Eat Here Now
Foraging as a Meditation
February 3rd, 2014
Foraging can’t be rushed. It teaches you to linger, to pay attention, to see what’s really there. Those weeds in a nearby park may actually be wild grapes or spicebush berries once your knowledge builds and your perceptions change. The heightened awareness from a foraging adventure can extend to other parts of your life, from noticing the vivid colors on a city street when you travel, to truly hearing the layered harmonies in a great piece of music. It’s no wonder foraging can be akin to a spiritual practice.
For most of us today, meditation has to start with relaxation, coming out of “fight or flight.” Ironically, rest and relaxation can be our greatest challenge. In a culture of workaholism and competition, foraging provides an “excuse” to take time out — outside, that is. What better way to “take in the landscape?”
Foraging, however, is just not about getting stuff; it’s a lesson in non-attachment. The fact is, foragers can’t be choosers. If you go “mushroom hunting,” for example, you may miss the forest for the fungus. Can you go looking without seeking?
Foraging for morels with No Taste Like Home is a paradox. On one hand, Alan broadens my horizons, giving identity and purpose to the hundreds of plants and fungus that to the untrained eye look like a sprawling inedible tangle of browns and greens. On the other hand, awareness of the morel’s possible proximity creates a singular focus inside me that seems to make all else disappear. Alan’s aim is to bring us together, yet suddenly my fellow fungus foragers are my direct competitors.
Foragers have to be not hunters but gatherers. The difference is profound. It means being not focused but open, not in your left brain but your right. After all, when foraging, it’s very easy to find what you’re not looking for.
Foraging is a meditation because it keeps you present. You can sit on a cushion and think whatever you want. But walking through the woods, if you’re going to find anything, you have to be focused on your surroundings, not your thoughts. Otherwise, you might find a snake instead — the hard way.
Foraging is a balm to chronic hypervigilance. You can actually be calm and alert. Just being in the woods can be healing. When you move at the speed of nature, you’re no longer in such a hurry. There’s even a name for this outdoor cure; it’s called ecotherapy, nature therapy, forest therapy, or in Japan, “forest bathing.”
Foraging is not a way to get yourself or anything else “out of the woods.” It’s a way in.
…eight hours later, with not a single mushroom in hand… I was covered in dirt… I was soaked to the bone… It was a perfect day.