Updated: Apr 16
You might be wondering, "Of all foods to eat mindfully, why a raisin? Seriously?"
That's right. A raisin. Just one raisin. And you can make use of that little sucker for five minutes or more with mindfulness. Sounds crazy, right? But you can do it. Just try to set aside some time to be in a quiet place. Begin by staring so hard at that little beast that your eyes start to hurt.
Think of the raisin as your teacher. When you're mindfully eating a raisin, the raisin is no longer just some dry bitter grape that only tastes tolerable in salads or in Raisin Bran cereal...
The raisin becomes the focal point of your awareness—much like your breath during breathing meditations.
Who created the raisin meditation exercise?
Buddhist monks have been practicing mindful eating for thousands of years. Meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized mindful eating in the West when he included the raisin meditation exercise as part of his eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program.
“When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide a universe of sensory experience.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as a "moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness,” of all sensations happening in your body and in your mind. Even foods you don't particularly like can offer the kind of sensory experience Kabat-Zinn describes. All you have to do is set aside all distractions and focus entirely on whatever you're eating.
How to eat mindfully—without a raisin?
That’s right. It doesn't have to be a raisin. In fact, if you really really hate raisins, then get a peanut or something instead. You literally have zero incentive to eat something you don't like.
So let's begin! Set your phone on mute if for some reason you can't turn it off. If your cat is brushing its tail against your leg right now, just wait for it to stop. This is the exception. Your time and attention have been claimed by the all-powerful Mr. Fluffles and there's nothing I or Kabat-Zinn can do to help you.
Assuming you are no longer at the mercy of your feline friend, here's how to do the raisin meditation exercise:
1. Hold the raisin
Hey! Don't you dare eat that raisin! Not yet anyway. Pretend you're from another planet. You've never seen such a strange object before and it would be unwise to eat something that isn't yet part of your extraterrestrial food pyramid. Simply hold the raisin in the palm of your hand—doing nothing else with it.
Don't even look at it. You may even debate dropping it. It could be dangerous. Actually don't drop it. Mr. Fluffles might get a hold of it. Who knows what could happen if he eats this mysterious thing?
2. Focus on the raisin using your eyes
What does it look like? Have you ever seen something like this before? Give the raisin your full attention. What makes this object unique? Take note of the strange folds and ridges. Lift it over your head and observe the way it reflects whatever light source you're under. Unless you're doing this exercise in the dark.
Honestly, why would you do this exercise in the dark? That's weird.
3. Shift your attention now to touch
How does the raisin feel in your fingers? Explore its texture. Roll it around in the palm of your hand. Is your hand starting to get a little sticky? Don't panic. Just keep rolling it around. Chances are nothing is going to happen. You're going to be okay—I think.
4. Smell the raisin
Very carefully, hold the raisin beneath your nose. Begin by taking a very subtle inhale. You never know what kind of noxious fumes this foreign object might give off, so go very slow. If you aren't getting dizzy by now, take a bigger inhale.
Notice how the raisin smells. How is this smell impacting any feelings in your stomach or your mouth? Are you beginning to salivate?
5. Positioning the raisin
It should be clear now that this foreign object will not pose any immediate threat. Consider putting the raisin up to your lips.
You daredevil, you.
Notice how when you lifted the raisin up to your lips and positioned it perfectly over your mouth you didn't even have to think much about how you did it. Your body naturally knew how to do this for some reason.
Now, gently place the raisin in your mouth. but don't chew it yet. Spend a little while greeting the raisin with your tongue. Move it around in different spots in your mouth. How does it feel on your tongue? What about in between your teeth. How does the texture of the raisin feel over your gums?
Are you salivating even more now?
6. Taste and chew
You've probably already noticed by now what the raisin tastes like, but home in on this sensation now. You may take one or two bites into the raisin, but don't chew too quickly or too hard. Don't try to chew through the raisin just yet.
Notice any waves of flavor that arise after you take those first two bites into the raisin.
Also, notice how hard it might be to hold back. Does your body want to eat and digest the raisin as fast as possible? Does it feel like torture savoring this little wrinkly black thing for so long?
Notice how as you continue to chew, the sensations of taste and texture change.
7. Swallow the raisin
Now that the raisin has become little more than a collective pile of saliva and mush, you're probably just getting sick of it—assuming you haven't swallowed it already.
But if you haven't swallowed the raisin yet, see if you can detect the first intention your body had to swallow it.
Ask yourself, "How does my body decide when to swallow the raisin?"
The point is when you do choose to swallow the raisin, experience this consciously.
8. Down the hatches we go!
As you swallow the raisin, consciously follow it as it moves down your throat and into your stomach. What does this feel like? Can you actually detect where it is in your body as it moves through you?
Once you can no longer sense where the raisin is in your body, pay attention to how your body is feeling as a whole. How did this experience affect your well-being?
Boom! You have just completed the raisin meditation exercise! You are now a mindful eating expert!
Why should you try the raisin meditation exercise?
The raisin meditation exercise is a powerful introduction to mindfulness because it promotes mindful eating and can improve your health-relationship with food.
You may have noticed that the raisin meditation exercise wasn't exactly easy. If you followed all of these steps correctly—taking at least five minutes to complete the whole exercise—you probably met a lot of resistance.
Or maybe you weren't able to go through all steps of this exercise on the first try.
Eating mindfully is hard
This is because your body naturally wants to eat the raisin as quickly as it can. The body doesn't care about being mindful. It just wants to survive. To eat.
You (your mind) might also feel irritated at the idea of appreciating such an insignificant food.
Think of how Oprah felt when Thich Nhat Han said tea takes an hour-long to drink. Outrageous, right?
According to Thich Nhat Han in the video above, it's actually outrageous for anyone NOT to take at least an hour-long to drink tea because every sip of tea is a blissful experience.
Your mind and your body—when not used consciously—can and will impede some if not all of the efforts you intended to make to be more mindful when going through this exercise.
That's why you should try this exercise more than once. Consider going back in and trying the raisin meditation exercise over and over again. On each try, you'll notice something new.
Eventually, hitting that five-minute mark will be as easy as pie.
Then try mindfully eating a piece of pie for 10 minutes.
Pie isn't so easy now, is it?