I have a meditation practice, and mostly it’s like going into my own wilderness, alternately magnificent and scary. So at least once a year it’s imperative for me to go on retreat with a teacher who can guide and refresh my practice. The retreat must also provide organic vegetarian meals, because mostly that’s how I eat.
We did sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindfulness practice, loving kindness practice, compassion practice and equanimity practice. There were 193 of us in the group, and we all sat together with his teachings.
Like the teachings, the meals were impressive, and after a day of sitting and walking practice, food was something we all looked forward to. The center’s kitchens were impressive, with all kinds of new kettles, steamers, woks, an expansive salad prep area, a bakery, two convection ovens and 10 chefs. The food is organic and meals featured free-range chicken, wild fish and salads, vegetables, rice, dal and a vegetarian entree. Chefs obtain the food locally whenever possible.
Since the last time I was there several years ago, Kripalu has begun using more gluten-free items, and the captions for each of the prepared foods list all the ingredients and whether they are organic, grass-fed or wild. So you always know what you are eating. The kitchen, led by executive chef Deb Morgan and operation manager Kelly Johnson, feeds several groups at the same time — about 450 to 800 folks for most breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
My favorite mindfulness practice was the eating meditation. We began this on the fourth day of the retreat, just before lunch, after three hours of sitting and walking. The staff passed out a small handful of raisins to each of the 193 meditators.
We were asked to hold the raisins in our hands, first examining each one — its color, size, texture, the way it rolled or didn’t roll in our palms when we moved them. Then we smelled them, seeing whether they made us salivate. Then we were asked to place one raisin on our tongue and to swish it around in our mouths, noticing how the flavor bursts on the tongue, noticing the texture. Then we were asked to chew the raisin, tasting it. It was magnificent.
In the middle of the chew, we were asked to think about where the raisin came from. Imagining the grape on the vine, imagining its color, the way it was allowed to dry in the sun. We were asked to imagine the farmer who planted the grape seed, imagine the farmer picking it and placing it in his basket. We were asked to give gratitude to everyone who had been involved with that raisin. Did it bring up any thoughts or feelings for any of us? What were they?
I immediately thought about the raisin sauce that appeared in the breakfast lineup of food each morning. I wanted that recipe. I remembered how each of the six mornings we were there, I first put the Hawthorne Valley biodynamic yogurt in my bowl and then covered it with pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut and finally the divine raisin compote.
I imagined how many raisins it would take to make the sauce, and how long all those grapes had grown and then the picking of them and the drying of them. How much water was added to the concoction and was it finally blended in a liquidizer or pulverized with a ricer? There was a chap in the group who couldn’t eat the raisin because it made him think of all the hunger in the world.
From that point forward every other thought that came to mind during my sitting meditation between breakfast and lunch was about food. And the concept of food really brought to mind the idea of hunger, all the anxiety of my own hungry heart and the desire that sometimes takes the form of greed, and therefore more desire. The cycle of desire is interesting to watch. In a flash, desire can become jealousy. More and more understanding of our desire gives us greater and greater freedom.
Grateful for every quality
When we were finally excused for lunch and I had gathered small portions of all that was offered, I sat for 60 seconds in the presence of the food imagining the farmer who had planted the seeds, wondering whether they were organic, if they were heirloom, or if they were tainted with genetically modified organisms. The questions seemed to come from a whole committee of voices. I acknowledged them all.
But then I just began to eat; slowly, quietly and with mindfulness and enormous gratitude, enjoying the colors, the textures, the taste and the fact that I had the opportunity to sit quietly, as Pico Iyer said in his New York Times piece, “The Joy of Quiet.” For six days, I ate, walked and listened to teachings that were thousands of years old. It occurred to me that if we could all be silent at just one meal, appreciating every aspect of it, we might all grow more peaceful.
1¼ cups of organic unsulphered raisins
1½ cups of filtered or spring water
¼ teaspoon vanilla (optional)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- Soak the raisins for at least 4 hours.
- Puree the mixture, adding the soaking water last so you get the thickness you would like. Add vanilla or cinnamon if desired.
- Use over yogurt or in smoothies or anything else that catches your fancy.
Zester Daily contributor Katherine Leiner has published many award-winning books for children and young adults and, more recently, her first novel for adults, “Digging Out” (Penguin). Her most recent book, “Growing Roots: The New Sustainable Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists” won half a dozen awards, including the National Indie Excellence Gold Medal Award. Katherine’s next novel is due this year.
Photos, from top:
Raisins become the focus of an eating meditation.
Raisin sauce over breakfast.
Credits: Andrew Lipton