This book is a description of a day in the life of an inmate of the gulag - Russia's slave labor camps, populated with anyone labeled an enemy of the state, as well as common criminals.
As an assignment for this class, we are supposed to eat mindfully. Eating in a prison camp is described as a special part of a prisoner's life:
Then Shukhov took off his cap off his shaved head - however cold it was, he would never eat with it on... What Shukov has was now quite cold. Even so, he ate it slow and careful like he always did. Mustn't hurry now, even if the roof caught fire. Apart from sleeping, the prisoners' time was their own for only ten minutes at breakfast, five minutes at the noon break, and another five minutes at supper.
You had to eat with all your thoughts on the food, like he was nibbling off these little bits now, and turn them over on your tongue, and roll them over in your mouth - and then it tasted so good, this soggy black bread.
He began to eat. He started with the watery stuff on the top and drank it right down. The warmth went through his body and his insiders were sort of quivering waiting for that gruel to come down. It was great! This was what a prisoner lived for, this one little moment.
Our class is supposed to reread these passage, before we eat, for one day, and then eat slowly, mindfully, and record our experience. That's what I tried to do today. For those of you that have eaten with me, I eat very quickly. I haven't met anyone that normally, without rushing, eats faster than I do. I am not usually mindful at all about eating, other than purchasing very healthy food, or ingredients, to wolf down as quickly as possible with the minimum amount of cost to gain the maximum nutritional benefit. I also do not usually write about my feelings, or experiences, unless I think they will be interesting/funny/entertaining. Taking classes can be about trying new things, and is about learning. So, that's why this post is a bit different than normal.
Mindful Drinking of Tea
The first thing I realized while attempting to mindfully drink tea was that I had to focus on actually drinking tea. My plan was to drink tea, while doing laundry, but I caught myself. I waited until the tea was totally cool, and safe to drink, instead of sort-of drinking it / blowing on it, working on the next/current task, setting it down, and then remembering to pick it up later (after it cooled.) Time passed much more slowly while focusing on my tea. It reminded me of a Japanese tea ceremony. I tasted some of the more subtle flavors than I normally do - the bitterness from not being mindful about boiling it (throwing the tea bag in boiling water, and forgetting about it, much to the discomfort of any Russians reading this!) The New Mexican honey made me think of bees gathering clover pollen from fields by the river.
Why did I go with decaffeinated? My mom gave me a number of green tea bags, which are decafe. Plus I'm trying to cut down on my caffeine.
I noticed I was more present in the moment, instead of thinking about all the things I would be doing that day, or as I'd normally be, doing, while drinking the tea. I think this level of mindfulness could be helpful to cultivate while listening to someone. It's never good when speaking, and you realize your audience is going through tons of other things in their head. I'm not sure how helpful focusing on tea is though, but it's an exercise.
I always liked handmade things. I began to focus on the handmade cup my friend Kevin made for me. All of the chips represent the years I've owned this cup. I try to picture the cup broken, since that is the nature of cups, and all things, and to be grateful for all the time I did own the cup, rather than to be sad that I will, someday, no longer own the cup. Buddhist style.
Where did these ideas come from? I just spent eight minutes drinking tea. Unless I have a Russian girlfriend, I don't spend any time drinking tea. I sometimes spent some time making tea, and some time cleaning up after making tea, but no time actually drinking tea. Drinking things is something that happens during other things. I guess another Russian woman is driving me to spend time on drinking tea. That's my professor this time though!
Mindful Drinking of Diet Dr. Pepper-ish
I began mindfully drinking this delicious Caffeine free Diet Dr. Pepper, and then I realized it had no calories. I don't think I should stop and reflect every time I get a drink of water today, so I stopped and slammed it.
Yes, I have a wheelbarrow filled up with tools, sitting in my front room. As well as a door ready to install. This is what happens when you are a bachelor, and like working on home improvement projects to 'relax' after sitting in front of a computer all day.
Later I had more tea. This time, I noticed the warmth of the tea spreading. It started in both my hands, when I picked up the glass in two hands (which is also something I don't normally do) and then it spread to my teeth, mouth, throat and chest. That was a nice feeling to observe.
Mindful Eating of Lasagna and Cranberry Crisp For Lunch
This was difficult. My family was present, and we were going to visit a friend after his surgery. My mom brought me food, and my parents were waiting for me to finish before we left. My mom and I ate together, but normally I inhale my food. Today I was the slowest person to finish. My mom looked at me, like she thought something was wrong, or different, but she didn't say anything. I didn't explain why I was eating so slowly. If she reads this post, and remembers, then she will understand.
I noticed that the acidity of the spaghetti aggravated small cuts my mouth and gums. I think I smashed my head against a wall playing handball yesterday, and rattled myself a bit. Yesterday I didn't even notice, but today trying to be mindful made me aware of the small cuts on the inside of my mouth while eating. The sourness of the cranberry crisp was refreshing. Later, while rereading, and editing, this blog post, I also noticed the crappy plastic plate in the picture that I was eating on, instead of a plate made by my friend.
Mindful Eating of Salad, Broccoli with Blue Cheese, Noodles with Onions, Peppers and Turkey Meatballs
For dinner, I cooked a lot of food. I plan on storing much of it to eat tomorrow, and bringing lunch to my new worker. While preparing this food, I ate a little bit of the cheese that was left on my instruments. I was very mindful of how good the cheese tasted, mostly because I was very hungry from not eating much today, and I like cheese. It was cheddar (for the noodle dish) and blue cheese (for the broccoli.) Not eating (mindful, or otherwise) very much today was a result of having to pay much more attention while eating. I didn't want to spend the time mindfully eating, so I didn't eat.
The texture of many vegetables is actually more enjoyable than their flavor. Crunchiness is a pretty cool attribute that lettuce, and sweet peppers, both share. The acidity from the (low fat) Italian dressing, and the tomato-based sauce, wasn't as stringent against the small cuts in my mouth as earlier in the day. The cuts must be healing quickly.
Where did these noodles come from? Is American Beautify made in China? Nope, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. What I like about milk is the temperature. When I was little, I would adjust the refrigerator to "almost" freezing, to get milk at the almost-frozen, perfect, temperature. Sometimes I'd go too far. My mom would wonder who turned the temperature down. My friend Kevin makes very masculine, heavy, ceramics to eat off. That's how I like them, not flimsy, and able to take the Brian abuse.
I think this exercise was fun. My writing tends to be more focused, and not a stream of thoughts. It also forced me to make decisions about eating, since it brought my awareness to what I was eating. I was confronted with all the choices I make, while eating. If someone has problems with eating, I think mindful eating would help them. Today was likely a bit light on actual calories, but the gulag diet is shown to drastically reduce weight!