I went out for lunch yesterday with a friend and had a most amazing experience. We shared a wrap and a plate of pasta. Both the dishes had been made very well, the restaurant had a nice feel to it, and the waiter who served us was friendly and humorous. When we finished lunch, I felt filled up and satiated, but I just wanted to keep sitting there and not go back. It was then that I realized that I was having such a good time that my body did not want to leave the chair, and my ‘good time’ was not just about the food. There were more dimensions to my feeling of satiation.
My friend and I had not taken any calls during our lunch, in fact we had not taken out our phones at all. We had been completely present with each other and with our food. We had not come out to lunch with any agenda or ‘conversation topic’, so we could just let ourselves be and allow a natural conversation to spontaneously unfold. None of us had specific objectives for the ‘conversation’ and so when one person spoke the other had just listened with full attention. There had been no need to plan in the back of our head about when we would finally get a chance to make that point we needed to make. What we had shared and savoured, was not just food, but a state of natural agenda-less presence. And how delicious it had been!
After I came back I started thinking about my 9 year son and how he really likes to go out to eat. I remembered having heard from several other parents as well about how their children love going out to eat. Usually we parents assume that it is about the food. We assume our children are craving for the pasta and pizza they get to eat in the restaurants. What if, along with the pasta and pizza, what they are also craving for is our undivided attention and agenda-less presence?
Perhaps at home we are more susceptible to distractions, internal and external, making it difficult to give our kids our undivided attention. I for sure know that even though I officially commit to sitting beside my son as he eats, I get up several times to check something in the kitchen, or do a little something else around the home. Mentally as well, I am often distracted, and sometimes I even ‘use’ that time to plan my next activity.
The second point, ‘agenda-less presence’ is something that is even more difficult at home. Especially if I have played a role in planning or cooking the meal, the poor kid’s dinner experience is stuffed and overflowing with mummy’s agenda. The conversations are also seldom agenda-less. They are either about healthy eating, or contaminated with some other ‘learning agendas’ or ‘good behaviour agendas’. I am not saying that any of this is ‘bad’ but just that from the kid’s point of view it would always appear as if somebody (in this case their parent) is trying to use that ‘dinner moment’ to control or manipulate them.
So the next time your kid (or anyone else) asks you to take them out to eat, you might want to also reflect on what they might really be hungry for. In fact this is a good question to even ask yourself – ‘what are you really hungry for?’. By no means am I saying we should not go out to eat – we should definitely go out and try a whole lot of different cuisines and engage in different experiences. However, I think that cultivating an awareness of the many dimensions of our ‘hunger’ can help us come up with alternate and more creative ways to satiate our hunger than only eating out :-).