A number of religious traditions promote the practice of pausing and reciting prayers at certain times of the day—typically morning, noon, and evening. I grew up in such a tradition, and I remember hearing the church bells ringing at noon calling us to mid-day prayer. Our response was to pause in the middle of whatever we were doing for a moment of reflection.
Today, I think of lunch time as an opportunity to do something similar. I find that, when done in a mindful way, having lunch does so much more than give me an energy boost and prepare me for a productive afternoon. A mindful lunch replenishes my soul as well as my body.
Having a mindful lunch is not the same as eating lunch. We can eat lunch at our desk while still working on the computer or have lunch while we sit in a chair and watch TV. A mindful lunch takes us away from our computer and our TV. It also takes us away from our work. Having a mindful lunch literally means being “out to lunch” and entering a space of prayer and reflection.
Several years ago, I worked with a colleague who had a beautiful lunch time practice that embodied the spirit of the noon-day prayer. Sharon usually packed her lunch and often ate at her desk. Yet, there was no doubt that, in the way she did so, Sharon went out to lunch. Sharon closed her office door, silenced her phone, replaced the work on her desk with a place mat, lit a small candle, and played soft music. She then ate her lunch.
For many of us, going out to lunch means leaving our work space to have lunch in a restaurant or cafe with colleagues or friends. This practice—while entertaining and refreshing—can leave us feeling empty. It can drain our bank account and leave no real dividends. My most memorable lunch experience was not in a fancy restaurant or a unique café. It was sitting on a log near a stream of water. After announcing my retirement, a friend invited me to a going-away lunch. She packed some tuna sandwiches and celery sticks, and together we walked to a nearby park to have our lunch. The simplicity and beauty of this lunch stays with me today.
While having a mindful lunch enriches my day, I think of it as both a giving and a receiving. I receive the benefits of being renewed in body, mind, and spirit. But before I begin to eat, I pause for a moment and reflect on the blessings I receive. Different religious traditions make prayer before meals a part of their practice. Many such prayers begin with the words “We give thanks.” While rote prayers aren’t a part of my spiritual practice, I do include a prayer of thanksgiving when I pause to have a mindful lunch. As I receive the gift of food, I also give thanks. This form of reciprocity not only enriches my experience of going out to lunch; it also honors the meal I am about to eat.
Some people might equate mindful eating with eating slowly or about chewing your food for a long time. They may think, too, that mindful eating means using all your senses in choosing, preparing, and eating food. These may be helpful practices, but mindful eating for me adds another dimension – a dimension that goes beyond my relationship with food. This added dimension is reflective and prayerful. Just as, when I was a child, the noontime church bells invited me to pause in the middle of the day to reflect on the deeper meanings of life, so now my going out to lunch is a time for contemplation and spiritual renewal.