Author: Angela Bewick, CHNC
A concept that biomechanist and innovative movement expert Katy Bowman (nutritiousmovement.com) talks about is “stacking your life.” Separate from “multi-tasking,” which she defines as “trying to accomplish many discrete tasks at once, stacking your life involves the search for fewer tasks that meet multiple needs, which often requires that you’re clear on what your needs actually are.” Bowman speaks about creating a lifestyle that incorporates multiple mini-activities into larger activities. For example, if you are looking to get more movement into your life and you need to spend time with your kids and get groceries, is it possible for you to go for a good walk outside with the kids that leads you to the local grocery store? She proposes that we look at movement (her specialty) not as simply a small pocket of our day, but as our environment and daily activity in general, creating what she calls “movement ecology.”
I extend this concept into how I think about my mindfulness practice. To be completely honest, my practice of mindful eating came out of a desperate need to reduce the stress and the suffering food preparation caused in my life – refining the clarity around what my “needs actually are.” I knew that being present with my experience reduced the stress of worry, anxiety, and frustration, but creating new mental habits requires practice. Lots of practice. How can I bring mindfulness into my everyday life rather than relegating it to something I only do for twenty minutes a day on the meditation cushion? Enter mindful nutrition – the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food buoyed by mindfulness in action. Knowing that one of our most frequent and fundamental human activities can give us an opportunity to strengthen our practice has been incredibly empowering for me and my hope is to pass that inspiration on.
Creating mindful nourishment begins with where and how we obtain our food. The procurement and preparation of food and our own value systems are deeply interconnected. How can we consider societal and environmental implications of the food we put our time and money into? Mindfulness asks us to consider the interconnections of all the things; mindful eating invites us to consider the food systems that we support with our spending. My personal values align with regenerative agriculture that increases the nutritional density of our food and lowers the toxic chemicals in our water, air, and soil; supports local food producers and in particular our farmers; and eat seasonally, ensuring nutrient-dense and flavorful foods, low environmental impact and helping us plan a varied diet throughout the year.
Bringing mindfulness into the kitchen and infusing the preparation of our food, for me, starts with simply making sure that presence and gratitude are the first ingredients in any meal or snack I’m bringing together. I am always learning the ways in which my privileged position in society has informed how readily food is available to me. Related to my access to food, I have spent all of my life in economic and class privilege and I recognize that this is not even remotely the case for everyone, even in a prosperous country like Canada where I live. Food security is a real issue globally and something that is an important consideration in our mindfulness practice. The advice I’ll give here is written from my personal experience and I ask that while we hold the difficult reality of food injustice firmly in mind, we also hold the wish to create systems that eliminate suffering for all.
Having said that, let’s be realistic. The degree to which that presence and gratitude show up and can change from day to day; effort and compassionate observation are the goal, not perfection. My goal in reducing the stress around food acquisition and preparation is to simplify things. Eating and cooking do not need to be complicated acts. I live with my two children and my partner and, like many mothers, am the food matriarch of the home - AKA head chef, menu planner, and gatherer of the goods. It is not always an easy job for me, but through my spiritual practice, I’ve found ways to “participate with joy,” as Joseph Campbell puts it. The complexity of my meals change based on conditions; What do I feel like eating? How much time do I have? What are the ingredients available to me right now? Who I’m preparing food for? This last factor is helpful in ensuring that my kids have access to whole, nutritious foods, and I welcome and encourage their participation in all acts related to food. I believe that children can have a very strong connection to their intuition around what they are hungry for and I try to provide options that maintain common-sense health practices while also including the pleasure of food preparation and eating. Even when creating food for myself, I enact those same principles. What am I really hungry for? What does my body need in this moment? How can I provide choices for myself and my family that allows us to develop and strengthen a loving and connected relationship with our bodies wherever we are?
The kitchen can be a beautiful and nourishing laboratory for what I like to call our inner “compassionate scientist.” A compassionate scientist looks at our mental and physical habits and discerns between that which is no longer serving us, or is causing us harm, with the objectivity and non-judgment of an observing analyst - all while remembering the universal compassion of the Buddha. Our practice invites us to work on our relationship to ourselves by getting to know, accept and love what is, while also building an intimate understanding of our personal relationship with food. To be clear, you don’t need to change anything; you are enough in this moment right now. If you are experiencing suffering that can be reduced by manipulating your external circumstances, you are also invited to seek out the resources, both internal and external, to help you adjust where possible.
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About the Author
Angela is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant, Mindfulness Practitioner, and mom in Calgary, Canada. She has consulted professionally in homes, offices, and kitchens educating individuals and communities in the field of developing mindfulness in the procurement and preparation of food. She focuses her consultations on helping clients to gain a deeper awareness of what health strategies work best for them as individuals.