Practicing Zen has come to mean many different things to the millions of people who include it in their efforts toward increasing well being, and eating is no exception. Very much like breathing, eating is an act that many of us pay little attention to, despite its supreme importance to our health and survival.
The food we eat affects every facet of our body and mind, and what complicated things those are!
The Scope of the Body
Our bodies are made up of uncountable unique parts, from hundreds of bones to trillions of atoms, depending on the way we choose to look at things.
Medically speaking, we need to keep an eye on things at every level, from cancer on the cellular scale to bones and joints on the macroscopic scale, and the substances that we put into our body play a surprisingly strong role in determining our levels of health in a multitude of areas.
Every single thing that you eat matters greatly to those trillions of parts, on both a microscopic and a macroscopic scale, and a Zen attitude can help you to be sure that you’re fueling yourself not too little, not too much, but just right.
Moderation is Key
The comforts associated with a modern lifestyle are many, not least among them our easy access to countless varieties of food – most of them unhealthy and nutrient-poor – and this has lead to a great portion of our population being overweight.
While I could go into the myriad of ways and methods that can be used to abstain from junk food, all of them come down to the simple concept of a middle path of moderation, so that’s where we’ll focus.
Despite its lofty ability to promote health and happiness, the concept of moderation as it applies to food is simple, requiring only that you don’t indulge in too much of anything, ever, settling instead on ensuring that you are always taking in only what you need, never in excess.
Whether or not we can apply the idea to terribly unhealthy snacks is questionable – my personal thoughts on that are continued below – but, even taken at only face value, choosing to eat in moderation is a sure path to less calories coming in, and that’s the first step to a fitter, healthier body, without the need to commit to difficult diets.
Moderation in Context
While it is true that moderation is the primary key to constructing a diet that consists of only as much healthy food as you need, the word cannot always be used to justify a little of everything – some actions are simply too dangerous to be done at all.
Just as you wouldn’t see cutting off only a single finger as being a moderate act given that you’ve got nine more of them, a smart practitioner knows that the very nature of some actions falls outside of what is meant by moderation.
To use a more reasonable example – none of us is likely to purposely do away with a finger, after all – any person with a knowledge of the principles of Zen practice would dissuade you from indulging in even a single cigarette, or soda, or high-calorie and nutrient-poor snack.
The reason behind this is two-fold; first, if the thing being consumed offers only negative effects to the body, without anything other than temporary sensory pleasure being the goal, it should be avoided in the interest of self-preservation.
Second, substances such as those mentioned have the potential to become habitual, even addictive; too often, one leads to two, leads to three, and so on.
Pleasure is a worthwhile goal in life, but it is a subjective thing that can be tuned towards any indulgence; it’s best not to waste it on those that otherwise damage us. With that idea firmly in mind, it is safe to advise you to simply follow your instincts, giving your heart and gut credit for being best at assessing the foods that will serve you well, from initial taste to digestion and expulsion.
Simply stated, that is the Zen of eating.