A New Approach to 'Mindfulness' that is Less Mindful and More Integrated
by Kiki Athanas
January 28, 2018
We're all craving - in some form or another - the benefits of a more "mindful" life. For most of us, regardless of our religious (or lack thereof) beliefs, the idea of meditation - or at least the idea of "bringing the mind to rest" - is something that is extremely appealing. Whether it's for dealing with burnout at work, a stressful relationship at home, or seeing yourself through a medical or circumstantial hardship - we crave that feeling of contentment. Of knowing it's going to be okay, even if it's just for a few moments; that soothing and settling feeling of ease is something I'd argue we are all seeking in some way or another.
I myself sought to find a healthier relationship with myself, and in particular with food and my eating habits, and hence how 'Mindfully Edible' came to be. A passion for diet & nutrition got me so far, but the realization that without kindness and a holistic approach to eating, I was no "healthier" than before I began this journey (regardless of how much I spent on spirulina or the amount of chaga tea I drank).
My awakening to the idea that it's not so much about the food itself, as much as it is to our relationship to food became key to my own health journey.
Furthermore, it brought about an authenticity and joy in sharing and educating others on the topic.
I thought I had tapped into something great with "mindful eating", but then I took Philip Shepherd's Radical Wholeness Weekend Workshop, and my mind - or rather, my body, opened up to a concept way more powerful, more transformational, and best of all: it just feels way more right.
Dare I say, I'm starting to see "mindfulness" as just another inauthentic "trend" that we are driven to undertake at a shallow level, and its a downright ironic and mechanical way of seeing the world and ourselves. If you really stop and think about how most "mindfulness" is taught and presented, you'd also realize that it's only enriching the deep assumptions we carry with us as learned from childhood, and practicing "meditation" in the many forms it's thought of today, might just be contributing to our unease. This is lack of groundedness we feel, I now believe, stems from the divisions we make in our body - furthering our possibility of experiencing true wholeness.
I think it's worth acknowledging that mindfulness can keep us in our heads, as we go about noticing the breath, the body or the world – but if we are "in our heads", we are divided from our wholeness.
Why might one want to experience "wholeness" over practicing "mindfulness"? Before I provide an answer that would likely do Philip Shepherd's work a dis-service, I will simply suggest you read Radical Wholeness. It explains the embodied present and the ordinary grace of being in a way that will inspire and empower you to change your entire outlook and feeling of life.
Instead, in this post, I'm going to start the conversation around a new approach to "mindful eating" that I'm excited to continue to explore myself, but also hopefully teach and share with those who are seeking a more integrated relationship with food and their bodies. One that is less complicated and more intuitive, less stressful and more joyful, and less 'as-a-means-to-an-end' and more 'you're-already-there'. What I mean by the latter description, is that, when you tap into what it means to come into your wholeness, and experience your entire being alongside it's relationship to all other beings, you naturally start to lose sight of far off into the distance "goals" (i.e. lose weight, gain muscle, etc.), and instead practice what it is you deserve right now, right here. The added bonus is that doing so will carry you into "achieving" those "goals" with ease, assuming that they are what your inner being is truly asking for and needs.
Before I lose you entirely with all of this "airy fairy" stuff, allow me to introduce a few applicable strategies that have proven effective for myself, and have truly strengthened (or, as I like to say: UPGRADED) my otherwise "mindful eating" practices, since implementing The Embodied Present Process (TEPP):
Whole Body Breath
Taking deep belly breaths before and after a meal is a commonly-advised practice for mindful eating, as it helps us to get into that 'rest and digest'mode where the calming side of our nervous system is activated. From a scientific perspective: this transfers blood flow to the digestive system, optimizes digestive juices from the gallbladder, stomach and pancreas for breakdown of food and promotes healthy bacterial gut flora, and peristalsis in the large bowel leading to better elimination of waste.
I use TEPP to take this whole (no pun intended) practice up a notch, and shift my focus from my mind, to my sternum, belly, back, perineum (specifically, breathing in through the perineum and out through the soles), and finally, engage in full body breathing whereby, as Philip would say, the breath is "flooding the joints".
Why is this important? Moving beyond the segmented and abstract science-based explanation, it is, I believe, vital to become attuned to the present before you are in any way receptive enough to feel what it is your body desires and needs in that very moment. There's an appropriate quote I'd like to share here from Radical Wholeness that explains this perfectly:
"Any tension you carry in any part of your body - any internal clenching or bracing, any part taken out of the flow of the Present and buffered from it - will initiate a cascade of effects: it will diminish your body's availability to the breath, inhibit feeling, compromise your experience of being and contract your sense of reality."
When's the last time you ate while stressed out, consciously or unconsciously experiencing tension and blockages in your body and your entire spirit? Unfortunately, the answer, at least for many of us, is: not too long ago. I for one will admit I often used to eat this way, maybe even every meal.
Eating is a sacred regime in which we have a quite tangible way of experiencing the world passing through us.
"If you bite into an apple, for instance, its flesh will pass into your body to become your flesh. In a short time much of that apple will no longer be identified as "apple" but as you - as part of your eyelashes and capillaries and nerves. Over the years every molecule that once belonged to the apple and then became you will be carried back out of your body to nourish the living earth - or at least such offerings used to nourish the earth before toilets were invented." Philip explains in Radical Wholeness.
Diluting your experience to the wholeness of eating is not only going to hinder the absorption of nutrients present in the food by your body, but your entire being will not be in harmony to this truly miraculous process available.
In other words, tense up, and you'll likely feel the discombobulated ("heady") urge to eat more, or perhaps just less guided to make the kindest choices. Breathe into your wholeness, breathe from and through and out and into your entire body, mind, spirit and relationship, and the joy of food as well as the benefits they naturally bring (whether its for energy, physical growth or strength, nourishing your microbiome, etc.) becomes abundant.
Another common mindful eating strategy is to really focus on your food - each and every bite, engage all senses, and truly appreciate what is happening in your mealtime experience. First off, I'd like to excitingly share that we have EVEN more senses than what our mainstream culture leads us to believe and what Philip refers to as the Chosen Five (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound). When you eat (including before + after), I invite you to engage a new "sense" we all have (regardless of how much you've had to unlearn and brush it aside since childhood). It's called seselelame, and it is literally translated at "feel-feel-at-flesh-inside". The Anlo-Ewe are highly aware of this sense and see it as so: a sense. Regardless of the fact that it's not simply an isolate "sense" that we otherwise recognize as exteroceptors from the body's experience.
Again, Philip explains beautifully:
"Seselelame doesn't just bring attention to the body's sensations as a combination or assortment of separate senses - it is a holistic, synthesized, non-categorical, subjective wakefulness to the world as it is perceived through the body."
Simply acknowledging that this might be difficult to undertake is a valid first step, and I like to listen to Philip's Just Receive recording to help me get into a state whereby tapping into the sensations in my body as well as all of those vibrations around me is a guided possibility.
In Radical Wholeness, Philip states: "As you increasingly honor the body's sensations, you increasingly understand them to constitute a language of thought that is distinct from how the head knows."
What if you could truly sense and feel (at flesh inside) what the most serving meal was for you at this very moment, enjoy each and every bite, and then have the space to let the sensations continue to flourish and enrich your entire presence?
Sounds a bit more exciting - and doable - than depressingly opting for a kale salad out of pure "heady" intentions, if you ask me.
Your Action Item: Take 10 minutes before your first meal of the day to literally: just receive. Take in all the experiences around you, listening to the sounds in the room, feeling the temperature around you, any smells present, etc. and then try your best to awaken to how those sensations are in constant flux with the sensations in your body - not in a separate place, but simply as another area and element in this relationship to the ever interconnected world. Philip's Just Receiving recording is also a nice aid to get you started.
Once you're in "receiving" mode, eating becomes a very powerful and encompassing act.
Here we get a bit more physical, for those of us who still desire proper "instruction" and can more easily resonate with a 'do with this your body' type thing. I totally get that.
It's important to note that Philip's work essentially all comes down to helping you operate from your pelvic bowl. Yup, you heard right, and you might be giggling now, but read his book and you'll soon be a pelvic bowler my friend!
Until then, here's how you can more easily gain "access" to that core region of your being, where there indeed lies a brain and one that deserves just as much (if not more) appreciation than that of what we commonly hold in highest regard - the brain in the head...
In Philip's weekend workshop, he suggests squatting as a little "hack" to help you find that connectedness with your pelvic floor. Once the idea of even just visualizing that space in your body becomes real for you, the practice of grounding becomes more accessible.
Essentially, the process involves focusing your attention on the triangle in the pelvic bowl - the 3 points of which include the perineum and the two ovaries (yes, men have "ovaries" too, apparently). By bringing your two index fingers and thumbs together - the index fingers connecting with the top of the pubic bone, and the thumbs will cover where the two are (the thumbs do no have to touch), you can create a powerful energetic force and a balance with the energy centres in the body which enable you to ground, process, and integrate energy faster and more easily.
Again, what's the food tie-in here?
Energy blockages in the body hinder our ability to listen to our body and this interferes with our ability to make the best choices for it. Provide yourself with the space to let that energy flow, and your choices - as well as the food itself - will do your whole body a whole lot more justice.
Your Action Item: Practice Denis Chagnon's grounding technique by following the written protocol he provides here. This can be a powerful regime for helping yourself get attune to all of these more "airy fairy" breathing and visualization practices which are in no-doubt capable of transforming your life and what I'm arguing here: your relationship to food. Denis's simple yet very "followable" technique is a good way to introduce yourself to the concepts quite profoundly presented by Philip Shepherd in Radical Wholeness.
While I imagine TEPP can be used to prevent and treat a variety of "ailments", the application to healing our often "disordered" relationship with food (whether its a diet-extreme or complete lack of care and responsibility to your body) was, for me, revolutionary. I do not intend for this post to come across as if I'm fluffing off "mindfulness" and "meditation" as completely irrelevant nor negative in any sense, but I would like to bring attention to the awakening I have been gifted thanks to Philip. That being: "mindfulness" is often interpreted as a top-down 'supervised' approach to 'settling the mind'. Instead, with TEPP, we are invited to bring the entire body to rest at the pelvic floor. For me, and for every other person I have connected with that has discovered Philip's teachings, it just feels better.
I look forward to sharing more about how The Embodied Presence Process can be used to discover the joyful relationship with food that we all desire, from how we look to how we feel and everything inbetween.