I didn’t grow up religious, but I’ve recently fallen in love with saying a little prayer before meals.
Not a prayer, really. Some words of gratitude.
For the food itself. For who picked the blueberries in my oatmeal. For who transported them to the grocery store. For the cows that provided the milk for the yogurt. For the humans who made the first yogurt many years ago. For my friend Andrew who taught me to add honey to oatmeal. For the people I meditated with two years ago in Colorado who taught me to add a bunch of nuts and berries.
There I am alone in my house. Eyes closed. Breathing long and deep. Breathing in memories. Breathing out gratitude.
Writing about it now makes my eyes roll. But in the moment, it puts me in touch with my awe for life itself. For all the causes and conditions that must’ve come together for this particular meal. For the people who’ve inspired me, and the people who inspired them. For this moment. And this one… And this one…
Sometimes I text a friend, thanking them for something I never thanked them for. Mostly I’m just reminded of how much they mean to me.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. If I’m grateful for the positive, I must be willing to be so for the negative.
“This plate of food, so fragrant and appetizing, also contains much suffering,” the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh recites before meals.
Countless people were exploited to make my breakfast possible. Farmworkers, undoubtedly immigrants from Latin America, worked long hours for little pay. Which is due to white supremacy. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act excluded domestic and agricultural workers, at a time when 90 percent of Black women and over half of Black men worked in either the domestic or agricultural sectors.
Animals were harmed. Land was stripped of its nutrients. Fossil fuels were burned.
I’d rather face these truths than sweep them under a rug woven with capitalist mythology. I’d rather feel them than numb out pretending I “earned” this food. It keeps me awake to the exploitation all around me.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.”
Most of all, this little gratitude practice reminds me that I am not self-made. That, despite all the messaging I get from this capitalist society, I am — in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. — “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
The writer and meditation teacher Natalie Goldberg writes in one my favorite books, Long Quiet Highway:
Whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other’s presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then we go on carrying that other person in our body, not unlike springtime when certain plants in fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants, our caps, as if to say, ‘Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place.’
I want to know that — and never forget.
I’m a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. My weekly email newsletter helps you bring mindfulness to work, relationships, and politics. Subscribe here.
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