Sweet News: This Chocolate (!) Meditation Is Our New Nightly Ritual
Diane R. Gehart, Ph.D., LMFT has over 25 years of experience as a therapist specializing in mood and anxiety disorders and family counseling. The author of over 10 books, she is also an award-winning professor of Counseling and Family Therapy at California State University, Northridge.
Pick up your wrapped chocolate and imagine you have never seen anything like this object before. You may want to imagine that you are a space alien who has never seen anything like it. Become intensely curious about this object. Then, notice the following:
- Colors: Notice the various shades of color and how they may change when the light reflects off the wrapper.
- Shape and Weight: Notice its shape and contours. If there is writing on the object, try to view the letters without seeing them as letters—just as shapes. If there is a picture, can you just notice how the colors and shapes come together without labeling the image? Notice the weight, and if it is similar or different in each hand.
- Scent: Move it toward your nose and see if you notice a scent.
Now, unwrap it and listen to the sound it makes as you do so. Then, notice the following:
- Colors: Again, notice the various shades of color and how they change with the light.
- Shape and Weight: Notice the shape and contours of the unwrapped chocolate.
- Scent: Move it toward your nose and see if you notice a scent and if it is similar to or different from that of the wrapped chocolate.
- Texture: Notice the texture. Is it hard, soft, smooth, bumpy? If it is starting to melt, observe that texture and notice your emotional reaction without wiping your fingers.
Bring the morsel toward your mouth but do not bite into it yet. Observe your reaction:
- Body Reaction: Notice how your body reacts. Do you notice any changes in your mouth? Do you start to salivate? Notice if any other parts of your body are anticipating the bite you are about to take.
- Mind Reaction: Now notice the thoughts that are going through your head. Are you excited, frustrated, angry, hesitant? Try to observe thoughts and feelings. You might want to try imagining that you are watching those thoughts and feelings move through your head like clouds across the sky.
Take a small bite and let it linger on your tongue. Slowly roll the object around and allow the flavors to move around your mouth.
- Taste: What does it taste like? Is the taste different on different parts of your tongue? Is it sweet, salty, bitter, sour, fruity, nutty? I invite you to refrain from judging the taste as good or bad, preferred or not preferred, or better or worse than a previous experience. Try to simply experience the various taste sensations you are having in the present moment.
- Feeling: Take a moment to experience the textures and feeling in your mouth. Perhaps roll the chocolate around some more and see what you notice and if anything changes.
- Chew: If you haven't done so already, slowly start chewing and notice how the texture or taste may change as you do so. Continue mindfully eating, slowly taking a bite and experiencing the aroma, texture, flavors. When you are done, just sit quietly for a moment to reflect on your experience of eating this familiar food.
The benefits of a chocolate mindfulness practice.
Having done this exercise with literally thousands of people around the world, I have noticed there are several common reactions and insights that follow. For example, many self-proclaimed chocoholics discover that they like the taste of chocolate less than they thought. Some who say they never cared much for chocolate find that there is more there than they imagined. Inevitably, everyone learns a little something new about themselves and the way they approach their life—or at least chocolate. As we probe a little deeper, this exercise illuminates many simple yet profound truths that offer clues to the happiness we seek.
"It" is right under our noses.
As a professional working mother of two young boys, I sometimes wonder if it was easier to find happiness when humans had fewer "modern conveniences" and spent less time in line, online, and in transit. But, apparently, the ancients struggled with finding happiness as much as those of us in modern times. Lao Tzu, an ancient Daoist thinker who lived more than 3,000 years ago, taught that one does not need to journey to far places or practice special rituals to find joy and peace because it is always here in the present moment. Many find that chocolate meditation poignantly underscores the truth in Daoist wisdom: When you slow down to the present moment, a natural sense of ease and peace arises. The enticing excitement and related dramas of the outside world cloud the inherent state of wellness within that emerges when we quiet inner chatter.
Our experience changes when we change how we focus and what we focus on.
This meditation invites us to focus our attention differently than we typically do, and in doing so we find the essence of what we ultimately seek is right here—under our noses. When we focus on what is in the present moment, there is a clear sense of wholeness and that elusive sense of joy that we often seek in the wrong places. For example, many of us assume that true happiness is not possible without certain conditions: in meeting the "one," achieving a meaningful career goal, purchasing a (bigger) home, having a million followers, or buying the latest, coolest gadget. Like most of us, I have spent many years looking everywhere, desperate to find "It." Perhaps a cosmic joke, the frantic search seems necessary for most of us to finally give up, sit down, and realize: It is right here. The good news is that inner wellness is much closer than we realize. And you can rightfully laugh and shake your head when you finally stumble upon how simple it is to access.
Practitioners of chocolate meditation report that the exercise highlights how they typically miss the confection's joy by popping it into their mouth without slowing down from their busy pace to actually taste it. We live in a society that frequently equates faster and more with being better. But this simple exercise highlights how misguided these ideas are. Often, someone remarks, "How is it that I have eaten 1,000 pieces of chocolate but when I eat my 1,001st piece mindfully, it is as though I have never actually tasted it before?" Most report that chocolate tastes better eaten more slowly and that they feel less of a need to have a second piece. By making them slow down and experience chocolate through all the senses, the exercise brings significantly more pleasure and happiness than the mindless eating most of us practice daily. For a rare moment, they are fully present to what is happening in their lives and in their bodies, and most cannot help but smile as they enjoy such a sweet moment. The take-away message is that our experience changes when we change how we focus and what we focus on.
After having done this exercise with a large audience many times, my favorite part is not the taste of chocolate but the sound it makes: the moment when silence is broken by hundreds of people unwrapping their chocolates in unison. The typically unremarkable sound of unwrapping a single chocolate becomes an unexpected symphony when the group works in harmony. It sounds like a waterfall or mountain stream. It is the most delicious moment but also a humbling moment. How many times each day do each of us miss the beauty and pleasures that surround us? When you learn to recognize beauty, it is everywhere: flowers on the side of the road at a stoplight; blue sky after the rain; the arch of the old oak tree you pass each day. Similarly, pleasurable experiences surround us also: a cool breeze, the taste of cold water on a hot day, the spray when you bite into a piece of fruit.
The happiness we seek is closer than most of us realize; chocolate meditation reminds us that it is a matter of paying attention.
Based on an excerpt from Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers by Diane R. Gehart, with permission from the publisher.
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