Chozen Roshi, Master Food Eater, guided a brimming room through a weekend retreat on learning to Eat Mindfully at Great Vow. And I say learning because, as Chozen stressed, “Real, lasting change comes from baby steps repeated over and over. It doesn’t come from a revelation.”

Through a smorgasbord of practice tools and open-hearted sharing, we examined our karmic food threads, the ridiculousness of our Inner Critics (one woman’s called her a “fat, plump turnip!”), and our deepest longings for true self-care.

The whole room let out a breath as we moved from Mind to Heart Hunger. A simple raisin had sent one participant into a frenzy of nutrition facts and fear that her dog might accidentally eat one, but a moment later another’s heart swelled as he recalled the raisins his father put in his oatmeal every day of his life.

We examined the effects of our favorite drug: sugar. At a taste, one man exalted the freedom and relaxation melting over him. “I can breathe now,” he sighed. Another shrugged, saying it had “no effect.” Then a woman spun around, stamped her foot, and cried, “I didn’t even know that could happen!!” “See?” Chozen smiled. “Isn’t it amazing- we’re all different!”

Despite the variety of experiences, far more I noted nods of agreement, laughter of recognition, sighs of relief, and empathetic tears. At our closing circle one woman remarked that every time anyone opened his or her mouth she internally cried, “That’s ME!” She went on to declare, “This workshop has shown me what I’m capable of.” Chozen nodded and said, “This weekend was only a glimpse, but it’s the beginning of a new adventure.”

Participants learned our meal ritual of oryoki (“just enough”), which emphasizes silence, reverence, and focused awareness on every vibrant sensation in the mouth. Some struggled at first with the unfamiliarity of just eating, but many confessed it was the first time they remember truly connecting with their food. An age-old method, tried and true. As the retreat ended with our social Sunday lunch, a woman next to me politely cleaned her spoon, set it down triumphantly, and said with satisfaction, “That was just enough.” I winked at her, but she didn’t respond. Her mind may not have remembered what “oryoki” means, but it was plain to see her body sure did.

For further investigation on the rich and liberating journey to self-nourishment, you can find Chozen’s book Mindful Eating here.

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