I can count on just one hand the number of times I have gone on a diet, but most of the fingers would be needed. The same number of fingers would count the times my diets have been successful, because if I am serious about it, they always are. Unfortunately, I would have to use the same number of fingers to count the number of times I have regained all the weight, and in some cases, more.
All of this has led me to have a defeatist attitude toward my weight, so when I recently read an article about eating mindfully instead of dieting, it caught my attention. A part of me is skeptical, thinking it won’t work; however, mindfulness is a part of the monastic tradition. Making a renewed effort to be mindful will be good for me even if I don’t lose a pound.
As I understand it, mindfulness is about paying attention, in this instance, about paying attention to why, what and how I eat. For instance, I feel stressed, so to comfort myself, I might sit in my easy chair, listen to an audiobook, play free cell on my smart phone, and consume a whole bag of sour gummy bears – all at the same time. How can I really be paying attention to any of it?
Another way to look at it is to think of my awareness. Am I aware of how my body feels sitting in my easy chair? Am I aware of all the nuances of plot and character in the audiobook? Okay, it doesn’t take much awareness to play a game of free cell, but I am definitely not savoring each bite of the sugary confection I am eating. Am I really even present in this situation?
This practice of mindful eating has led me to notice other areas of my life that could use some mindfulness. For instance, I have been praying the Psalms for more than 30 years, and my mind is prone to wander to other thoughts while I am chanting on auto-pilot: scheduling my day, wondering why Sister X is absent, rehearsing a past failure and feeling anxious about it all over again, or wondering if it will snow this winter.
Thoughts come and go in our minds, but it is possible to let them go and return to mindfully paying attention. A short chapter of the Rule of Benedict says it this way:
We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov 15:3). But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.”
We must always remember, therefore, what the Prophet says: Serve the Lord with fear (Ps 2:11), and again, Sing praise wisely (Ps 46:8); and, In the presence of the angels I will sing to you (Ps 137):1). Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices. (RB 1980, chapter 19)
My conversations with others would also benefit from some mindfulness. Often, I find myself only half listening while mentally planning my reply. St. Benedict has something to say about this, as well: Listen is the first word of the Rule. A Benedictine life ought to be a life that prioritizes listening and paying attention. When I am mindful, I can be more truly present to the beloved child of God before me and truly hear what she is saying.
I imagine as I continue practicing mindful eating, I will discover countless other areas of my life that would benefit from the practice of mindfulness. Even if I don’t lose a pound, I hope to be a better Benedictine for it.
By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB