I just ate some pistachios. I love eating pistachios because each nut has a distinctive shape, texture, and taste. The person who helped me realize this was my housemate back when I lived in West Philadelphia. He was an aspiring young journalist and I was an aspiring composer fresh out of college, and both of us were trying to figure out how to navigate the "real world." He became a big brother to me, and we lived in the creaky old townhouse full of bohemian philosophers, artists, and bartenders. Many evenings were spent discussing politics and British playwrights, or getting immersed in our various "scientific experiments" in the kitchen.
Among our eclectic shared interests was meditation. I practice zazen, which simply consists of sitting and breathing to awaken consciousness and mindful insight. My housemate, on the other hand, practiced many forms of meditation including a whole variety of breathing meditations, walking meditation, sitting meditation, and even eating meditation.
One afternoon, we were munching on some trail mix on the porch when he told me about his eating meditation. He told me it was too difficult for me, so naturally I had to accept the challenge. He explained the meditation in these simple steps:
- Look at the food for one minute
- Touch the food for one minute
- Smell the food for one minute
- Keep the food on the tongue for one minute
- Carefully chew for one minute
- Swallow and process for one minute
After a few failed attempts and a lot of laughing, we finally sat silently for six minutes, he with a crasin and I with a pistachio. For those six minutes, I had nothing but the awareness of the pistachio. I still vividly recall how it looked, felt, smelled, and tasted. It was a pistachio like none other, and that little pistachio and I fused into one through awareness and the act of eating. (I know it sounds absurd, but I highly recommend you trying it at home sometime.)
Although I rarely have the luxury of spending six mindful minutes on every bite, the memory and experience is something I try to keep close with me. It helped me to realized how unconscious I usually am when I eat. Sometimes I don't even see what my food looks like because I'm watching a screen or talking to a friend. I might finish a sandwich and not be able to recall precisely what was between the slices. I burn my tongue because I didn't realize how hot the food was until it was too late.
Every moment is like a pistachio. At any given time, there is so much potential for awareness and mindfulness, but so often we unceremoniously pop it in our mouth and continue on with our semiconscious motions of life. I want to be able to apply what I learned from that pistachio to ordinary moments like these. I guess that's why meditation is a "practice," so that even without spending six minutes, I've learned how to make that bite a little more "perfect."
Now when I eat pistachios, I taste and feel the uniqueness of every nut. When I cook, I also think beyond nutrition and taste. Presentation of food is about drawing the attention of the eater, so that even for a couple of seconds, the eater is practicing meditation. He or she becomes aware, engaged, and conscious; and this way, eating becomes a much more enjoyable and enlightening experience.
Nothing makes people meditate like art. Just as the most beautiful arrangement of food commands the eater's awareness, music can put us in touch with the energy, feeling, and integrity that exist in every moment. A powerful painting shows us that just a small surface can contain the whole world. Voluntary or not, art is the practice of meditation.
The pistachio has also taught me to be more aware as an artist. I don't mean that I should smell my piano and lick my pencil for a few minutes before I start composing. But I try to expand my awareness beyond musical notes to more deeply consider the people and spaces surrounding the music. When Christian Louboutin designs his heels, he says he keeps in mind that when a woman stands in front of the mirror, the shoes are the last detail she will observe. A number of traditional Japanese parks have zigzagging bridges, because it invites the walker to turn around and take in a new view. These are only a couple of examples of art/ists I admire, because art can only improve from a greater awareness of the other, whether that's a pistachio or an audience.