“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindful Eating as a support for Ayahuasca Dieta
When we receive instruction about Ayahuasca Dieta, we’re told what to eat before and after our ceremony, and what not to eat. the dieta helps to cleanse the body so that the medicine can work more effectively, and can also help us to hone our intention and focus on the inner work that we’re about to do. One of the things i’ve noticed in reading literature about dieta and talking to people who’ve done a lot of this work, is that while it’s very clear what to eat, there isn’t too much said on how to eat. The idea of mindful eating isn’t really discussed. I understand that this is a cross-cultural idea. Mindful eating comes from South East Asian Therevadan Buddhist practice, while the Ayahuasca Dieta clearly has roots in South American Shamanism. However, it’s my guess that mindful eating is implicit in tribal jungle culture. It’s probably taken for granted that food is eaten in a conscious way, with fewer of the maladaptive eating habits that plague us modern folks. Although I’ve only spent a small bit of time with the people of the Amazon, the folks I did encounter didn’t eat while looking at their phone or driving to work. They didn’t scarf down food in front of the television, rushing through the meal in order to get to the next important thing. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t silently monastic either. Food was friendly, convivial, sweet, and wholesome. People seemed to be there for each other.
The Beauty of Mindful Eating
The beauty of mindful eating is that we have an opportunity to move into the present moment using the support of our senses. The same kind of awareness that we might find in an altered state becomes available to us every time we sit down to a meal.
We can be mindful of the music we listen to, and engage our hearing. We can be mindful in an art museum, and engage our sight. Once I went to an aroma therapy workshop, and spent the day tuning into my sense of smell. Food is uniquely positioned to engage all the senses, to ask us to attend to the information that comes in through all the organs. Also, it offers us this opportunity several times a day, with no special equipment, in a wholesome and nourishing way.
And all we need to do to eat mindfully is to slow down and pay attention. Take a moment to look at the colors of your food, appreciating the multitude of chromatic variation. Even an orange, which the mind simply writes off as ‘orange’ manifests in an infinite range of subtly different colors. If you had to name each of them, it would take a lifetime. All we can do is notice and appreciate.
The same is true of the other senses. The feel of the orange in my hand, the differences between the inner and outer peel, the pressure of a slice on my lips, the smell of the zest, the light crunch as the skin breaks between my teeth. All of this happens before I even have the opportunity to enjoy the delicious flavor!
Pre-Ceremony Mindful Dieta
Preparing for ceremony by talking about it only goes so far. Talking is often an expression of the rational mind, and the ceremony is clearly trans-rational. The assistance that the intellect brings to the table is very limited, while embodied practice seems to go much further. Much more benefit accrues from working with an intention that actually stimulates an emotion, for example, as opposed to just mumbling a phrase that one might ‘think’ is right. Similarly, mindful eating is one such embodied practice. Mindful eating trains us to appreciate the information that is coming in through the senses when we often ignore this in favor of thought. This changes the conditioned tendency to try to find all of the answers through cognition. Over time, we find it easier to interface with the present moment without judgement or other conceptual overlay. As a result, we become much more comfortable with the what is right in front of us, no matter how mysterious, unexplainable, or wild . We have a greater chance of being able to be present for intense experience without fighting or trying to control.
Post-Ceremony Mindfulness Dieta
People often come out of ceremony wanting to have both healthier personal habits, and a more harmonious relationship with nature and the earth. A mindful eating practice is an amazing way to check both these boxes. People who want to continue their dieta or simply have a cleaner diet might find that this desire is supported by eating slower and more consciously. We can even shift our relationships with potentially problematic substances like sugar, alchohol, or caffine by giving extra special attention to those things we crave, instead of just using them complusively. When we’re unable to stop something cold turkey, it gives rise to a host of negative thoughts and emotions. We struggle not just with the substance, but with ourselves. A mindfulness practice allows us to transform that which has been tormenting up into a catalyst for awakening and self knowledge.
Mindfulness practice also has a tendency to engender positive emotions such as appreciation and gratitude. Taking a moment to appreciate the natural world that produces the food that we eat and the people that are involved in getting it to our plate can jumpstart the heart and the intention to be a more proactively positive force for planetary healing. Recognizing how connected we are every time we pick up a fork will spill out into the rest of our lives, inspiring us to treat everyone we come across with more love and compassion.
And then there are those of us who might come out of ceremony to realize we have other issues that relate to food, lifestyle issues. We might stare at a screen while we eat, eat while driving on the highway, or just scarf down leftovers over the sink. All of these issues have some sort of compulsivity at their root, the exact kind of compulsivity that requires more of a shift of perspective that a brute force approach. What’s it like to eat without your phone? To only eat while sitting at the table? To make enough time to eat with your loved ones? To just simply slow down?
Some Last Thoughts on Mindful Eating
Although I haven’t counted, I’ve used the word, ‘practice’ a lot. Mindful eating is clearly a practice, just as an Ayahuasca Dieta is. There is no way to do it perfectly, there is only progress. And sometimes we ‘do it better’ than others. That’s ok. With all of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves, our habits, and even our body, any attempt to be kinder and more aware is a miracle to be celebrated. It’s a journey.
While it’s beyond the scope of this article, it’s worth mentioning that a good deal of study has been put into mindful eating and it’s benefits. There are scientific studies and articles and videos discussing all sorts of topics. Stress reduction, diabetes, weight loss, and body image to name a few. Those of you who are oriented this way might find it interesting to delve into this.
I’m a little more interested in the more traditional thoughts on this topic, and one of my favorite teachers on this topic is Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s prolific, with numerous books and plenty of videos online. Here is one video by him, and one by neuroscientist, Sandra Aamodt. Choose your own adventure!