After presenting my passion project on Mindful Dinners at Shine, I wanted to share with you some of my newfound wisdom on how to create your own mindful dinner!
Benefits Of A Group Practice
Increased accountability to practice.
Increased feeling of connection to a community and expansion of network of support.
Less experienced practitioners can learn from more experienced practitioners.
Experienced practitioners can learn how to teach and guide less experienced practitioners.
Exchange of recipes, cooking techniques, and inspiration for trying something new.
You can create an intention, preamble, or theme for the event to guide the planning and execution of the event. Feel free to start developing this intention before the dinner or once the group begins to meet, in order to create a shared one. Setting guiding principles (in yoga terms, they are called sankalpas) will help with your decision making and communication style of the event. Once the intention is set, the leader can communicate it to attendees and all helpers. You can decide to practice one type of meditation or change it up as the intention and group evolves.
With my dinners, my intention was to help support people to explore more intimacy in a safe and nourishing environment to connect to their deepest desires. I developed questions for attendees to answer as a group and among each other to explore mental formations they developed and what their peers developed as well (ex. What does intimacy look like to you?). Before each meal, I offered a story of why I was serving it. Before eating each dish, I encouraged a mindful practices (ex. noticing the taste, texture, aesthetics, smell, sound, inner thoughts, and inner physiology).
I also wanted attendees to develop a practice that they could take beyond the dinner. Because of my intentions, I offered paper and pens to attendees to write out a lovingkindness mantra after they finished eating. I shared examples of lovingkindness phrases, so they could have some ideas. Lovingkindness nourishes intimacy and exploration, which is why I chose to end with this type of practice. Throughout the dinner, I used a mix of different styles of meditation I have practiced, because I used different styles during my healing journey.
In addition, I offer a paleo inspired dinner which does not follow most traditional Buddhist lineages. I wanted to offer this type of event to share the type of food that has worked to heal me. What has helped me to become more intimate in my life are my guiding principles.
Schedule It and Share It
Set up a time and place.
Figure out a place: a home, yoga studio, gallery, co-working space, church, monastery could work. In the summer or spring, look for outdoors at a park or public space. Typically, as long as the place is quiet or serene, it can work.
Let people know about it: send out an email or post a message to your networks. I find word of mouth works best for the type of dinners I coordinate. For social media, you can use Facebook event pages (this way friends can add their friends to the event), Evite, Eventbrite, community calendars, and Meetup groups. If you plan to have it at a yoga studio or church, request the studio to post it on their calendar.
Choose a leader who will guide the meditation or be responsible to offer pre-recorded guided meditation or figure out what the group wants to read, chant, exercise or practice. Exercises can include the following: silent guided meditations, mandala drawings, vision boarding, mantra making, Q&As, lectures, and book readings.
For my events, I allowed ½ hour for arrival time, 30 minutes of meditation exercises, a story telling for each dish served, and a homework exercise to take beyond the event. Throughout the dinner, I am being conscious of how much guidance in meditation and mindful eating is appropriate for attendees - allowing for change in plans as needed.
Figure out if you want to do a potluck or a dinner. If it is a dinner, have someone be a leader for this part. Another person could be in charge of the event planning (logistics, decor, plates, execution, and/or theme).
From experience, I found it hard to be present when multitasking delegate, delegate, and delegate!
Figure Out Food Accommodations
If you are doing a potluck, this section may not apply to you. If you are planning a full dinner, please continue reading this section.
Create a Mis en Place for organizational purpose.
Some easy to do meals I have done include:
1) Slow cooked meats which are easy to keep warm.
2) Puree’s that can easily be kept warm.
3) Salads made in advance; you can add the dressing when ready to serve.
Create a sign-up sheet for attendees to collect emails for future events. This information may be important to keep for funding future gatherings.
Pay For Your Expenses
You can ask for dana or charge upfront for the total cost of it. Depending on your intentions and situation, either set-up will make sense or not.
Register Your Group
If you are sticking to follow a particular lineage of meditation, you can register your events with such organizations (ex. MBSR, Thich Nhat Hanh, and so forth).