Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Levels of awareness, levels of mindfulness

The next time you're about to bite into a big juicy apple, like the Granny Smith I have sitting next to my keyboard, stop for a minute or two and consider exactly how that apple got to you.

The first answer might be, I went to the grocery store and bought it. End of story.

But the fact is, it's not! In fact, it's only a tiny and incomplete picture out of the story.

Start from where you are. You bought the apple. But where did the apple come from, before it was on the shelf at your local Giant or Publix or Smiths or wherever you shop?  Someone had to put the apple on display.  Someone had to deliver the apples to the store.  Probably someone had to box up the apples -- for sure, someone had to pick them.

And then there's the farmer.  He or she tended the trees, maybe even planted them from the start.  They had to make sure the trees had everything they needed to grow. Their lives are devoted to growing food for other people to eat!  How cool is that?  And how often do we think about it?

And then there's G-d or nature or Mother Earth, whatever you call it, which provided the water and the soil and the seeds and the sunshine.  And the fact that this apple, and in fact, the entire apple tree, came from a tiny seed -- one just like the one in the apple in your hand.  A seed someone, somewhere did plant, to grow the tree, that grew your apple. And the incredibly, miraculous fact that in that tiny seed are all the instructions for growing a tree, including the leaves and the branches -- as well as everything needed to know how to produce an apple!  All of that in a SEED!  Think of the size of the computer memory that would be needed to handle that level of complexity!

Now to the apple, itself....

And look at the apple itself.  The color...mine is a lovely bright green, about the size of my palm. On the top, the last vestige of its connection to the tree that it came from -- much like an umbilical cord. From seed to tree to my hand. Connected.

I slice open the apple -- the sound is crunch and juicy, the smell of tart apple is all around me. I take a bite.  Sweet-tart.  Very juicy. Firm and crispy.

And here is where the concept in Judaism of a bracha (blessing) comes from.  It's also the core of Buddhist mindfulness. If we pay this kind of attention to an apple, and feel gratitude for all that went into the creation of and arrival of that apple in your hand, one cannot help but want to say a blessing.

Some people say formulaic blessings, one for each kind of food like fruits, dairy, etc.  But I think that runs the risk of making the blessing as rote as the eating often becomes. There are even little booklets of the "official" blessings (I have one) that contain endless lists of foods and the sanctioned blessing for each.

I would rather create my own.  Silently.  A heartfelt connection to the food I'm eating.  No, I do not do it at every meal, or heaven forbid, at every bite as a very over-zealous acquaintance once suggested.  But I do it often enough to keep myself aware that even the apple I bough an hour ago at the grocery store represents a long chain of events and choices before it reaches me. That mindfulness, and the wonder and gratitude that goes along with it, is my bracha.

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