When people first learn about the Nine Hungers, they may feel a bit overwhelmed. Nine seems like so many things to “remember.” It helps to recall that these are nine aspects of the bundle of body sensations, thoughts and emotions that we lump together and call “I’m hungry.” They are already present; we are just becoming aware of each one with kindly curiosity. It’s a skill anyone can learn!
One way I remember how to assess all Nine Hungers is by pointing to or touching the parts of the body involved. You start by moving down from the top, pointing to the eyes, then the ears, the nose, the mouth, the stomach, the trunk (for Cellular Hunger).
Then you move back up to the head for Mind Hunger and down to the chest for Heart Hunger. For Touch Hunger you can ask the mouth about what textures it would like.
You can highlight the five most important and compelling or confusing ones: Mouth, Stomach, Cells, Mind and Heart.
People can also be concerned that it will take “too much time” to assess the Nine Hungers each time they sit down to eat. It helps to know that this is just like any skill – it takes a few days or weeks of practice to become skilled and quick at it.
If you practice surveying the Nine Aspects of Hunger each time you eat, within a few days or weeks you will learn to do this assessment quite quickly. In fact, someone sitting at the table with you might not even realize that you are doing anything but being quiet for a minute. If you remember to do this quick assessment again, half way through the meal, and especially before taking second helpings, it can be very helpful in adjusting the kinds and amounts of food you eat to meet your body’s actual needs.Once you are aware of the information from the Nine Hungers, you have choices. Once you have choices, you have stepped into freedom. This is a motto for life:
|Awareness brings choice and choice brings freedom.|
When you learn to pop up into awareness, when you can ask, ‘Who’s hungry in there?” you are no longer a creature chained to old habits. You begin the journey to freedom.
It’s like a bus driver with nine unruly passengers. Each passenger is telling you how to drive (faster, slower) and where to go (go to the Mall, no, to Disneyland, no, take me home). It would be disastrous if the bus driver reacted emotionally to all of this input. The driver has to listen, take into account what each passenger is saying, and then make an informed, wise and compassionate decision about how to drive and where to go. Just so, through mindful eating, you, the driver of the vehicle called your body, will learn to listen the information from the nine aspects of hunger, and make an informed, wise and compassionate decision about what to eat and how much and how fast to eat.
Let’s say you have eaten and you are ready to decide about having a second helping of dessert. You check in with the nine aspects of hunger. Eyes say, “I love the red color of the strawberries we just ate.” The mouth says, “I agree, let’s have another strawberry shortcake with lots of whipped cream. I love the contrast of flaky pastry, juicy berries and smooth, fatty whipped cream. “
The stomach says, “I’m very full and I still have over an hour of work to do to process what you’ve already given me. Remember how uncomfortable being over-full feels?” The cells say, “We’ve had plenty of good nutrients already and enough fat. No need for more.” The mind says, “Are you kidding? Don’t be a pig. You’ve had enough!” The heart says, “I feel soothed by rich desserts — lets have more.”
Then you, from the spacious place of awareness, take into account the input from these aspects of hunger. You make a decision to have four more strawberries and a tiny dollop of whipped cream, and to eat what your own wisdom and compassion have chosen mindfully. You eat slowly and with full attention, and find that the experience is intimate and surprisingly satisfying (and does not bring on the hangover of regret and recrimination that a whole extra shortcake would have created).
Mindful eating helps us step out of automatic pilot and into awareness. Once we are in awareness, the anxiety that has come to flavor our eating dissipates, and is replaced by curiosity, discovery, pleasure — and even joy.
Jan Chozen Bays, USA
Which of the Nine Hungers do you find are the hardest to tap into?
Which do you feel are the most important for you to pay attention to in order to eat mindfully?