Monday, November 9, 2015

Mind Over Malted Milk Balls

This year, for the first Halloween since he could walk, Jack did not trick or treat. When he was little, my son and I spent months planning his Halloween costume, tracking down the appropriate light saber, mask, sword, hat, or —in 2006, the Year of the Ninja Turtles — shell. But this year, my teenager didn’t go door to door shaking down our neighbors for Kit Kats and Nerds. The change was not so much a sign of his impending maturity as it was due to the pouring rain (and the fact he was grounded.) None-the-less it was the first year that we broke from tradition ... and I felt the pangs of detachment.
It seems like over night, Jack transformed
from cuddly tiger ...

All things change. All things fade away. It was a bittersweet night — even for this Heath Bar fan.

So rather than gather the candy, for the first time in his life, Jack was the person at the door giving away the loot. Of course, there weren’t many sodden children rapping at our door on this damp Hallow’s Eve. To compensate, Jack dumped handfuls of miniature candy bars, Sweet Tarts and Randoms into the waiting sacks of the children who plaintively called, “Trick or Treat!” By 8:15 p.m. even the most stalwart candy fiend was at home donning dry socks. With a deficit of candy-beggars, Jack was left with the mother-lode of primo assorted treats.

Now some parents might fret that their child would gorge himself on this sugar-filled, calorie laden loot, but candy has never been Jack’s thing. Don’t get me wrong, he loves the stuff, but after a few pieces, he loses interest. Case in point, before filling the big purple Jack-o-Lantern we use to hand out candy, I had to dump out last year’s left overs — and I’m not talking Mary Jane’s and banana taffy.

But while Jack can tentatively graze on Kit Kats and M&Ms and make them last 365 days, I am not quite so disciplined. And the problem is this: While he’s off at school, I’m left alone with dozens of tiny Reese Cup sirens calling my name.

Until a few years ago, I hadn't paid much attention to what I ate or why I ate it. I knew, like most people, I consumed more food when I was upset or stressed out.  Mashed potatoes, cheese-laden casseroles and Velveeta dip with chips are my comfort-foods-of-choice.

... to webcasting Super Hero ...
Then I attended my first retreat at Magnolia Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in Mississippi. When dinner time rolled around, I was instructed that we would eat in Noble Silence.  There was absolutely no talking during the meal. The full focus was on the food, how it looked and smelled and tasted. This concentration also encouraged us to generate gratefulness for the food and to contemplate how the rice, the tofu, the vegetables and herbs, the bread, the peanut butter, etc. came to your plate. We had time to contemplate the connectedness we shared.

This practice encouraged me to look beyond the food on my plate and acknowledge all the many people and actions involved directly and indirectly in the creation of the meal: The farmer who planted the seed, the harvester, processor, and merchant who sold the ingredients to the food manufacturer, the truck driver who delivered the food to the grocery store, the clerk at the store shelved the food, the check-out girl rang it up, and the bag boy placed it in a plastic bag. Every one of those people was supported by, and supports, others and each generates karma (actions that affect others). The ripples move outward infinitely. It's quite boggling when you start to consider it all.

By contrast, mindless eating not only makes my body flabby, but also makes my sense of compassion and connectedness soft, too.

When I'm scarfing down a meal on the fly or even when sitting at my table at home talking and laughing with family or friends, I don't think about all the people and processes responsible for the food I enjoy. I certainly don't stop to consider how fortunate I am to have this food to nourish my body and mind when I am rushing through lunch to get back to work.

The practice of mindfulness requires that I slow down and consider my intentions and actions. For example, when Thich Nhat Hahn drinks a cup of tea, he takes hours! (You do not want to invite him for breakfast if you're running late to school.) It seems impractical to our Western hurry-up-let's-go mentality to eat and drink this way, but it is actually a beautiful form of meditation that helps generate awareness and appreciation for all of life.
... to zombie killing teen, Carl Grimes.

Since becoming more aware of what I'm eating and why, I feel healthier physically and spiritually. Sure, I do indulge in treats from time to time. I don't eat mindfully every meal of everyday, but it is an aspiration to do so whenever possible.

So although, right now, I'm all alone in the house and there's a big bowl of Heath Bars, Sweet Tarts, Kit Kats, Almond Joys, Reese Cups and malted milk balls (which I don't particularly like) on my coffee table, I have no intention of gorging myself. If I do choose to have one —or two— I will savor each treat and silently thank all those good folks at M&M Mars, Hershey and Wonka. And I'll be grateful to my neighbors for staying home on a wet Halloween night ... and to my son for growing up — but not out of — of the traditions we hold dear.

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