I have been meditating for over forty years, a practice I refer to as centering. With so many distractions and competing voices for my attention, I have found this centering essential to my health and to my productivity.
Last week, I told the story of how part of my practice flowed from an encounter with a spiritual giant, Howard Thurman, who provided me a way of “abiding in the moment”, traditionally referred to as lectio divina, or holy reading, It has been a part of my habit and practices that I use in keeping me centered in the middle of overwhelming activity. Over the next few weeks, I am going to line out a few of these skills that may be helpful to you in keeping your balance and maintaining your Center of Self in the busyness of life, as the pandemic hovers over us and the hectic holidays approach.
The word that has my attention this week is “SAVOR”. This practice of savoring is rather simple in technique but has proven to be profound in building my sense of connectedness, even in the midst of this pandemic.
Did I just used the word “midst”?
Side-track: When I was a kid, I heard the pastor of my church use the word “midst” a good bit. In the sermon, he would say “midst” and I would think that it must be a holy word because I heard no one else using it. “In the midst”. Initially, I thought he was referring to a “mist”, like when it was lightly raining, foggy, implying a sort of spookiness. Then, I determined that it must be a place to be, like a location, somewhere one wound up being.
Actually, my intuition was pretty spot on for “midst” implies being in a time and space, a locale. It refers to being in the middle of something, with the “something” being between the past of where you have been and where it is you are going. To be in the “midst” meant being in the middle of time, between past and future, literally in the present moment, for as my aforementioned teacher would say, the Now.
Being in the midst, it’s easy to focus one’s consciousness on the past, reviewing where you have been, asking the David Byrnes question, “How did I get here?” Or one may be leaning into the future, considering options and decisions that will take you to a future yet to be determined. With past and future clamoring for you attention, one’s mind may tend either to remember or to project, while avoiding the reality of the present moment, the now.
One trick is to practice mindfulness, which is to be present to the very moment you are in. The Now. An interesting, playful way of experimenting with the Now is to practice, intentionally focus, on the present moment of eating a meal, or drinking some liquid. A Buddhist monk once invited me to play with the word “savor”. I rather liked it, as it felt playful, subversive even, compared to how I had been taught to engage in eating and drinking.
I confess that I often see everyday meals as a necessary evil to bring me sustenance that will fuel my work. A necessary evil. I slug down coffee in the morning to jump start my mind and heart to get “after it” in my work. I have been cajoled into breaking up my day by a lunch, usually very simple, and quick, in order to get back to my work. And then, a more elongated meal at the end of the day, usually engaging in a replay of what happened in the “midst” of my work, and making plans for the future, usually the next day, or the imagined weekend. Meals were pit stops in my race of life.
The invitation to “savor” felt odd at first, even exotic. My instructor invited me to center myself with a few deep breaths. A body scan was initiated, beginning with my toes and moving intentionally up my body, noticing tenseness and pain along the way, finally arriving at the top of my head, or as he called it the crown. I observed that I tend to localize my tenseness in my shoulders and neck. I often use a body scan to get myself to the present, to BE present.
He then invited me to take a piece of the food that was in front of my in a bowl. We had been prepped to bring some nuts, or fruit in abowl. I noted the terse instruction to bring NO candy, which of course sends my mind down the road to imagine a Butterfingers, or a Reece’s devilish combo of chocolate and peanut butter. Damn. I had grown up with all the Baptist rules about “don’t” and now I find even godless Buddhists are forcing compliance. Did I mention “damn”?
He invited me to pick up a piece of the food from the plate in front of me. There were pecans, walnuts, almonds, raisins but I chose a grape.
I was asked to pick up this object (I named mine “Moby”) with the non-dominant hand, for me, the left. Taking this object, to place it in the palm of the dominant hand. You guessed it, my right. We were invited, told, to roll it around on that palm, noting the feel. It was round, so it rolled easily, giving me relief that I did not make the rookie mistake of going with my favorite nut, pecan. Hard to roll that puppy, but my mind began to imagine how I might accomplish that feat. Back to the grape.
After getting to roll the grape for a few moments, we were invited, told to bring it up to our ear and to listen to it. Grapes, not the best conversationalists.
Then, placing the grape in front of my nose, I was invited, told to smell said grape. It was light, subtle.
We then turned our eyes to focus on the color, variations of shades, and hints of light.
Finally, we were invited, told to place the object into our mouths. As I rolled it around in my mouth, the temptation to bite down on that juicy globule of grapey goodness was acute, but having been properly trained as a Baptist to delay gratification, this was a cinch. I promptly lapsed into a pridefulness of restraint, just as Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart, I longed for the bite.
After sufficient toying with us, this sadistic Buddhist monk invited, told us to take a bite.
Oh, my, God. A delicious squish of pure grape juice emanating from the skin. Luscious. Bright, tart, sweet goodness. All from this little fellow I had named Moby, giving his life for my pleasure. The Now moment was sweet as I was invited, told to swallow said object.
The monk’s point was to be in the moment. It seems obvious, simple. But in our rush to move on, to make plans, or execute said plans, we move too fast to capture the moment. Like St. Ferris of Buehler offered his godly admonition: Life moves fast. Pause. Savor. Or you just might miss it. Or words to that effect, you literalist!
He then repeated the process, taking another grape, going through the sensate review of the object. But this time before inviting, telling us to put it in our mouth, he asked us to think about how it got there. The farmers who grew the fruit or the nut. The workers who picked it. The people who packaged it. The truckers who transported it. The grocery clerks that arranged it for viewing. The cashiers who took our money in exchange for this product. This proved to be an amazing moment for me, bringing into awareness the interconnectedness of the network that allowed me to have this grape in my hand for consumption. With that in mind, I was invited, told to eat the grape. It seemed a bit sweeter, more complex.
Slowing down, becoming aware, being mindful, using all the sensory data that comes in touching, seeing, hearing, and tasting. Remembering the wide network that brought this grape to this moment,. This simple grape becomes the sacrament of being. The grape is a silent teacher, re-minding us of the lusciousness of life.
And the grape becomes the gateway drug for savoring life, all of it.
Taking the time, investing the attention to the world around you, and diving deep into your Self for the illusive self-awareness.
This is not a bad way to move into our traditional time of Thanksgiving in which we are called to intentionally exercise gratitude for the various components of our life.
My Buddhist teacher invited me to an experience of mindfulness through this morsel of food. I would invite you to try on this mode of being, of being mindful in this coming week. Just take a moment, at a meal, on a walk, in even just sitting in a chair. To pause, to notice, to be aware.
You up for this? Are you up to it? Savor. Even in the midst of a well-marketed holiday?
Savor the moment. Savor the time. Savor your life. It’s a gift you can give your Self. Savor.