4 Nov
Posted in: Practice, Retreats
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On Not Eating Dinner

At the retreat, we had the option of practicing eight precepts instead of the usual five. The five precepts are are: (1) refraining from killing–even insects!, (2) refraining from taking that which is not freely given, (3) refraining from sexual activity, (4) refraining from incorrect speech–speech that is harmful, harsh, untimely, or not beneficial…not really a problem since the retreat is in silence, (5) refraining from taking intoxicants–alcohol or recreational drugs–that lead to carelessness.

The additional three are: (6) refraining from eating after the noon meal, (7) refraining from entertainment and beautifying the body with garlands, jewelry, cosmetics and perfumes (8) refraining from using high and luxurious seats and beds–basically so you don’t just lounge around in them all day.

Entertainment, beautification and luxurious beds are not really an issue on retreat. But not eating dinner–now that’s a stretch.

It’s not punitive, though. Or anything to do with deprivation or self mortification. It’s really about restraint. The idea is that you will feel lighter by not eating in the afternoon or evening, less sluggish and….freed from the need to eat and digest…more able to meditate.

So, instead of the light dinner of soup and bread that is usually served at the dinner hour, those who are following the eight precepts just drink fruit juice. And/or tea. (Which can include a little bit of milk.) Plus there’s hard candy available to help keep the blood sugar up.

But that’s it.

I hadn’t thought I would do it because really, skipping dinner seemed a bit of a stretch. But they served plenty of food at both breakfast and lunch. And soup every night for dinner didn’t sound that hard to give up. The bread, I thought, would be a challenge, but then I thought I’ve had plenty of bread in my lifetime….and I would have plenty more again in the future…so what the heck.

So I did it.

I was pretty worried about being hungry. Which I was–a few times. But being hungry is really not all that bad, I discovered. There’s pressure in the stomach area. Sometimes a cramping, twisting sensation. Sometimes a sharp little stab. But it comes and goes. It’s really not a problem….especially since taking the extra precepts was completely voluntary. (And since I knew I could eat as much as I wanted in the morning.)

And I did feel a bit lighter. Physically, yes, but mostly psychologically. Because letting go of eating dinner meant that I was free of having to “feed” that particular habit.

It was quite liberating!

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