Eating (Mindfully) in Thailand
Recently I had a fun experience at the market buying a cantaloupe: I pick up what I thought was a cantaloupe. The seller fires at me a mess of things I don’t understand in rapid Thai, while simultaneously cutting fruit with an exorbitantly sharp knife. But then– lo and behold– I recognized a word! Success! I got it, she’s telling me the fruit in the pile I chose from are green, and over there is a strikingly similar looking pile of ripe orange cantaloupe. I put down the green melon and buy the cantaloupe thanking her with a huge smile.
Today I ate the cantaloupe. The whole thing. I know, there are worse things to eat excessively, and maybe tomorrow I’ll eat a whole cantaloupe too, but here I will be considering the how of eating not the what. This morning I ate the first third of the cantaloupe as fast as possible while somehow all at the same time putting on shoes, packing my bag, and rushing out the door. Skipping breakfast is not an option for me so sometimes it involves gnawing on a cantaloupe while practicing a circus act.
Then for second breakfast I ate some more cantaloupe. The whole time I’m eating it I’m thinking about my mom and how she loves cantaloupe, and how I never liked it but now I do, a lot, and I’m smiling at my reminiscence and happy to think of her.
Then at lunch I ate some more. Starting in on the third slice I thought to myself, “wait, did I even taste those other slices?” Then I realized the whole cantaloupe was almost gone, and I thought to myself, “did I even taste any of this wonderful fruit?” I started to pay attention. Immediately I noticed that I would take a bite, chew it half way up, then take another bite while my mouth was still full from the first bite. So I stopped. I took another bite and slooowwwed down. I set the slice of fruit down and focused on enjoying all the sensations of that one bite, the crunch, the ever so slight sweetness, the intoxicating light smell. I chewed and swallowed the whole bite before picking up the piece to take another. Wow.
This is not my first time awakening myself to eating more mindfully, but it’s an easy thing to forget. In Thailand sharing meals is special and common. Food is served “family style” with several small dishes to share. Everyone takes little bits at a time for themselves. Usually people are talking and laughing and eating slowly. I love to share meals this way-but often if I am with a group of people sharing a meal they are all speaking Thai, and I am eating–eating faster, eating more. So I sloowww down. I set my spoon down between every bite. I feel the fish melt in my mouth, the burn of the chili on my lips. I take in the smell of the basil and the lime. I listen intently even though I don’t know what people are saying. I try to pick up the gist of the conversation-and usually I can through body language and the few words I know. Then I slowly take another bite and I consciously experience the true joy of eating. This takes work. To be grateful with every bite, to focus solely on all the sensations of the nourishment or treat you’re providing yourself with.
I’m living in a remarkable city in a great country blessed with tons of amazing fresh food. I am making a promise to myself today to slow down and enjoy it. At least once a day eat something truly mindfully- that means catching myself if my mind wanders to a wonderful reminiscence and bringing it back to the sensation of whatever tastes, smells, sounds, textures I’m experiencing in the present. If I eat a whole cantaloupe tomorrow, at least I hope to truly enjoy it.
I challenge you to take some time to pay attention to how you eat. Maybe you’ll want to try to eat more mindfully too, even if it’s just for a bite.