Do you ever feel so irritated by something your partner, children, family or friends do, that you end up saying something horrible to them and then regretting it later?
This used to happen to me around noisy eaters. When people eat with too much enthusiasm, or wolf their food down as if this is their last meal, I can be very put off by the sounds they make.
I know I sound mean spirited, but when I was growing up rituals around eating were very important to my mother. We had to present at the table in the appropriate way, hands washed, clean nails, hair combed and tidy clothes. We were expected to sit up straight, no leaning, no elbows on the table. When we ate we were expected to do so in a decorous manner, which meant mouth closed and no noise.
If we transgressed these unwritten but well established rules we would be chastised and possibly asked to leave the table. So it’s not surprising that I carry these cultural expectations around polite eating with me into adulthood.
I must confess I sometimes delight in putting my elbows on the table, but when it comes to chewing I’m strictly mouth closed, no noise.
This can sometimes be a problem because in our house we love eating noodles of any kind. My partner tells me that noodles should be sucked up robustly, that this is how Sophia Loren does it and she’s from Naples so she should know. I’m not so sure.
I love my family dearly, but my deeply ingrained ideas around decorous eating without undue noise, can create feelings of high irritation in me, to the point I have to say something.
When the noodles are finished and things are quiet I begin to feel remorse for my unkind comments, lack of consideration for other’s enjoyment and want to take it all back. But the damage is done.
Maybe it’s not noisy noodles that upsets you, but if this sounds like a familiar story there are ways to make peace with these feelings of irritation using mindfulness.
Yes, mindfulness can help. It will not silence the noisy eater, but it can change the way you feel and react to the noise.
How you ask?
By practicing mindfulness we can learn to become aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours from moment to moment. By paying attention to our body in this way we can learn to respond to irritating situations more thoughtfully.
Rather than reacting without thinking to the noisy slurping and blurting out a rude, hurtful comment, we can pause, observe how the slurping is making us feel and choose a better response.
This might sound easy, but like everything it needs practice to master. Here are some tips on how you can use mindfulness to be less reactive to others.
- noticing what you are feeling in your body. What is its nature? How intense is it? Does it have a colour, shape or texture?
- noticing what thoughts are in your mind. How do you usually respond to these thoughts?
- opening a space around what you are feeling and thinking. How is this for you?
- developing a curiosity to what you are feeling and thinking without wanting to change anything.
- developing an acceptance to your thoughts and feelings without wanting to punish yourself.
- noticing how intense thoughts and feelings arise, stay for a while then disappear.
- noticing if these thoughts and feelings come back later. Pay attention to this with patience and without judgement.
- responding to others thoughtfully and with compassion.
- breathing gently and completely.
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. – Eckhart Tolle.