Let it be your first time, every time

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” - Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki My meditation teacher asked for volunteers to hand out an object to each student. The volunteer carefully placed this object in my hand. This would be the start of today's meditation. Our teacher specifically did not NAME the object although we all knew what it was based on our experience. However, the point was to be discovering this object as if we had no name or preconceptions of what it was. Exploring it with all our senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste.

We refer to this as the "Raisin exercise". It's an exercise I have done many times both as a student and a teacher. I would say I have done this particular meditation exercise over 40 times. However, it never gets old. Every time is truly, your first time.

Besides being a practice in mindfulness it also brings to awareness how our function of "naming" or "labling" actually stops the exploration. We miss a lot this way. If we stop at the name, "oh it's a raisin", then we done take the time to explore deeper and the more time you spend with it the more you can discover. So in our "naming" we forget how to look, we name and move on. What are we missing by doing this?

I invite you to try the raisin exercise for yourself.

RaisinTranscript: The Raisin Exercise Now what I would like you to do is focus on one of the objects and just imagine that you have never seen anything like it before.

Taking one of these objects and holding it in the palm of your hand, or between your finger and thumb.

Paying attention to seeing it.

Looking at it carefully, as if you had never seen such a thing before.

Turning it over between your fingers.

Exploring its texture between your fingers.

Letting your eyes explore every part of it, as if you had never seen such a thing before.

And if, while you are doing this any thoughts come to mind about “what a strange thing we are doing” or “what is the point of this” or “I don’t like these,” then just noting them as thoughts and bringing your awareness back to the object.

Explore does it make a sound, hold the object to your ear.

And now smelling the object, taking it and holding it beneath your nose, and with each inbreath, carefully noticing the smell of it.

And now taking another look at it.

And now slowly taking the object to your mouth, maybe noticing how your hand and arm know exactly where to put it, perhaps noticing your mouth watering as it comes up.

And then gently placing the object in the mouth, noticing how it is “received” without biting it, just exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth.

And when you are ready, very consciously taking a bite into it and noticing the tastes that it releases.

Slowly chewing it … noticing the saliva in the mouth, … the change in consistency of the object.

Then, when you feel ready to swallow, seeing if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow it.

Based on Kabat-Zinn.  From Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002).  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression.  NY: Guilford.