Today I had blueberries for breakfast. What’s significant is that I had the conscious experience of having blueberries for breakfast. This was not my intention, but the blueberries demanded my full attention and I answered their call. I had rinsed the blueberries, destined for cereal, and they sat waiting in the bowl. While I was making other preparations, hunger and impulse overcame me, and I popped a single blueberry into my mouth. Something caused me to savor it. There are many subtle things about blueberries – the relatively thick tart skin, the juicy sweet-tart pulp, the smallest of seeds inside, the sturdiness of this fragile thing that had traveled thousands of miles to my door and already endured a week in the refrigerator. There was nothing subtle about the experience – it became a blueberry moment. I changed my plans. Did I just happen upon the most exceptional blueberry ever made? I had to have another. It was similarly exceptional in its own way. I reveled in each berry in the bowl in its turn until they were gone.
There are many health practitioners who encourage us to eat more mindfully. They recommend practice exercises where you simply eat a grape or raisin, or blueberry! They note that our failure to pay attention certainly contributes to eating that damages our health.
More importantly though, people like Thich Nhat Hanh remind us that eating is an example of an ordinary activity that is an opportunity to practice the attentiveness that is beneficial more generally in life.
There is a zen story that’s a favorite of mine from a parable attributed to Buddha that this morning calls to mind. It’s usually referred to as the “Tigers and the Strawberry” and is the extreme case of mindful eating (and living):
One day while walking across a field a man encountered a vicious tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.
Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted.
From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings compiled by Paul Reps
Today, the simple experience of being unusually present to my breakfast brought new meaning to the aphorism that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Sure, it might make us smarter, slimmer, more energetic, more productive, as the data suggests. I’m wondering if all these results might pale in comparison to the opportunity to embody doing one thing at a time, and knowing that I am doing it, even when, or perhaps especially when my mind is sending the message that I’m starting the day surrounded by tigers! Hmm. While I don’t think I’m going to start eating frosted flakes, I think I might give a nod to Tony the Tiger when I eat my next blueberries – to put tigers in perspective at the start of the day as well.
With thanks to the humble blueberry and from whence it comes.