For Whom the Dinner Bell Tolls

DSC_0125Imagine brushing your teeth after eating your lunch and not having another bite of food until tomorrow’s breakfast. Sounds impossible? Take it from a guy who used to enjoy devouring banana splits at midnight: you truly can do anything you put your mind to.

I’ve posted before about how staying at a rejuvenation or detox center is one of the best ways for you to be introduced to a raw vegan diet, because these facilities serve up delicious healthy raw organic plant-based meals and are supervised by naturopathic physicians. Oh, if you don’t know what naturopathic medicine is, don’t worry–I just learned about it last year.

Another way to be exposed to a vegan diet is to visit a meditation center for a meditation course or “sitting.” Vipassana technique was developed by the Buddha, but its practice is not limited to Buddhists.

Of course, there are many benefits of meditation, from reducing tension and developing a calm, alert, and balanced mind, to spiritual enlightenment. Being mindful of your daily habits, such as eating and drinking, is just one more.

I began practicing Vipassana meditation 4 years ago after already being vegan for several years. In the ancient Pali language (a late form of Sanskrit, spoken in north India at the time of the Buddha) “Vipassana” means to see things as they really are.

In practice, Vipassana involves sitting still and scanning your body and observing sensations, and then showing equanimity (neutrality) toward any sensations you notice. The goal of Vipassana is to eliminate the three causes of all unhappiness: craving, aversion and ignorance. Vipassana is a meditation technique and not a religion. It does not require you to alter your religious beliefs.

With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification.

There are Vipassana meditation centers all over the world, and the courses are completely free of charge.

Unlike a detox center that serves 100% raw plant-based foods and juices, Vipassana centers serve mostly cooked foods (as well as salads), and allow students the option to have butter and milk along with bread, cereal and beverages. “We are not trying to make people vegan,” explained a kitchen manager at my recent sitting, adding that the recipes used are mainly comfort foods (such as spaghetti or curry with brown rice) that do not rely on animal-based ingredients.

In fact, the workers (who are all volunteers and students of the Vipassana technique) go to all lengths to make each student’s experience as comfortable as possible–within limitations of the code of conduct.

Although there is no talking or interaction allowed during the meditation course, I have observed and confirmed afterward that most students who follow a “standard” (omnivorous) diet find the plant-based meals delicious and satisfying.

While first-time students receive 2 meals (breakfast, lunch) and an evening snack of fruit with tea, experienced students (aka “old-students”) are only permitted tea (without milk, dairy or non-dairy) in the evening.

For someone like me–used to 3 meals and a couple small snacks a day–eating twice a day initially felt like a hardship. In fact, it was the first time I can recall that I didn’t ingest any food between 12 noon and 6am the next day. It was certainly the first time I went without dinner for 10 days in a row.

Fortunately, practicing the Vipassana technique helped reduce my craving for food. The bell that was rung at mealtimes–which had so much significance during my first course–gradually lost its power.

Of course, 10-days of sitting and meditating takes effort, but I believe you will find the Vipassana technique extremely beneficial and liberating. My second Vipassana experience reconfirmed that dietary preferences are just habits you can control with your thoughts.

For example, the idea of fasting once seemed as alien to me as a vegetarian or a vegan diet, before I became one. Now–seeing how I can survive without eating constantly–I have begun to accept that regular fasting is a healthy practice. In fact, a friend of mine fasts one day a week and he is perfectly healthy and energetic.

The idea of skipping meals probably seems extreme for those of you  just beginning, or considering a vegan diet. The bottom line is, if you want to be healthy, start by building a healthy mind. Then start taking constructive action by introducing positive habits, such as eating more whole plant-based foods and eliminating processed foods.

As always, I welcome your feedback and comments: Have you tried Vipassana or another meditation technique, and how has it affected you?