by Matthew Daniell
(Published in the Newburyport Daily News newspaper, July 23rd, 2016)
About three decades ago I spent a year as a Buddhist Monk in Thailand. It was a very austere life, dedicated to meditation and simplicity. One of the trainings I practiced was to only take one meal a day before noon from the food collected going on alms round early in the morning. I would arrange my monk’s robes, walk alone across rice fields to a nearby village, where humble folk would place various little bits of foods such as rice and vegetables in my monks bowl. I would silently return to the monastery and quietly, slowly, eat the food. Often it was not very tasty by my American standards, but I was grateful to receive this one source of physical nourishment a day to keep me going.
After some months of practicing intensive meditation (mindfulness practice) I began to notice that although the food didn’t taste ‘good’ (the vegetables were often overcooked in heavy oil, and the spicing was way too strong for my taste), I began to really enjoy it, even more so than my mom’s amazing home cooking! Could it have been so very satisfying because it was my one meal of the day, and with no other sources of entertainment this was my one chance for some sense pleasure? Perhaps there was a bit of this, but why then did the enjoyment get stronger as my meditation practice deepened? Was there a direct relationship between my meditation practice, which consisted of an ancient but very simple practice of bringing full care and attention into everything that I did, and the level of enjoyment I received?
It was many years later, back in the United States after the better part of a decade in Asia on spiritual sojourn, that I finally figured it out.