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What is the difference between inhaling and enjoying our food? Why have so many people become immune to the contrast between consuming and savoring? When our families come together to eat a meal, we take part in a nearly forgotten ritual that is just as vital on a weeknight as on the most important holidays of the year. Recognizing the value of the dining room as a sacred family space is the first step in a series of actions to help bring loved ones together harmoniously in the home.
In this time-oriented society, our dining room tables too often become a drop-off point for junk mail and keys, a depot for jackets and clutter. They are ignored most nights, with the exception of special occasions when they are formalized and filled to the brim with reminders of the event that we are celebrating. The dining room has been left behind as families eat dinner on the run, or in front of the television. It has become anything but a room to celebrate togetherness and give gratitude for our blessings.
A meal enjoyed with loved ones is one of the ultimate forms of renewal and healing. With simple changes, it is possible to return our dining rooms to places of celebration, while creating sacred spaces that encourage true comfort and sharing.
Why has eating dinner become a chore, a time where we multi-task and become absorbed in media rather than the ones we love? Many of our meals are taken from the freezer and placed directly from the microwave to our plates. Our food so often lacks what Eastern medicine and yogis call prana, or vital, sustaining life force and energy. You can feel the difference when you enjoy a meal cooked with love rather than eat fast food placed in a bag by a complete stranger. This difference is prana. Organic foods farmed locally possess more prana than those farmed non-sustainably with toxic pesticides and harsh chemicals. These chemicals not only harm the body, but also kill our food’s prana. A home cooked meal made with quality and healthful ingredients is something to be grateful for, to savor. The prana in the food we enjoy is a vital aspect of bringing sacred energy into our homes and our relationships with family and friends.
Eating with loved ones should never feel like a chore. As is the case with most things in life, comfort is key when arranging the sacred dining room. A dining room with a comfortable and natural layout, and ease of flow to-and-from the kitchen, enhances relaxation and encourages guests to linger. The Sikh religion emphasizes equality of all persons with their belief in langar, the free kitchen. According to this belief, anyone who joins in a Sikh community meal may sit where they choose and enjoy all of the offerings on hand, thereby rejecting any notion of a caste system. Adopting this ideology in reference to the sacred dining room is a wonderful way to bring our families together to dine harmoniously, and at the same time ensure that no seat or person is considered more important than any other.
The Sensory Experience
Dining is a highly sensual experience, and is ideally filled with pleasure in both taste and surroundings. A large part of making our dining space sacred relies on ensuring that we minimize features that may distract from the enjoyment of our meal and the company of family and friends.
The sacred dining room is simply decorated, but comfortable and attractive. Chairs are inviting and encourage diners to sit and enjoy, rather than eat and run. The ultimate goal when fashioning a sacred dining room is to create a space where people choose to take their time, while savoring the prana of the meal and the company of loved ones. Soft cushions and proper chair and/or table height help to ensure that children feel welcome at the table and feel part of the mealtime experience.
Clutter, whether in the form of papers or extra pasta, often acts a distraction from our meal and from those around us. Minimizing clutter keeps the focus on the ritual at hand: spending time with our loved ones and fully experiencing the taste of our food. Keeping extra food off of the dining room table on a nearby buffet or sideboard ensures that food is easily accessible, but does not distract from the blessings in our immediate presence.
Lighting can truly enhance the sensory experience in our sacred dining spaces. Though lighting in a dining room should never be harsh or aggressive, dining strictly by candlelight may prevent true vision of the beautiful meal placed before us. Hanging exotic glass lanterns or opting for beautiful standing lamps are great ways to achieve lighting that enhances the sensuality of your dining space, while still enabling all who dine to appreciate their meal.
The Décor & Accessories
Décor in a sacred dining space is inspiring and calming, yet also evokes what takes place in the space: eating. In choosing a wall color, try to be aware of whether the colors under consideration are warm, inviting, cozy and soothing. Wall color should imbue a space with positive energy, and also be congruent with the food that you serve. Butter yellow is a warm, rich color that is immediately reminiscent of food. Interestingly enough, butter yellow is also known as a therapeutic color that brings forth feelings of happiness and aids digestion. No matter which color you choose for your walls, opt for brands with low levels of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) to keep your family healthy and happy, and minimize toxicity in your sacred space.
Accessories in a sacred dining room serve to make the space feel warm and alive, but never create clutter. A few high quality candles, lightly scented with natural, essential oils, can enhance the sensual experience of a meal, and bright, fresh flowers are a wonderful way to bring life and olfactory allure into a sacred dining space. Just remember to keep items on the table to a minimum. While candles may smell nice individually, too many can take over a confined space and force out the wonderful smells of a homemade meal.
Though I have given you much advice on how to create a sacred dining room, there is one part of the space where virtually anything goes – the altar. The altar is strictly what you and your loved ones make of it. The sole purpose of the altar is to create a focal point that draws positive, loving energy into your sacred dining space. In order to accomplish this, try filling a side table with fresh flowers, small candles, and framed photographs of family and friends. Other ideas include a ‘gratitude’ altar filled with objects that bring a smile to your face and the faces of those you love, or a more traditional altar with statues and prayer beads.
Returning our dining rooms to sacred spaces takes thought and a bit of effort, as well collaboration and communication with those we love. Though the idea of a family dinner may seem simple enough, it is the intention behind our mealtime rituals that creates the difference between simply eating and actually interacting in a loving and positive way. Creating sacred dining spaces can help pave the way towards vital bonding and gratitude among loved ones. And who knows? Soon all of the kids in the neighborhood may be leaving the X-Box behind for a taste of your organic veggie lasagna. Better stock up at the farmer’s market!