I have limited gardening experience, but I’ve always had a keen interest and appreciation for those who understand the value and benefits of homegrown food.
When I was a boy, my mother maintained a garden because she understood the importance of having access to fresh, nutritious food and she appreciated the cost savings. While my mother and older brother worked in the garden, I remember pulling up and eating the far-from-mature carrots because I couldn’t resist the attraction of pulling something out of the ground that I could eat right away. I thought I was being sneaky, but my mother, of course, did not find my covert carrot assassinations amusing.
Later in life, I recall visiting my father, and he would proudly show off his garden. He would eagerly hunt through the thick vegetation to find vegetables that were ready to incorporate into his dinner plans.
My parents’ enthusiasm for fresh vegetables straight from their gardens has always been inspiring to me, and I’m excited to start my own garden for all the wonderful reasons one might presume. I also have an additional reason that might not be anticipated: The opportunity to practice being mindful about food, where it comes from and how it’s prepared and enjoyed.
Mindfulness—the practice of being present with our experience—is the non-judgmental, embodying observation of the present from moment to moment. It’s the acceptance of the moment we find ourselves in as it is without adding any biases to it. Mindfulness is a practice of accepting the essential nature of everything, from the flowers and the compost, to ourselves and our challenges. It’s the felt sense of embodiment as we guide our gardening shovels into the soil, as we run our hands through the leaves, as we feel the wetness of the water when we wash the vegetables.
It’s the observation of everything as it is happening within the moment, without the mind’s distractions of the past or the future, which exist only in our minds. Since the past has already been and the future is yet to be, all we have is living in this moment as it happens. Mindfulness is doing what we’re doing while we’re doing it.
We can each benefit from applying the practice of mindfulness to all of our activities. Habitually, we may find ourselves switching to autopilot as we work, ruminating over our worries and completely missing out on life at hand. There is growing evidence from projects like TrackYourHappiness.org that clearly indicate that we are far happier in our lives when we are focused on living life in the moment. The practice of mindfulness can help with anxiety, depression, stress, sleep trouble and body aches. Developing a practice of mindfulness focused on our nourishment can become a meditation rich in restorative qualities.
Mindful Gardening Sometimes mindfulness comes simply by slowing down. It comes by taking time to let the sunshine land on our faces or by noticing the beauty of what we might otherwise take for granted. Practicing mindfulness in the garden doesn’t mean that we neglect our work and indulge in our sensations. Instead, we do the work required nonjudgmentally to further the growth of the garden, recognizing each task simply as a challenge to be met.
Mindful Food Preparation When we begin to deepen our relationship to food and are motivated by an interest in nourishing our bodies, we naturally question the value we have placed on the convenience of processed foods. With an interest in healthy eating, we recognize the value of mindful meal preparation and receive joy from the process.
When we’re able to recognize that food is truly sacred, our attentiveness to its preparation naturally receives greater respect. We see the vibrancies of color, we feel the varying textures and we smell the many aromas. Each step in a recipe can be taken with a greater understanding that the time given to prepare the food translates into better taste, nutrition and enjoyment. When our intention is to prepare food with love and respect, it’s boldly noticeable in the results. Reflecting upon any fine meal we have enjoyed, it’s easy to recognize the care and consideration that was given during its preparation. Unfortunately, our culture has sacrificed the sacredness of food for convenience, and our physical health is paying the price.
Mindful Eating When we eat mindfully, appreciation is vital. Luckily, discovering that sense of appreciation isn’t difficult. Delighting in the details of each meal, we allow ourselves to taste as if tasting for the first time. We learn to recognize the subtleties, noticing smells, flavors, shapes and consistencies. Self-awareness when eating enables us to savor our food, and it can help us discover a far more satisfying relationship with it. It can deepen our understanding of the nourishing power of what we eat.
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, a great advocate and teacher for eating mindfully, has said, “There are some people who eat an orange but don’t really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past and future.” If we lose sight of just how healing eating can be, we also lose sight of the joy and satisfaction therein.
Developing the skills that welcome a fuller appreciation and intimacy with ourselves and our environment can be learned through meditation. And when we bring these skills to our gardens, food preparation and eating, we take an active role in improving the quality of our life.
The best part about mindfulness is that there is no right or wrong way to remind ourselves to be present. If the mind wanders, just bring it back to the sensation most present in the experience, and from there we find ourselves. Mindfulness is our opportunity to practice and experience greater happiness. We can embrace a sense of responsibility as our actions take on a new meaning and value, inviting us to recognize the precious opportunity we have to care for ourselves and others with a sacred regard for food and its worthwhile preparation.
Originally published for Edible Omaha magazine in 2013
By Johnathan Woodside
MOI Founder, Executive Director, and Teacher