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A Meditation Aid: Bitter Flavor

Bush in Sedona

Bitterness brings our brains back to ourselves.

I often like to tell audiences I speak to: “Take back your brain!” Our brains may be frequently taken over by stress, addictions, habits, media—the many things that demand our attention and the ways we find to cope with them. But wouldn’t you rather be thinking clearly, creatively, and productively, while staying conscious of who you are and your infinite value and potential? Wouldn’t you like to be calm and collected and fully aware of your spirit? Getting to this state is what taking back your brain means. It’s being fully aware of your body, thoughts, and emotions and managing them.

There are many ways to take back our brains. You probably already know about various forms of meditation, including breathing methods and types of moving meditation such as yoga and tai chi. Even mindfully walking or being in nature bring us back to ourselves and influence our brains in a healthy way. One simple method of meditation you may not be aware of involves bitter taste, such as from bitter-tasting plants. Bitter taste can be used on its own or in combination with breathing or other meditation methods to focus our minds and stimulate physiological changes in our bodies quickly and naturally.

What happens when we put something sharply and strongly bitter on our tongues? Our brains automatically pay attention to it, and we have less head space for other sensations such as pain or discomfort. Saliva builds up in our mouths and our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and repair, becomes more active. When this system is turned up, our stress system, the sympathetic nervous system, is turned down. Our bodies relax, our minds relax, our hearts relax, and our self-awareness deepens. Our chakras open, and we may feel heat and/or vibrations in our body. Bitter flavor and the parasympathetic nervous system are also associated with increased immunity and better digestion.

Overall, it’s nature’s way of helping us regulate ourselves quickly and naturally. Through bitterness, we can create joy.

Bitter Herb Meditation

I’m always searching for ways to help people come back to themselves and take back their brains as quickly and as often as possible. The methods I’ve developed for this over the years have been getting simpler and easier. With my awareness of the benefits of bitter taste, I’ve been spending my time in Sedona, Arizona lately scouring the desert landscape for samples of bitter-tasting plants that have the best meditative effects. I test them on myself, noting what they do not only to my body and mind, but to my energy and spirit as well.

If you find a bitter herb or food, you can use it in this meditative way to access the power of bitter taste completely. You can do this exercise sitting down or standing up. If you are sitting, make a half-lotus or cross-legged posture, or put both feet flat on the floor.

  1. Straighten your back, and put the plant on your tongue. Bring your attention to it. Sense the flavor.
  2. Start to chew it, noticing the increase in flavor. Feel its effects, starting from your mouth and going from your head and down your entire body.
  3. Shake your body deliberately. You can bounce up and down or shake side to side. Keep your senses focused on your body. Do this for at least three minutes, but you can continue to do it longer.
  4. Stop vibrating and become still, keeping your back straight. Inhale for three counts, hold your breath for three counts, and exhale for three counts. Continue this breathing pattern for another five minutes or more as you keep your awareness on your body’s sensations. If a part of you doesn’t “feel right”—if it feels cold, stuck, dark, empty, tense, painful, etc.—focus on that part longer, and it will gradually balance itself.

With regular practice, as with any meditation, you can feel inside yourself more and more deeply. You may feel your chest, shoulders, and jaw relax. All of the energy that is blocked inside, which should flow freely, will open and unhealthy energy will move out of you. You may even feel your inner energy grow and explode inside, making you feel awake and alive even down to your very cells. The things you don’t need inside will melt away, and you may feel a million times more positive and bright. Instead of feeling small, your awareness may expand until you feel connected with the whole.

Bitterness Brings Balance

The sense that bitterness gives us is the sense of balance that we’ve lost. It’s balance between our left and right brains, between our conscious and subconscious minds, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and nature. If this balance is broken, we can’t see ourselves correctly, so we cannot come up with an accurate diagnosis of our condition and find the solutions we need in our lives.

But with a bitter taste, in a short period of time, our awareness becomes focused on ourselves, and as our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, our mind becomes calm and we become able to look at ourselves. As we look at our body, emotions, preconceptions, and consciousness, it takes us from being askew with preconceptions to returning to a sense of our highest self. If we incorporate this practice into our daily lives, we don’t waste energy on unnecessary things, and that power becomes accumulated energy that can be used for doing productive work.

Instead of depending only on sweetness to get through touch times, we can embrace bitterness and restore balance. With individual balance recovered, we can create balance in the world. I find hope in bitterness, a hope that all flavors and people can coexist peacefully together.

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