Warning: This exercise is not a substitute for medical care or supervision for those seeking treatment for substance abuse issues...
You have probably heard the term “mindfulness,” and it might very well be exactly what you’re thinking: It is the ability to be with moment-to-moment experience, just as it is, without judgment or criticism, practicing acceptance of ourselves in this moment. It’s the opposite of “mindlessness,” which happens when we become automatic in our behavior through repetition. Though adopting some form of automatic behaviors is natural, like driving, target practice, or walking, mindless eating and drinking can lead us to overindulge. This can potentially become a problem when it comes to excessive eating, or excessive drinking, for weight problems, or problem drinking. So today we will learn how to apply mindfulness when we drink alcohol and when we snack...
People drink to relax, relieve stress, or just because it’s a weekend. By using a mindful approach, we may find that we are able to relax and be more fully aware without having to drink more. During this experience, you are invited to use what we call “a beginner’s mind,” as though you’ve never had a sip of beer before, you’d never saw a beer, you don’t know what is in the bottle that you have before you. You can do this exercise either alone or with someone else. If you’re doing it with someone else, try to stay in your own experience, and respect that they too remain in their own experience.
Before you begin, you ‘ll need a glass, a napkin, a can or a bottle of beer, a potato chip of your own choosing, a bottle opener if needed, seated on a table next to your seat.
Settle into your seat. Try to keep your mind open to this experience. Close your eyes, or let your eyes rest easily on a point in front of you. Feel the places where your body is touching the chair, where your feet are touching the floor. Feel the temperature of the air as it touches your skin and other places where your skin meets your clothes.
Take a deep breath in, hold on to the breath for a moment, and slowly exhale. One more time, breathing in, feel the breath fill the body fully, and now exhale. Notice as thoughts, like falling leaves, drop into the background of your mind, and things slow down, beginning to notice the mind land, quieting yourself here.
Open your eyes and take notice of this bottle. Notice its color. How does the temperature on it feel? Is there condensation running down the sides of the beer? Notice the contour of the bottle: its neck, shape, size, texture. Are there are any ridges or curves you may have never noticed before? Notice your patience with this practice. Are you anticipating drinking this beer? Do you have any other thoughts arising in your awareness? What we are cultivating here is our ability to notice. The noticing of senses around the experience, the witnessing of thoughts or emotions, of longings, sorrow, or memories here. Simply being with the “awareness-ing,” as some people call it, of this experience.
Pick up your bottle opener, feeling its temperature, the weight of it in your hand. Now, slowly and with care, pick up the bottle. With that same curiosity, notice the weight of it in your hand...if this simple act triggers any memories or feelings or sensations, anticipation even...and bring yourself back here to this moment. We’re creating our ability, developing our ability, to witness that moment-to-moment experience, and being the witness of that unfolding one breath, one moment at a time. Now place the opener on the bottle cap and feel it lifting off, as you place the beer back down. Did it fizz? Did any beer draw up and over the lid?
When you are ready, slowly pour your beer into the glass you brought out for the exercise. Notice the color, the head on the beer, the bubbles. What else do you notice about this beer as you prepare to draw it into your mouth? Is your mouth watering?
This is a truly mind-body experience, when just seeing something or thinking or anticipating actually causes the mouth to water, bringing up enzymes to start the whole process of digestion.
Bring it up to your nose. Can you smell the beer?
When you are ready, raise the glass of beer to your lips and pause here, noticing anticipation, impatience, delight. Hold it here for a moment so you can smell the scents it is giving off. Hold the beer up to your ear. Can you hear it fizz in the glass? Now, take a slow sip of beer into your mouth without swallowing. What does this beer taste like? Do you feel an explosion of flavor in your mouth? Salty, bitter, mild? Can you taste the hops? How does it feel on your tongue, your teeth, your gums? Notice the urge to swallow, and if you are already thinking about the next sip. Can you hold this liquid in your mouth a bit longer? When the beer is warm, or you notice the need, slowly swallow the beer, following it as it moves down your throat, down into your belly. Here again, cultivating a deeper sense of mind connecting with the body, feeling the temperature of the beer as it flows south with gravity. Staying with the sensation of the beer as it makes its way all through your body...
Notice how and what you feel after your first mindful sip of beer.
Now pick up the potato chip you have selected for this experience. Notice its weight in your hands, what it looks like, its color, texture. Does it have ridges? Can you see salt resting on the chip? Is your mouth watering as you look at it? Again, becoming aware of any desires, perhaps to be finished with this inspection, and get to the eating, already. Notice any resistance or impatience. Try to stay with this moment-to-moment experience as best you can.
Hold the chip up to your nose. Can you smell it? Bring it over toward your ear to see if you can even hear where the sound reverberates against the chip. Bring the chip into your mouth without swallowing, and at first without chewing. Feel the flavors merge inside your mouth, filling your mouth fully. Is there any lingering taste of beer that is picked up by the chip?
When you’re ready, begin to bite into the chip, tasting the saltiness, the crunch turning soft, the feel, the texture. How are your teeth receiving this chip? What else do you notice?
Can you hold the chip here before swallowing, describing to yourself every nuance, maybe that you’ve never, ever noticed before about eating a potato chip. And when your body gives you a clear signal, go ahead and swallow the chip, and feel its aftermath. What do you notice here?
As you continue to drink this beer and eat chips, consider taking a mindful approach to each bite, each sip. And notice, when you stop paying attention to each mouthful, have you had enough? Is your mindful attention turning mindless? Paying attention to each bite and sip, and noticing the changes the alcohol creates in the process of thinking, noticing, being fully aware of each sip of beer you drink, as you drink it, each bite of this chip, as you eat it.
Creating awareness of this experience awakens our consciousness, so we can make more mindful choices in the behaviors we choose around eating and drinking. Here’s to good health.