I got this exercise from a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who writes on self-awareness, mindfulness, and meditation. I find it helped me understand a lot about how I perceive my world and how I can influence how I perceive it. I don’t know if he made it up or got it from somewhere.
Anyway, all you need is three raisins and some free time.
The Three Raisins exercise
Preparation: get three raisins. Put them in front of you. Turn off your phone and computer. Put away any books or anything distracting. Don’t schedule anything after.
The exercise: eat the three raisins as if you had never observed one before, like you came from another planet. Use all your senses. Take your time. Feel their mass. See their color, shape, texture, and so on. Smell them. Taste them. Feel their viscosity between your fingers. Note how their juice moves in your mouth, how they feel between your teeth. You get the idea.
Notice everything you can about each before moving to the next. Sense everything about one. Then note the similarities and differences with the next.
That’s it. Just eat three raisins using all your senses. Instead of raisins you could use wedges cut from apples, dried apricot, dates, or any fresh fruit or vegetable that has noticeable flavors and textures.
I predict the experience will surprise you.
A few notes from my experience
I recommend doing the exercise before reading my notes, but I’ll comment on a few things here.
Sensing more, taking time, slowing down
I took about thirty minutes to do the exercise. Immediately on starting I noticed that I had long ago stopped paying attention to raisins. Paying attention brought me back to my first raisins. I felt like a kid again, noticing flavors I had sensed but not paid attention to to the point of ignoring them, like all my previous raisin-eating after the first few had just gone through the motions.
I noticed raisins had a lot of texture and flavor. That chewing them released a lot of juice into my mouth that had a lot of flavor, which was distinctive.
I noticed that I reached for and started to put into my mouth the next raisin while the previous one was still in my mouth. I hurried to eat them with almost no conscious awareness of missing interesting things to sense.
Noticing models and ideals instead of things themselves
All this awareness led me to wonder about and question how much else in life I had been blithely passing by. Eating these raisins with this focused revealed to me that I had been interacting less with raisins than with my models or ideals of raisins.
As the exercise went on, I found myself focusing more on my senses. I started to notice sounds coming from my apartment building. Doors opening and closing down the hallway, voices moving around, and so on. My thoughts slowed down. I felt more peaceful.
Fine tuned senses make regular life overwhelming
In the time I did the exercise, a plate of pasta I had anticipated eating a few minutes after the raisins had grown cold. Still, when I went through my usual motions to curl the spaghetti onto my fork and put it in my mouth, the amount of food seemed overwhelming and monstrous. After getting that much flavor out of each little raisin, that amount of food — my regular, normal quantity I’d call a mouthful — nearly scared me. I couldn’t put it into my mouth.
Eating slower and less and enjoying it more
Now that I think of it, I may have never eaten the same again. I’ve mentioned before that during each meal I pay attention to a few forkfuls. That practice started with this exercise. I eat more slowly. I derive more pleasure. I eat less overall. I choose foods whose flavors, smells, and textures I like more, losing patience or taste for ones with too simple flavors, smells, and textures.
Maybe I should have put above that the exercise will probably help you lose weight while enjoying your food more.
Applying what I learned elsewhere
Finally, I’ve applied what I learned about sensing the raisins to sensing other things in life. I don’t suggest I sensed more during this exercise. I chose what I wanted to sense and became more consciously aware of what I sensed — the sensations themselves and the objects I sensed. And I don’t suggest anything special about edible things. I’ve since applied myself to sense many other things as well — other people, books, … anything in my environment.
The longer I don’t do the exercise, the more I lose myself in models of things, forgetting that my models are just models. I don’t pretend by paying attention and focusing that I stop interacting with models, just that I can choose my models. I feel I’m getting closer to the environment around me, less swayed by unwanted preconceptions that take me away from the present moment.
All this from three raisins and thirty minutes of focus. You may take longer or shorter and get totally different results. Let me know. I’d love to hear.
Anyway, if you’ve read up on my model and method, you’ll see how much you can use this awareness for understanding and influencing how you perceive your environment and therefore how you behave and feel.