“In Pala,” she explained, “we don’t say grace before meals. We say it with meals. Or rather we don’t say grace; we chew it.”
“Grace is the first mouthful of each course—chewed and chewed until there’s nothing left of it. And all the time you’re chewing you pay attention to the flavor of the food, to its consistency and temperature, to the pressures on your teeth and the feel of the muscles in your jaw.”
“And meanwhile, I suppose, you give thanks to the Enlightened One, or Shiva, or whoever it may be?”
Shanta shook her head emphatically. “That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven’t invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.”
Aldous Huxley’s utopian Island makes for an excellent reminder of the ideals to aspire to as I start a new life in the bustling city. In stark contrast to the ethos of Manhattanites (whose prerogative it is to never “take yes for an answer”), Huxley gifts us unenlightened folk of Greater Rendang with a refresher course in common-sense well-being. In spite of millennia of economic and technological advancement, we’re no better at coping with the brutal and impersonal nature of existence than ancient philosophers of the East, with their prescription of mindfulness, gratitude, and the occasional psychedelic trip.
The features of Palanese society range from the far-fetched and fantastical (Mutual Adoption Clubs provide children with a cohort of fair-minded parental figures who are miraculously impartial to their blood-kin) to categorical common sense (rock-climbing and other physical exertions serve as a constructive outlet for aggression).
Among my favourite social norms is the almost whimsical idea of “chewing grace.” Huxley was clearly a proponent of “mindful eating,” before it was cool.
Whatever you call it, I’ve been working to make a habit of the practice in everyday life. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember to pay attention to the food you eat, even while you’re eating it. But as busy as the work days can get, it is a small miracle how content I feel when I consciously take in the plenitude of comfort in my life, if only for a few short moments.
As cliché as the saying may be, there is an enormous amount of truth in William Blake’s conviction that “gratitude is heaven itself.”