Amazing Senses Part 1: Taste
So many of us deeply enjoy eating and the process of eating – and eating can have such a wide range of associations with it.
How many of us have gone out to buy a big ice-cream or chocolate to cheer us up, or spent whole days preparing food for those that we love?
Interestingly, a part of eating that you would think is crucial, but is sometimes overlooked, is the actual taste of the food itself.
Taste evolved as a way to differentiate between poisonous and safe foods, but nowadays, eating forms a huge part of who we are and what we do in society, with ourselves and with others. Eating is associated with all kinds of delightful situations, and also all kinds of stressful situations.
At it’s core, there is something magical about bringing all of the noise of everything that is going on around us to something as simple as taste. During a study on French parenting Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at University of Texas, Marie-Anne Suizzo was surprised to find that teaching children to appreciate and savour the wide variety of flavours in the world was rated as more important than responding to basic needs and teaching manners.
Savouring food was about awakening and stimulating all the senses as well as the mind and emotions. Along with other stimulating practices like reading to children, playing music and giving them massages, savouring food was designed to develop children’s understanding of what gives them pleasure. Their children learn to savour and enjoy everything, unaffected by gluttony or restriction. French mothers believe that stimulating children’s appetites for a wide variety of life’s pleasures actually deters them from becoming addicted to drugs!
Being present with taste, being mindful, invites us to bring our focus into to living our life in the here and now, not just in the stories in our minds. And to giving ourselves over to the moment – living it fully, losing ourself in the awareness and pleasure, finding and enjoying the many small pleasures – and displeasures – along the way. Taste and savour your food, living fully into the senses!
Three Mindful Taste exercises for you to try:
You can do these beautiful taste exercises on your own, or with a partner or loved ones, or with those you work with, bringing you into the deep pleasure and possibilities of the senses, and fully into the present.
1. Mindful moments through Tea drinking
We all of us have drinks through the day – for hydration, for sustenance, for comfort. Because we already do this, making and drinking a cup of tea – or coffee, is an ideal activity to practice mindful awareness and the savouring of life.
- Notice the sound of the tap as you fill the kettle
- Hear the changing sounds as the water is heating, the bubbling and gurgling. See the wisps of steam, notice the kettle shaking.
- Notice what arises when you thoughts wander off to some story in your mind. Let the story be there as you gently come back to the kettle and tea making and drinking.
- Notice the texture, the temperature, the weight of the cup you choose to make your tea in.
- Notice what impels you to make your choice of tea/coffee? What thoughts/feeling arise as you choose?
- Watch the way the colour of the water changes as it meets the teabag or coffee when your pour, listen to the tinkling as the water fills the cup.
- Each and every step, just noticing all the sounds, smells, textures, tastes, and images.
- Actually feel the touch of the spoon handle against your fingers and the weight of the teabag as you lift the bag and drop into the bin hearing the lid go up and down.
- Notice your own tendency to do all of this on auto pilot with your attention on something seemingly more important until you remember that you only ever have now, so you might as well experience it, savour it.
- Notice how you feel as you reach for sugar, or milk, or honey or lemon?
- How do your hands feel against the warm cup?
- Be interested in how your hand and arm know how to move the cup to your mouth to drink? How curious?
- As you take the first sip of tea, really notice what happens in your mouth, on your tongue, is it pleasant? Unpleasant? Do you like the feel, the taste? or not? Allow the response to be there without rushing to gulp more if you like it, or fix if you don’t like it.
- If thoughts arise – as they will – let them be there, and gently bring your focus back to the act of drinking the tea.
- Notice without judgment any desire to rush the drinking, any impatience if the tea is not cool enough yet.
- Notice how you make the decision to swallow the tea? Is it a conscious decision or automatic? Notice the muscles in the back of the mouth and the throat, the feel of the liquid trickling down. What does swallowing feel like?
- Notice how the liquid seems to stop being separate from you and dissolve into you? When does that happen? How do you notice?
- As you continue to drink, notice with acceptance feelings or thoughts that arise. About rushing, your day, the tea. About feelings of impatience, or stillness. Just noticing moment to moment as things shift and change, as your attention is pulled into the past or future or even into zoning out.
- Notice all that is around you.
- Notice the dropping of temperature of the tea, and your responses, and your decisions.
- Stay with this mindful awareness as long as you can be with the awareness – and not need to force yourself to endure it.
- Notice the impact the mindful tea drinking has had on you. If that impact is wholesome, you might want to adopt tea drinking as a daily practice to cultivate your ability to focus your attention, come into the present, calm your mind and heart, and savour the taste of the present.
2. A mindful Meal
Next time you sit to a meal alone of with someone else, any meal, breakfast, a snack or dinner, decide that you will savour and fully experience the meal, from beginning to end. To take some time and really delve into the experience of tasting each and every single bite of the food that is before you.
- Before you eat, start looking at the colours of the food, the placement on the plate, the shapes.
- Deeply appreciating the textures..
- You may even reflect on the many people and communities involved in growing, harvesting, preparing, transporting, selling this food for it to be on your table – the whole fabric of a community that made this possible for you.
- Notice the smells and the impact the smell has on your body
- Pick up the food with your fingers, hold it in your hand… no knives or forks .. just in your bare hand, what is the texture of it?how does the food feel in your fingers?
- Take just one bite and notice the movement of your jaw, what happens in your mouth in order for you to take just one bite?
- Notice the flavour? What can you taste? Is it as you expected? Notice the subtlety or the intensity of the flavours and savour each morsel.
- What is happening in your mouth, the texture, the saliva, the changes in the food, the urges to chew or swallow, the act of chewing and swallowing.
- What can you hear as you are eating? sounds in your mouth – of the food – of your lips – teeth – jaw?
- What happens after you swallow? what do you notice? Are you jumping to the next bite, or feeling full from the last, or?
- Do the flavours, the texture linger? ..the taste? …
- When you are ready have another bite, pause and share your experience so far.
- Then, as you are both ready, fully savouring the next bite.
- Don’t just just let it finish with the chewing and swallowing, reflect on the quality of experience you just had, in some ways it doesn’t matter if you enjoyed it or not, it’s the experience you just had—what was it?
If you ate all your food in this way, fully tasting and savouring the food, what difference would it make to the way you eat?
3. The tasting wheel – not a pleasure just for wine, it can be brought into every meal
Another lovely experience to share with a partner or friend can deepen your awareness of taste and smell. Choose a time when you are going to have a meal or snack together, and bring a taste wheel to your table. We all know how in depth people can be when they talk about wine or coffee. Bring this depth of awareness to your meal. Eat a little more slowly, and as you taste each bite, take the time to notice then share, what tastes you are aware of. The tasting wheel can be helpful in identifying the subtle differences, or the seemingly inarticulable tastes and aromas that we are not always in the habit of noticing.
As you continue to notice, each bite, each smell, reflect on the quality of experience. Savouring the rich and subtle, pleasurable and not so pleasurable experiences alike.
Your Amazing Senses
At the Australian Institute of Applied Mindfulness we have just launched the Amazing Sense Series of events and articles which we hope will be of benefit to you. Do join us if you can at the Mindful Dessert Tasting Event and feel free to invite friends. Strictly limited places at this one. Happy tasting, Liana Taylor