Does a mindfulness meditation practice will help us to feel less reactive and more at ease with food?
For most people, eating is not a neutral experience. Often meal times give rise to many thoughts around food (do’s and don’ts) and emotions ranging from fear to worries. Sometimes even past memories are triggered when eating certain foods. How can we stay balanced and calm in this turmoil of mental experiences?
Maybe we will find answers in ancient Buddhist scriptures. Equanimity is one of the most sublime heart qualities of Buddhist meditation practice. Besides equanimity there are three other heart qualities. These are described as loving-kindness, compassion and sympathic joy. If we look deeper at equanimity, this quality is often associated with “not feeling anymore”, “dry and coolness” or “neutrality”. However, the Buddha described it completely different as a mind which is “abundant, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” The English word “equanimity” is a translation of two separate Pali words. Equanimity refers to the ability to observe without being caught up by what we see, smell, feel, taste or think. It is seeing the larger picture with patience and understanding. Another way of translating equanimity is “to stand in the middle of all this”. It refers to balance, confidence, and integrity.
Also neuroscience supports the power of equanimity. In many situations, especially when we are under stress, we may find ourselves over-reacting to events, feelings, thoughts or eating-related physical sensations such as stomach hunger or cravings. The ability to stay calm under pressure is a great quality, and is modulated by the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). Such non-reactivity has been shown to be a core factor of mindfulness (Baer et al 2006. Siegel, 2007) and improved over time when practicing concentration and insight meditation.
In the 21th century we can apply equanimity to protect us from being caught up by superficial events. In Buddhist terms these are described as the “eight worldly winds”.
- Praise and blame: For example, compliments don’t need to be taken more serious than when we hear the critical mind telling how ugly we are today. Both experiences can be observed with inner calm and confidence.
- Success and failure: For example, feeling successful when you’ve lost weight can be great but it might also lead to arrogance when people with overweight or obesity are perceived as failures without will-power. On the other hand, merely identifying with failure may give rise to feelings of incompetence or inadequacy.
- Pleasure and pain: If we become too attached to the pleasure of eating, then there will no longer be freedom. When one experience is preferred above another, we will always run after pleasure and we try frantically avoid pain. The moment we see the larger picture, we will realize that suffering is part of life and that reacting to pain might not be the best strategy to happiness.
- Fame and disrepute: When the mind is calm, we might notice our deep longing to be seen or heard. However, “15 minutes of fame” won’t give us lasting happiness. It is only by becoming aware of the coming and going, the rise and fall of fame and disrepute that will will set us free.
As mindfulness becomes stronger, so does our equanimity. When the mind is calm and we understand that our sense of well-being is independent of the eight winds, we are more likely to follow our inner values and life vows. When we live and act with integrity, we will feel confident and it will be easier to stand in the midst of the storm with equanimity and inner stability.
How do you develop equanimity during your eating moments and life? Who comes to mind as an ’embodied equanimous person’?
Caroline Baerten, RD, MA. Certified ME-CL teacher. Belgium
- Baer, R.A.; Hopkins, G.T.; Krietemyer, J.; & Toney, L. 2006. Using self-reported assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13 (1).
- Gilbert, Paul. 2009. The Compassionate Mind. How to use compassion to develop happiness, self-acceptance and well-being.
- Hanh, Thich Nhat: 1998. The Heart of the Buddha’s teaching; transforming suffering into peace, joy and liberation.
- Siegel, Daniel J. 2007. The Mindful Brain. Reflections on Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being