It’s autumn, it’s apple season, it’s time for Germany’s favorite fruit – an excellent occasion for apple pie, apple sauce – and awareness. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Zen master and an advocate of mindfulness, the apple is ideal for embarking on the high art of meditation. Those looking for spiritual experience needn’t chant mantras far away from civilization. In true ascetic minimalist fashion a little time and, of course, an apple suffice.
Once you have the apple in your hand, you don’t bite into it right away. The meditation begins with mere watchfulness – of yourself. Am I ready to enjoy this apple? While eating it can I give it my full attention? Am I capable of concentrating on a simple apple? This can be more tricky than it sounds. Especially when eating alone, one tends to think about anything and everything. A few conscious inhales and exhales help to collect yourself and focus your mind and senses entirely on the apple. What does it look like? What color is it? How does it feel in your hand? Smooth, raw, hard? Is the stem still attached? What did it look like hanging on the tree? Once the apple has been sufficiently surveyed your brain will have received enough signals to know it’s going to eat soon. As a result, your mouth is producing saliva in preparation for the next phase of the meditation. Body and soul are one.
Following this, the first bite. All sensory perceptions registered on the tongue and in the mouth are up for the mind’s analysis. Is the apple juicy, starchy or crunchy? What does it taste like, what is its aroma like? Is it sour, sweet, both even? Enjoying an apple so deliberately leads to slower eating and chewing instinctively. This furthers meditative mindfulness while eating as well as reinforcing the stomach during digestion. The smaller the pieces of the apple, the more accessible it is for enzymes to break it down into even smaller components. Chewing slower allows the body to absorb energy and vital substances – cows show us how to do this all the time.
Plus, you’re allowed to smile at the apple while meditating; it is, after all, a gift from the sky, the soil and humans. When you imagine how sun, wind, water, earth and humans cooperated to bring about such ripe fruits on the apple tree, a larger context comes into view. This little apple is a humble representative of all earthly life. We eat it to let go of ourselves and to see the bigger picture. As Seneca tells us, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Did he mean spiritual illness, too?
The apple meditation is a simple way of consciously interacting with what we consume. If you apply this meditation to other foods, what you shouldn’t eat quickly becomes apparent. As the famous Austrian gastroenterologist used to preach, “Whatever doesn’t taste better and better after chewing 50 times can’t be healthy.”