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?

3 thoughts on “For Whom the Dinner Bell Tolls

  1. Ryder

    Would a raw vegan like myself be able to eat at one of these retreats? And would I be able to get enough nutrients?

  2. william Post author

    There will usually be green salad and fruit served 1-2 times/day, but the amount available would be highly dependent on what center you attend as well as the season, because many kitchens depend on local market conditions or will rely on food donations from the community-and have a budget to stay within. You can write the center ahead of time to see if they will accommodate you, but they would only do so for medical reasons. You could possibly ask permission to bring something like chia seeds, nuts, or other non-perishables for additional nutrition. However, please be prepared to follow the meal schedule.

  3. william Post author

    I received a comment via email and share it here (response below) to help others.

    Dear William,

    I was looking on the web for Vipassana courses where it possible to keep a raw food diet, and then I found your website. I have been doing spiritual practices for six years now, and I think it really is the time for me to learn the Vipassana meditation technique.
    I have been eating raw for 11 months now, and I’m not really planning to change that in the near future. I would like to attend a Vipassana course, preferably in a Dhamma centre. The only thing is, most/all of the Dhamma centres are quite strict about their rules, and one of those rules is the food they serve. They say they serve simple vegetarian food, and unless you have some medical reason to eat something else, you will have to eat what they serve, and you are not allowed to bring your own food. Since it has already been quiet some months, changing my diet into a cooked food diet will give problems to my digestive system in the beginning, like diarrhoea, since it has to get used to the cooked food again (I have experienced it before when changing from raw to cooked.) And actually at the moment I don’t want to change my diet at all, like I said. So that’s why I was looking where it was possible to do the course and keep a raw food diet, and came upon your website.

    My question to you is do you know any place where I will be able to do this? Do a Vipassana course and keep my raw food diet. This does not have to mean that they serve only raw food. If they serve raw food next to their cooked food which will be sufficient to feed me during the course, then that will be very good. And does this change per season? I would prefer a Dhamma centre. If not, then please tell me if you know any other type of centre where they provide Vipassana courses with the ability to eat raw food. Also I prefer to do it in India. But if you know any other places in the world where this is possible, then please tell me.
    I am very much willing to bring my own food supply if that is necessary. Or provide money, so my food can be bought.

    Thanks a lot in advance for all the information!!

    My response:
    Thank you for the question. As you probably know, Vipassana meditation is about cultivating non-attachment, so I would try not to let the menu during the retreat cause you undue stress. I would accept the food that is available at the center you plan to attend. It may be difficult (and expensive) to obtain fresh fruit and vegetables (that can be eaten raw) in many locations. If you are willing to eat mostly fruit and have resources to travel, you would probably fare better by attending a center in SE Asia (such as Malaysia or Thailand) although I would be sure to contact them and confirm. Unfortunately, there are currently no 10-day courses planned on Hawaii. Try to be flexible for 10 days in order to learn the technique. Then you can resume your preferred diet. With Metta.

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