Excerpted from Lunchtime Enlightenment by Pragito Dove. Copyright (c) Pragito Dove, 2001. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Compass, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

People often tell me that they don't have time to meditate. Sometimes I answer by asking, "You have time for lunch, don't you?" Meditation is no more time-consuming than a lunch break. In fact, meditation can be your lunch break, as I explained recently to a group of staffers at the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco's morning newspaper.

Phyllis Kittleson of the Chronicle's Human Resources Department, an organizer of the event, had arranged for everyone attending to have a sack lunch waiting for them. Our session was limited to forty-five minutes, as newspaper people are always working under pressure of a deadline. Once everyone was seated, I invited them to unwrap their food and eat slowly, enjoying each aroma, taste, and texture. I suggested that they try as much as possible to eat with their eyes closed. Though they were surprised by this unusual request, they quickly agreed to try.

While people ate, I brought their attention to their bodies sitting comfortably on the chairs. I suggested that they be aware of the flavor of the food in their mouths, how much they were enjoying the lunch they had chosen, how easily their digestive system was processing the food. I encouraged them to be totally present, to engage for this short period in only what they were doing-eating lunch and nothing else. Normally, I had been told, most people who work at the Chronicle eat lunch at their desks, and continue working at the same time. Traffic from the street, ringing telephone, laughter, and conversations punctuate most of their lunch breaks. As sounds intruded into our lunch break-the sound of the door opening and closing, the rustling of lunch bags as people came in late, even the sound of my voice-I incorporated these interruptions into the meditation. I wanted people to learn to stay relaxed and focused without being disturbed by other people's activities.

This is one of the special tricks of meditation. I find that once people have experienced this feeling of relaxed focus, once they understand that it is possible for the body to remain calm and centered though they are surrounded by busyness, they find it much easier to stay relaxed under similar conditions in their offices.

At the end of the session, everyone said they had enjoyed eating lunch this way. They reported being more satisfied, less anxious about how much they ate, more at ease with the whole process of eating.

How do you usually eat lunch? Can you take some time just for yourself? Maybe five minutes? Maybe longer? Nobody needs to know that you're meditating while munching on your sandwich or salad. Nobody needs to know that you have chosen lunch time as the doorway into the private haven inside yourself: a place where everything is accepted; a place where you do only what you are doing; a place where you can pour all of your energy into yourself, recharge your batteries, and from which you return to work feeling relaxed, calm, and positive.

Here are some suggestions for lunch time meditations you might try.

Walk in the Park

Go for a walk in a park or other place where there are trees and flowers, if possible. Walk slowly. Let the body relax. Breathe. Let your eyes enjoy the colors of the flowers, the trees, the sky. Let your ears enjoy the sounds of nature or of soothing music if you are wearing headphones. Bring your awareness to your feet. Let them enjoy feeling the ground as you walk. Be aware of the differences between various surfaces, the resilience of a grassy lawn, the crunch of gravel, the uneven paving stones of a garden path. Sit for a while on a bench or on the ground with your back against a tree. Let the tension sink out of your body and into the ground. Spend a long moment looking at a tree or up into the clear blue sky.

Just Sit There

Sit in a comfortable position on a chair on the floor for five minutes, longer if you can. Make sure that your clothing is not constricted so the body can relax. Sit with the back relatively straight. Close your eyes. Wearing a blindfold can help take the stress off the eyes. Relax the body. Let your awareness move inside and begin to observe your breathing. There is no right way to breathe, so there is no need to change your breathing. Only watch. This simple technique can reduce the secretion of the adrenal glands and lower blood pressure. Generally after only five to ten minutes, the secretion of adrenaline is less, and you feel this difference. Fatigue is relieved, and the body's store of energy is renewed.

Listen to Music

Choose some soothing music and sit or lie down and listen to it, with or without headphones, depending on your situation. Close your eyes and feel as if the sounds of the music are circling toward you. You are the center. Try not to judge or analyze the music in any way. Just feel the sound all around you, falling on you from every side. Relax your senses and let the sounds enter you, making you more liquid and open. Sounds are not heard in the ears. The head is for words, not for sounds. The center for sounds is deep down in the belly. Allow the sounds of the music to take you deep into your own center, which is in the belly, two inches below the navel. At your center, all is silence, peace, and calm. With practice, this meditation will help you stay connected with your center, your inner haven of silence and stillness, no matter what sounds are around you.

Go Horizontal

Simply lie down, on a couch, on the floor, in a park, wherever you can that's appropriate for you. Close your eyes. Allow the body to let go. Allow the tension to drain downward into the ground, or into the couch or floor. Feel the support underneath you. Rest. Let go. This meditation is particularly good for people who feel they have "no support," who feel they have to do everything themselves.

Bring your awareness to every part of your body. Begin at the center, two inches below the navel. Then move your awareness down the right leg, back up the left leg and all the way up your left side to your head. Then come back down the right side, returning to your center. Breathe. Feel the feelings. Whatever amount of time you have, no matter where you are at your lunch break, whether you're in a cubicle or out in a park, you can turn this time into meditation time. It's not a question of time but of understanding what meditation is, and what it is not.

As you practice these ideas, you may come up with your own ideas for practice. It is surprising how incorporating a few simple techniques can not only transform your lunch time but your whole day as well.

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