Dharma Topic: Diets, Cravings, and RA-ELI

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, January 13, after our sitting and walking meditation, we willrecite the five mindfulness trainings and discuss the fifth training on mindfulconsumption, especially the process of changing our diets.

The last line of the fifth training is:

I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and forthe transformation of society.

How do we keep a proper diet? In my experience, what makes altering our diet,or any change in consumption, difficult to maintain is that the usually approachis to split ourselves into two parts – there is the good me wanting to diet, orstop smoking, or eat fewer sugars, and the bad me wanting to do these things.When things are going my way, my resolve is strong. When I meet frustrations ordifficulties, my resolve crumbles. And I consume the things I pledged to myselfnot to consume, attempting to increase my sense of well-being. However, then Ifeel miserable for having done it, leading me to consume more of those things Ipledged to myself not to consume. In my twenties I was an expert in smokingcessation – I stopped smoking several hundred times.

Is there a way out? In the trainings written by Thich Nhat Hanh (providedbelow), the mechanism for change is awareness. Because I am "aware of thesuffering caused by unmindful consumption," because "I am aware thatto damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray myancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations," I stop myunmindful consumption.

But really, how do I do that? As I pondered the question I realized that wecan apply the lessons many of us have learned with regard to anger and otherdestructive emotions to the process of changing consumption patterns. Theshort-hand mnemonic for mindfully working with these destructive emotions isRA-ELI. Recognize, Accept, Embrace, Look deeply, and Insight.

It begins with recognizing the emotion, really feeling it, opening to it.Then we accept it, meaning we acknowledge that it is part of our make up andheritage, it is not likely that it will simply disappear on it own, or beamiable to a quick fix. Then we embrace it, cradling it with love, recognizingthat this energy is a part of us, a lost family member, not an enemy. Then welook deeply, with curiosity and concentration — what is this really all about.Often we find that there is something deeper at issue. And then, in time,insight comes and the emotion begins losing its energy and urgency.

When we are making changes in consumption, what usually arises is craving orthirst. "I want this." "I need this to be happy." "Giveit to me now." It is this strong desire, experienced as a need (Tanha inPali), that the Buddha identified as the cause of suffering in the four nobletruths. And our work, as mindfulness practitioners, is, as with Anger, RA-ELI.

I believe real change in consumption occurs only when we embrace the urgesand see deeply into them. In my own case, the cigarette smoking stopped when Iunderstood and accepted that I was caught in an addictive process. The keymoment was an American Cancer Society ad that said, "The only way to stopsmoking is to stop smoking."

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the role of insight and consumption in hisrecently published book, True Love:

When somebody comes to us and asks if he or she should stop drinking beforereceiving the five mindfulness trainings (the precepts), we always tell themthat they can continue to drink, but they must drink mindfully. If you drinkyour wine mindfully for a week, and you practice deeply, you will stop drinkingafter a few weeks. Nothing is forced on you; it is your own understanding, yourwisdom, that tells you how to behave, that tells you how to conduct youreveryday life. In Buddhism, when we practice five precepts, or ten, or twohundred and fifty, it’s not because the Buddha wants us to do this, but becausewe are practicing deep looking. We see that practicing the precepts isprotecting ourselves against suffering. The precepts are a guarantee of yourfreedom.

[This may be a somewhat more liberal approach to alcohol and the fifthtraining than you have heard before from Thich Nhat Hanh. What I think of as the"customary" response is provided below in Sr. Chan Khong’s response toa question about alcohol and the fifth training from For a Future to bePossible.]

Please join us this Thursday for our sitting, our recitation, and ourdiscussion about diets, cravings, and RA-ELI.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner 
Senior Teacher

The Fifth Mindfulness Training 

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindfulconsumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical andmental, for myself, my family, and my society, by practicing mindful eating,drinking, and consuming.

I am committed to ingesting only items that preserve peace, well-being, andjoy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body andconsciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol orany other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, suchas certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am awarethat to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray myancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work totransform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society bypracticing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet iscrucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

From: For a Future to be Possible

(Response to questions by Sr. Chan Khong)

Question: Can I take the Fifth Precept, and still drink an occasional glassof wine or beer with dinner?

Response: Thay Nhat Hanh advises us not to drink any alcohol, if possible. Ifyou still have a strong inclination to drink, please do so mindfully. Lookdeeply into the conditions of your liver, your heart, and the fact thathumankind is wasting a lot of grain and fruit making alcohol instead of feedingother humans. Meditating in this way will lead us to feeling uncomfortable whendrinking any amount of alcohol.

If you are not ready to stop drinking entirely, please take the first fourprecepts and try to drink mindfully until you are ready to stop. Thay Nhat Hanhadvises those who take the Fifth Precept not to drink at all, even one glass ofwine or beer a week. French authorities advise their citizens that one glass ofalcohol is okay, but that two is saying hello to the damage that an accident cancause. But how can you have a second glass if you haven’t had the first?