When I was asked to write about my understanding of the Five Reflections I was rather uncomfortable, though, gratefully honored to receive this opportunity to penetrate the deeper layers of these humble reflections that have been uttered by tens of thousands of human beings. In reflecting upon them, deeper insight has emerged in many unexpected ways, about my relationship to food.
We reflect on the effort and sacrifice that went into this food.
The food that we consume and take into our bodies is the accumulation of millions of years of birth and death. Countless beings have sacrificed their lives for us to take this food. Death and life are interwoven into this food; the greatest offering another being can make—to offer their body, their life for the greater good of all beings. It can be quite an uncomfortable idea to sit with, that no matter what we do, there will always be death in our food, even the greens we gather from our humble vegetable garden here at the Hut contain within them untold suffering and sacrifice, that cannot ever truly be measured. The untold, immeasurable suffering and sacrifice that goes into even a single meal is far beyond what our human selves can offer in return. We can, however, orient ourselves to understanding that while there is sacrifice in the food we receive each day, we can consume it with an open heart filled with gratitude. As that is one of the functionary roles of human beings in this world—to breath gratitude onto the eternal wind, in all directions.
Offering gratitude for the sacrifices that allow us to live is truly important. It connects us, reminding us of the cycles of life, of birth and death. Reminding us to cherish each moment. To honor those who give us everything, and hopefully, in return, we may wisely steward what has been given freely. Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks beautifully about this in saying that “Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship.” We should not squander what has been given freely, or abuse its energy. It was never ours to abuse. We are simply the stewards of this energy. This food will in turn fuel countless beings, through our direct actions, and eventually our physical bodies as they return to the Earth—fueling another cycle, another life, and the many beings who share this world with us. We are part of a world of reciprocity. But what is it that we give in return? We offer gratitude. That is all that we have to offer them. Gratitude.
May we not squander this opportunity for reflection. We have been gifted this precious moment to draw inwards and acknowledge the immense effort that has gone into this food. I bow humbly before all those who have sacrificed their lives for the benefit of others, of giving nourishment to other beings. And, may, I have the unending strength and courage to honor their sacrifice in each breath. Celebrating joyously all of life.
We reflect on virtue and our own worthiness to receive this food.
Am I worthy to receive this food? After all that has gone into preparing and creating this food, do my actions and state of mind honor this? Or am I carelessly wasting this food, through using its energy for unskillful means? I know within my heart of hearts, through every fiber of my being, that I am not worthy of receiving this food. There are countless other beings who would be far more worthy of receiving nourishment—how can I place myself above the beggar or the starving child? Or any of the other beings of this world, who each living beautiful, meaningful lives. Why am I worthy? Have my actions elevated me into the heavens—into worthiness? The untold, immeasurable suffering and sacrifice that goes into even a single meal is far beyond what our human selves can offer in return.
As we recite these words, with all our heart and soul, reflecting on virtue and our own worthiness, we invite deeper understanding into our lives. We begin to orient ourselves, slowly, to living more skillfully and with greater moral integrity. We, endeavor to become worthy of receiving this food—climbing the mountain that truly has no end.
We reflect that attachment to find is a hindrance to freedom of the mind.
Do I consume this food from a place of attachment? Am I motivated or controlled by habit patterns that cause me to desire food as sensual pleasure? Those habits that influence our relationship to food are incredibly dangerous. They have the power to uproot all that we have cultivated. Often, and particularly in the Western world, we abuse food, creating an attachment to food which hinders our growth and greater potential. I have grown to realize during reflecting on this line that I must endeavor not to seek a space of pleasure orientation when it comes to how I relate to food.
I, like many other people who have grown up in our modern world of convenience, have experienced the attachments to food that arise through being able to source literally whatever your mind envisions with little hard work or sacrifice. We often do not see the energy that goes into our food, and thus, it becomes easy for us to abuse our relationship to food. We develop habit patterns over the years, seeking more and more sensual satiation—instantaneous gratification. It is one of the greatest hindrances on the path to freedom of the mind. How can we ever hope to be free of suffering, if every time we sit on the cushion, we are thinking about what we will have for breakfast or lunch—those delicious pieces of tempeh consume the mind and all its focus! Wherever did this one chance, this one moment for cultivating ourselves disappear? Have I become lost on the path because of food and my relationship to it?
We reflect that this food is amongst the most important medicines we will take on this day.
Food is medicine. There is no arguing this statement, whether spiritually, scientifically, or emotionally. The food we consume each day has the capacity to nourish us or equally cause great suffering. Where do we source our food? Has it been harvested or gathered honorably? What is the energy that goes into this food—do we see it as medicine? The energy that goes into the food as it is gathered, processed, and prepared for us, ultimately, goes into our bodies. If the vegetables we consume have been grown disrespectfully, without honoring nature, without honoring their inherent qualities as nourishment for the body and soul, then they will not be medicine. They will not offer themselves completely.
It is one of the many ways we can cultivate our tea practice, through nurturing a healthy relationship to one of the greatest medicines we will take on each day. And, when we begin to seek deeper, subtler ways of refining our tea brewing, the food we eat each day influences our brewing immeasurably. Changing this part of our daily life has tremendous results—beyond all measure, and, yet, still within our grasp of experience. When food is approached as medicine and offered and received with a pure heart, it becomes the greatest fuel on our path of cultivation.
As I sit with the words woven into this line, it stirs contemplative energies within, revealing to me the uncomfortable truth of my relationship to food throughout my life. Similar to many people in the world today, I have struggled with my relationship with food, not really in a sense of poor eating habits, rather in my orientation to food—I do wonder though are these the same? As our orientation is everything! I struggled, particularly throughout my teenage years, to orient myself to perceiving food as medicine; it was instead a chore that I had to get over with each day. It was in its essence a mundane activity that often deprived me of the time and space for more rewarding experiences. I simply could not see the beauty in the food or its inherent quality as medicine for the body and soul.
Around the time that I found Tea, my orientation to food shifted tremendously, especially as I observed how the food I consumed affected my body and subtle awareness. It has been a slow journey of changing my orientation, as with anything in life it is impermanent and requires continually nurturing and disciplined. There are times where I slip back into my old orientation, even for a moment, and likely I always will have to face these habits that can uproot my practice if I do not stand steadfast.
As fuel on the path to Truth, and for the good of all beings, we accept this food.
The food we consume each day, on the most physical layer, fuels our bodies, and, then the ways it fuels expands infinitely into subtler and subtler layers. It is like an onion, each layer exists both separate to the others, but also intimately connected. I am here because of the food that has been received during my lifetime. It is from the innumerable gifts of other beings that I am alive right now. The very least I can do for them in return is to offer service. If it was not for them I would not have the energy or physical strength to continue my practice—instead, I would be curled up on the side of the path in great suffering.
We must accept this food, understanding that in doing so; we accept the responsibility to serve all beings. May we wisely steward the energy this food offers us, so that all beings may benefit from it. This food nourishes our body, offering us energy to continue our cultivation and to serve others We must orient ourselves away from consuming the food we receive each day from a place of satiating desires or attempting to fill an emptiness within. This food is consumed as part of our vows to serving all beings, not just for our own bodies, rather for everyone—from those you love, to those you do not like, and to those who are not even human. Within the food we receive exist the seeds for deeper realization and cultivation. It allows us to journey further along the path to enlightenment.