Raisins. They come in colorful little boxes. They are normal little wrinkle jobs existing somewhere on the fringes of life. Not special. Just a solid little fact. Maybe they were once packed in your lunch, discovered in a slice of carrot cake or swimming in the last bit of milk once you finished that bowl of Raisin Bran. You may love them, hate them. Have no feeling about them whatsoever.
But asked to focus on eating just one while bringing all your senses to bear as we do in the early days of mindfulness training, and the raisin becomes an entirely different thing.
The students are sitting in a circle, cross-legged on their bolsters, some up in chairs. I pass around a bowl and ask them to select a couple of the objects. I start and take two. Already by calling them objects instead of naming them “raisin” we are altering our perception; asking students to see what is versus what is expected.
I am aware of how small a raisin is. Tonight, they carry the weight of lifting the ordinary into the extraordinary.
And so, we begin. First, we just look and note whatever we can see. Students can call out words: “glistening,” “tiny,” “wrinkled.” Then we touch the raisin, rolling it in our fingers. Mine is sticky. Someone says “sticky.” The raisin is soft. Someone says this too. We are all experiencing individually and yet also together.
We lift them to our nostrils and inhale. I experience a hit of sweet followed by muskiness. Earth. Sun. Time.
Listening comes next. Everyone lifts the raising to their ear and leans in to hear it. There’s a distinct soft crackle as it rolls between my fingers. Later, a student says that was her favorite part. The newness and surprise of the raisin’s sound.
There is so much we miss by experiencing something the same way again and again without asking ourselves “what is truly available to me now?” “What else can I know about this moment, this object?”
And now, finally, we place it between our lips then onto our tongues where we roll it around a bit. There is something almost alien about the raisin now. It is in the mouth but not yet eaten in the normal way.
Finally, we bite once. And wait. And bite once again. Perhaps we wait again.
At this point, there’s often a desire to just get on with it already. Some might feel impatient with the fastidiousness or precision of our approach to the eating of one raisin. We chew. We swallow.
We are finished. Some might feel a sort of sadness – the relationship with the raisin is almost past. Some might feel definite relief – the agony of such attention!
We discuss. One student is surprised that the flavor of the raisin doesn’t hit at once. We talk about the mind’s ability to shortcut the actual experience which is not: add food to mouth, immediate hit of flavor. But that is our expectation and perception of the general experience of eating. And so, it becomes the reality.
Try it. Even with a sip of strong coffee, if you slow down the action and focus on each moment as best you can, you don’t immediately experience “flavor.”
The raisin is a terrific subject for mindful eating. So ordinary, so often a part of a childhood memory. Something we tend to throw by the handfuls into our mouths as we “snack.”
The raisin offers us a way to experience the ordinary in a new way, which is the promise of mindfulness. At the same time, we can recognize how we burden even the smallest things, the most habitual actions with our preconceptions.