Okay. Let's express our gratitude for this. We live in a glorious world where we have many diverse choices available to us. This plenitude is sometimes mind-boggling, especially when we consider the limited and constricted lives of those who are poor or living under siege — homeless and hungry people, refugees, those in war-torn countries.
So why are we often irritated, frustrated, and exhausted by all the decisions we have to make even in the most common activities?
Take the question "Where should we eat?" It may be that you are planning a special occasion and have saved up for it. Or maybe you are out and about with your partner, friends, or business associates, and one of you suggests going to a restaurant.
You mention a hamburger place but someone says they had burgers at home the night before. Someone else recommends a Chinese restaurant, but that idea is shot down by those who claim that this cuisine doesn't fill them up.
The decision may hinge on whether or not there will be a long or short wait. No one likes to eat in a crowded restaurant or in a place that is so loud that conversation is nearly impossible. But it is hard to predict this in advance.
We have a modest suggestion. Try a few spiritual approaches to deciding where to go to eat.
- Start by practicing empathy. See the food choices from the perspective of others in your group. Dieting, allergies, and being vegetarian can limit options. Be willing to honor the needs of others.
- Pay attention to your food preferences and how flexible or inflexible they are. Be willing to let them go if they are too rigid. This is similar to not being attached to outcomes. Being neutral about your food preferences frees you from the tyranny of your desires.
- Embrace serendipity. When all else fails, let the Spirit or the Divine Guest decide the place where you go to eat. Toss a coin. Close your eyes, turn around, and point to one restaurant in a row. Be sure to go with the flow when others are playful and willing to give things up to providence.
- Look ahead and see yourself as pleased. Picture yourself after this meal as being satisfied and not hungry any more. Realize that no matter where you go, you can be at peace with the meal you eat.
- Be open-minded about new places to eat. Try a cuisine from a different culture. Experiment with special dishes. Be bold and go to a place nobody else in your group has tried yet. The spiritual practice of hospitality often opens new doors for everyone!
- When you make your choice on where to eat, be sure to ask yourself, how do the choices I have made impact the planet and its well-being and flourishing? After you make your choice, enjoy it and do not allow the opinions of others to impinge on your enjoyment of it.
- Groucho Marx once quipped: "Man does not live by bread alone. Every now and then he needs a cookie." It's okay to admit that sweets bring you joy and delight. Take this dessert factor into consideration when selecting where you go to eat.
- Honor the meal before and after you eat. Say a grace to acknowledge all that has happened to make it possible for you to enjoy this meal, starting with the plants and animals that were sacrificed to be your food. Where did your meal come from? What nurtured it? How did it get to you? This kind of thanks-giving can give meaning to the meal and create a closer connection with food. And when you do it regularly, it doesn't matter as much where you eat.
- Keep a list of your favorite restaurants for those future times when you are trying to decide where to eat. People will be glad that you are willing to offer concrete suggestions. And remember that recommending a restaurant is an act of generosity not only to your friends but to all those who work there.
We hope these spiritual exercises or practices help you to contribute more wisely decisions about where to eat. As Donna Schaper reminds us in her book Sabbath Keeping, "Choices focus our lives. They monogram our towels. They sign our name to our life."