Mindfulness & The Big City: Coffee & a Banana!

Dawn is a magical time in Cairo. The morning call to prayer curls over freshly clean streets, and birds chirp their hopefulness at the coming day.

Some days when my alarm rings at 4:30am I get up for the joy of being alive. Most days, I get up for my coffee and a banana.

I have long been in the habit of eating a banana for breakfast, because it’s a vitamin- and mineral- dense nutrition-bomb. Coffee is a habit I keep breaking up with and falling back in love with. Although I aspire to the Ayurvedic morning routine -- drink a full bottle of water, cleanse my nose and mouth, meditate, herbal tea -- my mornings start at my kitchen counter, checking Facebook on my iPhone, waiting for the coffee to boil, placating hungry cats, worrying about what the workday will bring, and searching for my keys.

I hardly taste the golden, sugary goodness of the banana, as I hurry through my routine. This morning I timed it: the banana was gone in 27 seconds, and my mind had moved to more pressing concerns.

In India the Ayurvedics teach that one should chew each bite of food 100 times before swallowing, and while I cannot disagree that the enjoyment of my food would last longer if I chewed more, and I admit that my digestion would improve, but I have never been able to muster the patience. I love eating, and it’s just too good to chew!

When was the last time I stopped to feel grateful for this overgrown yellow berry that provides energy to start my day?

I think back to a banana plantation I once visited in Tanzania. A little man with crooked teeth and stooped shoulders proudly showed me the 36 variety of bananas he grew: yellow, green and red.

“Red bananas?” I asked in surprise.

“Tourist bananas,” he declared. “Taste like yellow bananas, but tourists buy for three times, so we no eat.” From his hut I could see his wife cooking green bananas into stew. In the shadows I could see spidery wrinkles radiating from her eyes as she smiled. Sleeping mats rolled in dusty corners were the only evidence of the three children who had grown and moved to the big city.

His soft fingers curled over a fat red flower, as he showed me how each shoot of bananas unfurls over 6 to 8 months.

“Then cut,” he said, with a violent slashing motion at the trunk.

“You cut down the whole tree?” I asked, my tree-loving hackles bristling.

“Must cut down, or it die,” he explained. But then he pointed to the young shoots at the base of the tree. “Those baby trees. They will grow strong.”

As I am chewing my banana this morning, I wonder if I too will grow strong, strong with gratitude for the countless people and acts of nature that brought this banana to my fruit bowl: the old man and the countless farmers like him around the world, the insects and birds who pollinated the tree, the tree who gave her life for my fruit, the hands transported this banana from the farm to market to kitchen, the sun who gives life to us all.

The morning’s warmth begins a slow climb through my veins, even before the caffeine hits. Research shows that gratitude stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters associated with joy. No wonder grateful people are happier.

As you sit or stand to your next meal, take a moment to feel grateful for just one of the foods. As the food nourishes the body, let gratitude nourish the soul.

Please feel free to share your moment of gratitude in the comments box, before life whisks you on to further adventures. So, what are you grateful for today?