By David Jones
I was sitting at my desk working along. The mind gently wanders when your work is repetitive.
I had already eaten and my hunger was satisfied. I’ll say again: I was absolutely not still hungry. Before I realized it, I had a small container of donut holes in my hand and was starting to open it to eat some. I scowled at it when I realized what I was doing, and put the container down.
Within the next half hour I realized I had done this two more times. Disgusted now, I put the container across the room so I wasn’t tempted.
But now as I think about it, temptation wasn’t the actual issue. I wasn’t lusting after these blueberry donut bites. I was simply—mindlessly—starting to eat them because they were there and my mouth was lonely.
Kuchisabishii is a Japanese word which we don’t have an English equivalent for, and I think we should. It means your mouth is lonely. While this word can refer to a need to have something in your mouth, in our context here it applies to mindless instead of mindful eating.
Mindful eating is where you take your time and engage the food, going beyond your tastebuds merely confirming that you’re chewing salted chips or chocolate drops.
It’s where you focus your mind and all your senses completely on the act of eating, free from distractions like TV. You pay attention to your meal. Mindless eating then is eating without thought or intentional engagement. Our hands could be replaced with an automated conveyor system that just pops food in our mouths as soon as it detects that we’re done chewing, and I don’t think it would change the experience much.
Mindless eating isn’t just an opportunity action, eating just because something is there and available. If your mouth gets lonely enough you will remain on autopilot and set course for the kitchen or wherever a temporary fix awaits.
Think of a lonely mouth like a lonely person. You’re likely to seek out something to drop into that yawning hole of loneliness; whether it’s good for you or not doesn’t necessarily factor into it.
Or think about Hungry Ghosts. Very basically family members leave food out for the spirits of deceased loved ones so the spirits don’t become hungry and start bugging strangers for a bite. But let’s imagine it isn’t that spirits are hungry for physical food. Why would you leave food out for them?
So the spirits are remembered, shown gratitude and respect, and engaged with. They aren’t forgotten. They aren’t left roaming the world lonely. Their hunger is insatiable, not for food but for connection and loving attention.
Just as a lonely person might pine for attention and companionship from others, a lonely mouth also wants distraction from the fact that it’s just sitting there existing.
It wants to be doing something, something it’s good at… like chewing. The tongue is lonely and wants stimulating engagement in the form of flavors.
That’s why the lonely mouth doesn’t care what the stomach thinks. It’s full? It’s upset? Doesn’t matter, just get me something poppable to chew on and taste. Then another. Then another, mindlessly, absently, thoughtlessly, inattentively. No no, go on doing what you need to do, just keep providing me with tasty chewy stuff and it’ll keep me busy and distracted from how lonely I am.
So what do we do to help the mouth not be so lonely? Here are some ideas:
Try Mindful Eating. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about this a few times. When you’re eating, just only eat. When eating, slow down and pay attention to tastes, textures, and other sensations as you chew. It helps a mouth feel.engaged and less lonely. Teach it to not need constant stimulation.
I have grandkids who were over-stimulated through their developing years so that now they can’t even be near a room where the lights are off and there’s no sound. So every room ends up having a TV and all the lights on full with no one there. That’s essentially how our mouths can get, needing never-ending attention and stimulation. It will take time and effort to fight the need to constantly entertain a lonely mouth.
Be mindful of your body. Note when you’re satisfyingly full or actually hungry. Be aware of physical or mental fidgeting as well since loose and unfocused energy can contribute to mindless eating.
Give your mouth something helpful (or at least less detrimental) to chew on. This is where healthy snacks can be recommended, but that really only mitigates some of the harm and doesn’t actually address the issue. Gum or mints can help here, especially if the taste is strong and lingers, delaying the impulse to put another piece in.
There are many other ideas online of course, and just like the suggestions above they won’t all work for you. But finding ways to address our lonely mouths (or ears, or eyes, etc.) will go a long way in helping us become more mindful in our lives.
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