eating we are going to access the seven types of hunger.

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Ango: playing in the kitchen

Before we get sautéd in another koan, I took a chance to celebrate my return into the kitchen by cooking to a trance tune in the background and playing around.

“You must not leave the washing of rice or preparation of vegetables to others, but must carry out this work with your own hands. Put your whole attention into the work, seeing just what the situation calls for”

Dogen, “Instructions for the Zen Cook”

Was Dogen talking about food? What I hear is the same question that keeps coming up:

What does it mean to take responsibility for my life?

But back to the kitchen… For most part, I cook my meals myself.  Not an easy thing to do if you commute and have all evenings booked for preferably some other activity than cooking.  Still, this is my choice.  I save time, ingredients and energy by cooking a few meals at a time. Also, it has to be simple, fast and fun!


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Do not be absent minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects.

From Dogon’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook”

Many of us know from the kitchen experience that if we focus on one side of the meal we are preparing (for example, its aroma or color) and even temporarily forget the others, our checking out from the world into our heads can ruin the whole meal. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to add salt and spices or miss the critical point when we should remove it from the stove.

Burnt oats (not happy): Read my lips, “Eat this!”

I find the same to be true of  life: if I choose to focus only on one aspect of it, for example work, I can get signals from inside that something is missing, something is out of balance, that I left home. Still, this is what most of us have to deal with at different points in our lives when one side of it temporarily takes over. In the best case we are aware of what’s happening and can even tell others who might be affected that we will catch up with them once the project is done, the book is finished or we have solved the issue of poverty in the world. In the best case we can come back to the center in time before some damage is done (in yoga, on the physical level, the price of not being aligned is that we either collapse with our bodyweight on one particular part of the body and can get injured or have to resort to great muscular effort to sustain balance.) But even as we let our life on the everyday level come slightly off-balance, we don’t have to be out of balance with the experience of life, do we?  We don’t have to go to exotic places or eat exclusive meals in posh restaurants to experience the gift of life, to feel alive.

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