By Diane R. Gehart, PhD
Both ancient wisdom and modern science point to mindfulness as one of the most efficient and effective means of reducing mental and physical disorders, while enhancing general psychological and relational wellness. Yet health and happiness continue to elude huge swaths of our society.
A staggering 18 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from anxiety, and in Canada, “the 12 month prevalence for any anxiety disorder is over 12% and one in four Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime”.
The main struggle is really not lack of knowledge about how to practice mindfulness to solve these problems. Google provides that. It’s motivation, and the willingness to follow through with the practice that can help people’s situations. We tend to embrace healthier behaviors when we’re given positive rewards rather than presented with strict regimens. Because of this, I like to use chocolate to entice people to make the small, incremental changes that lead to sustainable happiness. This may seem too corny to work or take seriously. But, a playful approach has proven an effective springboard to exploring mindfulness as path to real change.
Mindfulness in its most common form involves sitting still in a room by yourself, watching yourself breathe, while trying not to indulge any thoughts or distractions. But, as creatures of an information-soaked, over-stimulated society, this seems like an unnecessary form of torture, despite what research shows about its endless benefits. And so, by adding chocolate, interest in engaging in this healthy habit increases considerably.
Chocolate Meditation for Beginners
This meditation invites you to focus your attention differently than you normally would. Use this meditation to sample your first taste of mindfulness:
1. Observe your wrapped chocolate. Pick up a piece of wrapped chocolate. Notice its color and how the light reflects off the wrapper. Notice its shape and the weight of it in your hand. Notice its scent.
2. Observe it unwrapped. Listen to the sound as you unwrap your chocolate. Again, take note of its color, shape and scent. Observe its texture: Is it hard or soft? Smooth or bumpy?
3. Observe your mind. Bring the morsel toward your mouth, but don’t bite into it. Notice how your body reacts. Do you start to salivate? Do other parts of your body anticipate the bite you’re about to take? What thoughts go through your head? Are you Excited? Impatient? Hesitant? Observe your thoughts and feelings as though you’re watching them move through your head like clouds moving across the sky.
4. Take a mindful bite. Take a small bite and let it linger on your tongue. Slowly roll it around your mouth. How does it taste? Is the taste different on different parts of your tongue? Is it sweet, salty, bitter, fruity or nutty? Refrain from judging the taste as good or bad, but simply experience the various taste sensations. Notice how the texture feels in your mouth as you slowly start chewing. Continue mindfully eating, slowly taking bites and experiencing the aroma, the textures and the flavors. When you’ve finished, sit for a few moments and reflect on your experience of slowly and mindfully eating the chocolate.
Typically, when we pop a chocolate in our mouths without slowing down from our busy pace to actually taste it, we miss the joy in savoring chocolate. By slowing down and experiencing the chocolate through all the senses, most people say that it tastes better and they feel less of a need to have a second piece.
The chocolate meditation lets us learn something new about ourselves and our approach to life — or at least our approach to chocolate. It helps to poignantly illustrate the truth in 3,000-year-old Daoist wisdom that emphasizes how, when we slow down to the present moment, a natural sense of ease and peace arises.
True happiness isn’t about achieving a career goal, purchasing a bigger house, having a million followers or buying the latest, coolest gadget. Happiness has little correlation with fulfilling dreams or ambitions. Instead, happiness is always accessible in the present moment if we mindfully keep our hearts open and allow ourselves to savor joyfulness.
Diane R. Gehart, Ph.D., is an author, an award-winning professor of Counseling and Family Therapy at California State University, Northridge, and a practicing psychotherapist. Her new book is Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers: A Lighthearted Way to Stress Less and Savor More Each Day (Rowman & Littlefield, Sept. 15, 2019). Learn more at DianeGehart.com.