I did a mindfulness workshop with Jess Lemon and Jes Markoff.
We were in the middle of a walking meditation. Heel, ball, allfivetoes, heel, ball, allfivetoes, moving at slow-motion-snail-speed one foot in front of the other, if snails had feet and lived in a VHS movie on rewind. It felt good at first, the warm floor beneath me, the weight equally placed. Like my heart was in my feet, I was empty and full and going nowhere.
And then Jess introduced a treat.
She sat tall and alluded to a large brown bag: “When you get to me, you may take a piece of fruit, a square of chocolate, or a nut.”
All I heard was “chocolate.”
We were moving in a circle around the room and I happened to be right in front of Jess, the first one in line. The lucky one, I win. I gaze down, two bars of unopened organic-everything-getitinmymouth-good chocolate. I kneel down deep in a meditative trance but now my focus is not on my breath or my feet or the floor beneath me but the chocolate. Jess helps break off a piece and I rise. Like I won a prize, I rise. A little bit taller, I continue my walk.
I take my first bite. Because I’d stopped, there is now a gap between the person in front of me and me. I quicken my pace to catch up, help equalize the circle. As I do this, I eat my chocolate, my chocolate. I walk fast and eat my chocolate, fast. Suddenly Jes turns around and looks at me, her eyes wide. She strikes her hand through the air motioning me to stop. This is exaggerated because the room is silent. “No!” She mouths. Her jaw forms a deep “O” shape, her eyes sharp, her lips round. I realize what I’ve done.
This is a mindfulness workshop. I wasn’t suppose to eat the chocolate.
By this point I become acutely aware of my surroundings. The floor beneath my feet is warm. The air is warm. My armpits are warm. Everything is warm. All of these warm feelings, exaggerated. I’m particularly drawn to how warm it is by the fact that the small piece of chocolate that rests between my thumb and pointer finger is melting.
I continue my walk. I listen to the words of wisdom from the two Jes(s).’ Mindful eating. How to simply notice the object in your hand. How to not act on feelings of impulse, want. To notice your body responding. Feelings of desire, cravings. The funny thing is, is that I don’t even remember making the conscious decision to take a bite. It was total impulse. You give me chocolate, I put it in my mouth. Animal instinct, survival. Quick eat it before the slow-walker behind you catches up and snatches it.
I look down at my chocolate nub.
Immediately my object starts to lose its desire. It melts into a neutral brown. I look at it and I start to project all the times I acted too quickly, impulsively. The time I ate an entire pack of coloured mentos when I was seven, the first time I lied to my Mother. The time I died my hair black and cut my bangs too short, the time I slept with my boss. Getting smaller by the minute it melts into a source of embarrassment, shame. The walking has never felt slower and the chocolate is melting faster and everything is brown. My heart no longer in my feet, it’s in-between my fingers, half-eaten and disappearing quickly.
Eventually we stop and find our seats. Jess invites me to place my chocolate down. I allude to my slimy fingers and say “it’s melting.” “That’s okay,” she responds as she slides over a copy of the poem she read earlier. “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. She read this poem at the beginning of the workshop. She read this poem at the beginning of the workshop and I wept. My grandfather passed away the night before and this was the first time I started to feel this loss. Allow this loss to, like Joni’s river, run through me.
I look in the mirror to see I have chocolate on my face.
I wipe it off.
And then we sit. We sit with our apple that is round and complete in its roundness. Our square of chocolate that is square and complete in its squareness. Our orange that is orange and orange in its orangeness. Our nut that is a nut. I look down. My mis-shapen sliver. Unidentifiable brown thing. For something like 10 minutes that felt something like 10 million somethings we sit.
I continue listening to Jess and Jes talk about noticing any sensations and thoughts around this object of desire. By this point, the object has become anything but an object of desire. I am upset by it, saddened by it. I want it gone.
I feel my body and realize I never even wanted the chocolate in the first place. I flash to myself on the subway over. Eating chocolate. An entire bar of chocolate. I ate an entire bar of chocolate on the subway ride over. 76% dark chocolate with ginger. I was on my way to teach and I was stressed I would be late. I used the chocolate to console me. I ate too much too fast, and as I took the time to really feel my body now, it didn’t want any chocolate.
Eventually we open our eyes. We are invited to take one final look at our object before we eat it. I look down. A small puddle of brown on this perfect poem. I pick up the piece. In doing so, I smudge the words across the paper: “The art of losing.”
“Put it in your mouth.”
I put it in my mouth.
I don’t chew, but sit there as the chocolate dissolves at rapid speeds. It was barely there in the first place. I feel it disappear. I feel myself sadden. Everything disappears. I am losing.
This process is designed to take at least 3 minutes. We are guided through each bite. Bite. Pause. Notice. Swallow. Pause. Notice.
Of course my chocolate is gone in the course of thirty seconds. My mouth is empty, and filled with an overwhelming flavor of mint.
Mint. I didn’t even notice it was mint when I ate it in the first place. Mint. My mouth is filled with mint. My mouth my nose my armpits, why not, everything. The chocolate gone, my mouth full of its presence.
I feel the chocolate. I see my grandfather. The picture of him playing the accordion, a high school teacher with one foot on a desk. I feel my grandfather.
It dawns on me. The experience isn’t about the chocolate. It isn’t about the object. As long as my mouth was full with the taste of mint, the feeling of chocolate, I was full and whole. The chocolate was full and whole. My grandfather full and whole. Who cares if there was nothing there.
I get it.
Things don’t have to physically be there to feel them.
When you’re quiet enough, you can listen to your body and give yourself what you need.
I look into the mirror to see I still have chocolate on my face. I think of my grandfather. I smile.
This is the Art of Losing.
Jess Lemon and Jes Markoff are two of my most treasured teachers, mentors. This workshop was the official launch to their upcoming adventure, the making of a Documentary featuring their mindful journey across North America. Follow their journey on Facebook: