Eating Like a Zen Master

Master Mettiko

Master Mettiko

My plan throughout the meditation program was to water fast for ten days. Today is the third day, and I feel fantastic. But my teacher, Master Mettiko, has a different thought. He says: "You need to eat. It is part of the learning process. When you restrict yourself from food, your body goes into imbalance. Fasting is good to balance many days of overeating. But you are here to purify your body. So you must eat. Eating will balance your body's system. You may also choose to eat one meal a day. Eating less will give you more appreciation for the meal." Despite whatever preconception I have, I must let go. After all, I am the beginner and the student.

Who is Master Mettiko? He is an expatriate French monk. He has spent 30 years teaching Buddhism and Vipassana meditation in temples around the world. Now, he resides in Thailand. 

Master Mettiko insists that most of us live mindlessly. We spent our days dreaming, reminiscing about the past or, more often, endlessly planning for the future, even if that's only 10 minutes from now. By doing this, we miss our appointment with life. Because the only time we can become fully alive is to be in the present moment. 

To change, we need only recognize that it is always now and increase our awareness of what is going on within and around us. Sounds simple, but few actually do it. Instead, we live in a near-constant distraction, even when we sit down to eat. 

"Eating is an art," said Master Mettiko. "A spiritual discipline." This is, essentially, what he recommends:

  1. Honor the food. Put all the distractions away. TV and cell phone must be turned off. Then take a moment to consider that everything you are about to consume was recently alive. Be grateful for the many people who made this meal possible: the farmers who grew and harvested the food, the trucker who transported it, the shopkeeper who offered it, and your spouse or other individual who may have worked hard to prepare it.
  2. Engage all our senses. Make a habit of pausing before savoring the meal. Notice the color with your eyes, the smell with your nose, then taste the texture of the food with your tongue.
  3. Serve moderate portion. Modest portions are healthier. They are less wasteful and also promotes more responsibility towards the use of the planet's resources.
  4. Eat slowly. This allows the enzymes to break down in your mouth. It also a better way to enjoy the taste of the meal and makes you feel pleasantly satisfied sooner.
  5. Be a vegan. Buddhist like Master Mettiko claim this isn't just healthier, it is also easier on the environment and more compassionate toward animals. As a curious person, I may give vegan a try for a couple of months every year, just as I commit myself to regular water fast annually as part of my holistic health approach. The purpose is not total abstinence. Rather, is like what Aristotle said, "The aim is the golden mean. The felicitous middle between indulgence and austerity." Ironically, Buddhist call this "The Middle Way." 

To eat like a zen master, you don't need years of training or hours spent meditating. You need only recognize your mindless habits and make an effort to change them. 

Eating mindfully allows you to appreciate your food and its connection to the rest of the world. It makes you look and feel better. It helps you live longer, too. So try Master Mettiko's guidelines and see if you can make them second nature.