Aspen Times Weekly: Mind Over Meal
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An offshoot of the popular Aspen Business Luncheon, this four-year-old, females-only series features a guest speaker every Friday.
To attend, contact organizer Todd Shaver:
I’M SITTING AMONG 25 other professional women in bb’s lounge, and though forks clink against dishes and glasses clunk on tabletops, the inconceivable is happening — or not happening. Nobody is talking.
Under normal circumstances, such absence of conversation would be awkward and bizarre. But as this Aspen Women to Women luncheon centers on meditation, our fearless leader Catherine Cussaguet has instructed us to eat our salads in silence for five long minutes. We are to take one bite at a time, to chew slowly, and to focus on ensuing sensations.
I stare into my Caesar, and slowly pick up my fork. I feel the weight of cool metal in my fingers as I stab a few pale-green leaves. I hear Romaine crunch and crinkle as my teeth tears it apart. I feel the creaminess that coats each tender vein. I notice how the occasional flake of Parmesan bursts in my mouth like a little salt bomb. I examine craggy crouton surfaces before nibbling them to dust, yet my inner monologue wonders if this experiment has practical, real-world application. At this rate, I think, it could take me a full hour to eat this salad.
Eventually, Cussaguet breaks the quiet with her thick French brogue.
“I notice right away that I’m used to eating pretty fast,” she says, as heads nod around the room. “Because I’m paying attention, I’m actually noticing, so I can now change it.”
Indeed, I’ve come here with a question: Might meditation help me better tune in to my hunger and quit racing through meals? What’s more, might I learn to slow down in the kitchen — and in life in general — so that I might spare myself the broken dishes, sliced digits, and other personal catastrophes that plague me constantly? I need to chill out, stop eating food I don’t truly enjoy, and quell reckless impulses.
“Meditation is not going to take away the stress out there — the pressure, your kids, the business, the noise — it’s still out there,” says Cussaguet, a primordial sound meditation instructor certified by the Chopra Center University in Carlsbad, Calif., and longtime Pilates instructor at the Aspen Club. “But when we learn to be quiet, we learn not to react, so it doesn’t affect us.”
A centuries-old practice, meditation aims to instill calmness through focused breathing and, sometimes, by repeating a mantra — a sound or vibration more than a word — silently to oneself for a period of time. (Om, for example, is the most universally chanted mantra.)
Consciously relaxing the mind is shown to improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, strengthening the immune system, enhancing sleep, even influencing genes and growing grey matter in the brain. Studies prove that even a few minutes of meditation per day can slash anxiety and depression, boost attention and cognitive function, and create an overall feeling of contentment that translates to enhanced creativity, efficiency, and compassion for others. That euphoric, blissed-out high you ride for hours following a solid yoga session? Thanks to moving meditation.
“Mind, body, spirit are not different entities,” Cussaguet tells us. “They are the same, just a different expression of consciousness. If we have tension in our mind, it’s also in our body. If we change our mind, we see change in the body as well.”
Meditation’s hippie-dippy perception — chanting monks; strident vegans in bare feet and batik; that cuckoo relative who lives on a commune — is changing, perhaps because we need it more that ever in our increasingly tech-saturated world. Steve Jobs copped to Zen meditation, seen clearly in his strikingly simple Apple designs. Meditation studios are popping up from coast to coast, attracting bankers, lawyers, and corporate burnouts as well as New Agey folk. There’s even a “meditation nightclub” pop-up this month at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. And, not at all ironically: Free meditation-timer apps exist.
As we finish lunch, Cussaguet suggests that we carry this mindfulness to every aspect of our lives, whether walking, talking with friends, driving, working, even enjoying hobbies. “When I’m skiing,” she says, “I can be just skiing, not thinking about what (I) have to do afterward.”
This applies to dining as well. Who doesn’t eat a meal while on the phone, at a desk, or in front of a TV from time to time? “That impairs our digestion,” Cussaguet says. “We don’t even know what we’re eating!”
Finally, we push our plates aside, close our eyes, and practice primordial meditation (see opposite) for about 10 minutes. In my mind, I repeat our mantra, “so-hum,” which corresponds to Friday’s Law of Detachment, as explained by the Chopra Center’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, one for each day of the week.
“Part of meditation is to sit, do nothing, not expect anything, and surrender to what occurs,” Cussaguet says. “We all have different roles (in life). Sometimes we let ourselves be carried away, and we never really connect with, ‘Who am I?’ We’ve lost the silence in our minds.”
So-hum. It isn’t easy. So-hum. A car horn honks outside, and my mind drifts to the mountains. Will it snow Sunday? I trawl my to-do list and calculate the hours until dinner. So-hum. So-hum. Once I envision these words as cloud letters floating in the sky, it flows. So-hum. So…hum.
When it’s over, I’m relieved. Still, I vow to meditate every morning, if only for a few minutes to start. It’s always tough to squash the noise in my mind, but I do feel calmer after a few days. Less ravenous, too. Hopefully, I’ll stick with it.
“Meditation is not a pill,” Cussaguet concludes. “It’s a process. It’s journey. And it’s never over.”
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April has been decreed, for the first time, as “Sonoma County Wine Month” by the vintners and it is a righteous idea, one that should have legs long into the future.