Monthly Archive for July, 2012

Mindfulness Week 5

Mindfulness, Week 5

Exercise:  When Eating Just Eat

“This week, when you’re eating or drinking, don’t do anything else.  Sit down and take the time to enjoy what you are taking in.   Open all the senses as you eat or drink.   Look at the colors, shapes, surface textures.  Attend to the smells and flavors in your mouth.  Listen to the sounds of eating and drinking.”


“This is not an easy task for most people.  If you’re on the go, walking from one place to another and about to take a sip of tea or coffee, you’re going to need to stop, find a place to sit down, and savor it.  If you’re working on the computer, you’re going to have to take both hands off the keyboard and turn your eyes away from the screen in order to savor a sip of coffee.

“Eating has become part of our modern habit of perpetually multitasking.  When we do this exercise, we discover anew how many other things we do while eating.  We eat while walking, driving, watching TV or movies, reading, working on the computer, playing video games, and listening to music.

“Once we eliminate those obvious activities, we come to a more subtle aspect of inattention—talking while eating.  Our parents may have scolded us for talking with our mouths full, but we still find ourselves eating and talking simultaneously.  While doing this task we learn to alternate eating and talking.  In other words, if you want to talk, stop eating.  Don’t do them at the same time.

“It is so common to socialize while eating that you may discover that you feel awkward eating alone in a restaurant without reading or otherwise distracting yourself.  You might imagine that people are thinking, “Poor thing, no friends.”  You pick up a book or open your computer to show you are being productive and wouldn’t “waste time” by “just eating.”  One problem with eating and doing other things is that it becomes “waist time,” that is, time for extra food to go down unnoticed, and end up on your waist!

“In Japan and parts of Europe it is very rude to walk and eat or drink at the same time.  The only food you can eat in Japan while standing up or walking is an ice-cream cone, because it might melt.  People will stare at the boorish foreigner who busy fast food and walks down the street munching.  Even fast food is taken home, arranged attractively, and served at a table.  Meals are times to slow down and truly enjoy the food, drink, and company.”

How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventure in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 33-35.


Mindfulness Week 4

Mindfulness:  Week 4

Exercise:  Appreciate your Hands

“Several times a day, when your hands are busy, watch them as though they belonged to a stranger.  Also look at them when they are still.”


“Our hands are very skilled at all sorts of tasks, and they can do many of them by themselves, without much direction from our mind.  It’s fun to watch them at work, busily living their own life.  Hands can do so much!  The two hands can work together or do different things at the same time.

“While doing this exercise we noticed that each person has characteristic hand gestures.  Our hands wave about when we talk, almost by themselves.  We noticed that our hands change over time.  Look at your hands and imagine them as they were when you were a baby, then imagine them changing as you grew older, until they reach the present time and state.  Then imagine them growing older, becoming lifeless when you die, then dissolving back into the earth.

“Even when we are asleep our hands are caring for us, pulling up the blankets, holding the body next to us, turning off the alarm clock.”

How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventure in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 29-30.

Mindfulness: Week 3

Mindfulness, Week 3

The Exercise:  Filler Words

“Become aware of the use of ‘filler’ words and phrases and try to eliminate them from your speech.  Fillers are words that do not add meaning to what you’re saying, such as ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘so,’ ‘well,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ ‘kind of,’ and ‘sort of.’  Additional filler words enter our vocabulary from time to time.  Recent additions might include ‘basically’ and ‘anyway.’

“In addition to eliminating filler words, see if you can notice why you tend to use them—in what situations and for what purpose?”


“At the monastery we have found this to be one of the most challenging mindfulness practices we do.  It is frustratingly hard to hear your own filler words and catch them before they are spoken—unless you are a trained speaker.  In the Toastmasters clubs (groups that train in public speaking) there are people assigned to tally filler words during talks, assisting members as they learn to be effective speakers.  Once you begin to hear filler words, you will hear them everywhere, on the radio and TV and in everyday conversation.   A typical teenager uses the filler word like an estimated two hundred thousand times a year!  You will also notice which speakers do not use them, and become aware of how the absence of filler words makes a speech more effective and powerful.  For example, listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, or President Barack Obama’s speeches with an ear for filler words.

“Filler words seem to serve several functions.  They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking or that you are not finished speaking yet.  ‘So . . . I told him what I thought of his idea and then, um, I said, like, you . . .’ Filler words also soften what we say, making it less definite or assertive.  ‘So anyway, I you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with this project.’  Are we afraid of provoking a reaction or of being wrong?  We wouldn’t want a president or doctor who spoke in such a wishy-washy way.  Filler words can become an obstruction to the listening audience when they so dilute the meaning as to render it silly.  ‘Jesus sort of said, ‘Love your, you know, neighbor, as, sort of, like, yourself.’’’

Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 25, 26-27.