A raisin can teach us life lessons?! Let me explain. On a recent retreat, I was asked to get to know a raisin.
“Spend some time tasting the raisin and fully appreciating it for its texture as well as flavour,” I was encouraged. I resisted the urge to devour it pretty much whole, and dutifully spent some time with my tiny new friend.
If you are unfamiliar with Mindfulness, I probably seem just down right weird right now. And I can be, but bear with me as the raisin exercise is a metaphor for all that we are missing out on in life as we go about our day-to-day.
You see, it’s not just about eating the raisin.
It’s about experiencing the raisin with all five senses. It’s about taking your time with the raisin. This is like old-school courting versus modern-day Tinder. This is not a case of chucking a handful in your mouth all in one go because you haven’t eaten today and you just found them on the back seat of car where the kids left them.
You touch the raisin. Then, you look at the raisin, holding it up to the light like a rare find. You smell the raisin … and yes, you even listen to the raisin. I honestly had trouble with the last one. Mine wasn’t very chatty.
And then, and only then, does it go in your mouth.
Watching my fellow retreaters lost in dried fruit reflection, I actually spent so much time with the artist formerly known as grape, that I drained it all of all its juicy loveliness. The dry, acrid skin then somehow then obstinately welded itself to my palette and refused to budge.
Forgetting I was on a hunt for texture meets flavour, I spiralled into an internal thought process around whether I actually liked raisins at all.
Had I been kidding myself all this time?
I’m not mocking the practice and all this did actually happen.
That was the point of the whole exercise: to be in the moment, experiencing the raisin with all my five senses, observing any thoughts, emotions and sensations that emerged.
Life Lessons #1. We are like cars cruising without a driver
As it turns out, my raisin was not what I thought it was at all.
And day-to-day situations aren’t either, but we don’t notice that, tending rather to go about life on autopilot. Subconsciously we greet whatever happens to us in life using reference points of how that particular experience panned out in the past.
We have found something scary before; it will be scary again. That person annoyed us last time we saw them; they will annoy us again. We are shit at relationships.
That kind of thing.
This is neural programming at work. Those examples are quite obvious but neural programming works on much subtler levels too. All men are bastards because your last boyfriend cheated on you. But maybe your experience of your parents’ relationship when you were a child has shaped your mindset too.
Any judgement we accord to anything is based on past experience rather than the moment at hand. Judgement constitutes reactions to events and links to our neural programming. Our brains are actually wired to meet with an experience in the same way we met with similar experiences in the past.
This can be the past, as in our own lifetime, or indeed our evolutionary past.
Difficult or challenging modern-day situations activate our fight-or-flight reaction via our sympathetic nervous system. The hormones secreted along with our neurotransmitters dictate how we react to the situation at hand. On an evolutionary level, this armed us for predators such as the sabre-toothed tiger. Nowadays, man is more the predator than the prey, but we still have this in-built response, which manifests itself as a stress response.
Life Lessons #2. We can come out of autopilot and get back at the wheel
If autopilot kicks in because we are living in the past and projecting into the future, the only way out of it is to simply be in the present moment.
That’s what that little raisin is teaching us. When we use our five senses, we bring our undivided attention to the little fella, we bring ourselves to our present moment experience, not coloured by what has gone before, and not projecting on to the situation that which we have have already decided to be true.
We can develop a new perception of what life presents to us.
All that from one raisin?
Well, the raisin is just teaching us a new way of being. Remember that neural programming we spoke about? The beauty of it is, the more you start encouraging yourself to just be in the present moment, you actually start to rewire your brain.
Life Lessons #3. Life is actually full of surprises
Being aware and accepting things for what they are without according any judgement and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, allows us to avoid the rabbit hole of automatic reaction.
And that is where you see that life holds a whole series of wonderful discoveries and delights, once you give yourself the opportunity to see them.
About an hour after the meditation exercise, we dropped into another meditation. With my eyes closed and my mind focused on my breath, my tongue gently dislodged the tiniest bit of juicy raisin from between two of my teeth.
It turns out the raisin was the gift that just kept giving.
As is life, if you open yourself up to the possibility.
Now, why don’t you go and get yourself a raisin?