by Shachi D. Shantinath, Ph.D.
Originally published in the Basler Zeitung English Section, 2001.
My journey into Chocoletics happened rather innocently, when I began to teach mindfulness meditation in Switzerland.
Mindfulness meditation consists of learning to focus on the present moment, and letting go of thoughts about the past and future. Most teachers suggest focusing on one’s breath, as it is readily accessible and serves as a good anchor for one’s concentration. However, because this may be difficult for beginners, I used raisins to help with learning to meditate. The idea is that meditators hold a raisin in their mouth for several minutes, without chewing, and use it as an aid in focusing their concentration. When I came to Switzerland, I continued with raisins for a while, but then thought to myself “Why not chocolate?”
But the road to chocolate nirvana was a rocky one – literally. I made a mistake when I offered a famous Swiss bar (known for its triangular shape) at one of my talks. I distributed the chocolate and waited for the expected results: looks of relaxation and bliss as busy people had a quiet moment of relaxation and enjoyment. Alas, it was not to be.
No looks of relaxation; rather grimaces. It turned out that the famous triangle had bits of nougat that I had forgotten all about. And furthermore, the crunchy-bits were also sticky-bits, which adhered to people’s dental fillings. Afterwards, a kindly woman in the audience said to me “That was a good idea. Next time, try Chocoletti from Lindt.”
Thankful for her suggestion, I tried them on my family, who had been dragged into my quest for the perfect vehicle to inner peace. Based upon my research, which as you shall discover, was only preliminary, I settled for the Milk variety, which I still use in seminars on a regular basis.
Then came the Volkschochschule course and a room full of Swiss participants. They laughed at the raisins, but quickly took to the chocolate. Participants said that they had never before enjoyed chocolate in this way.
Sometimes, it takes a foreigner to show you your own country in a different light.
Inspired by this success, I became bolder. Chocoletti retained its place in the curriculum for what by now had become the “Schmilzmeditation” (melting meditation). Brändli’s chocolate covered almonds opened the door to “Kaumeditation” (chewing meditation). Small slices of Pellmont’s Rum Punch initiated people into the “cake-chocolate-combination-chewing-melting-meditation”. Since then, I have also discovered Whiskey Truffles from Schiesser and Krebs, which have been added to the list (under melting meditation, in case you are wondering).
Outside the classroom, I have often heard people talk about the guilt they experienced when they ate chocolate. Like a Chocolate Missionary expounding on the philosophy of Chocoletics, I have sought to deliver them from their state of unhappiness: “It is OK to have some, as long as you do not turn it into one of the four major food groups.”
You see, an important element of Chocoletics is that the amount one eats is not related to the amount of pleasure one derives. Thus, it is possible to eat only a small amount and yet derive immense amounts of pleasure. Imagine taking a small piece of chocolate and letting it melt in your mouth slowly, and you will understand what I am referring to. Additionally, since eating chocolate with one’s total concentration means that all distracting thoughts go by the wayside, it ends up being both a mini-meditation as well as a mini-vacation.
One day, a colleague pointed out something I had not previously realized. I always knew that I am enthusiastic about chocolate, and am equally enthusiastic about people enjoying it without guilt. But I was not ready for this: “Perhaps your role in life is to be some kind of High Priestess of Chocolate. Think about it… All the signs are there. First of all, you are a dentist who actually says it is OK to have chocolate. Then, you are a psychologist who tells people not to feel guilty about it. And, in addition to all of that, you live in Switzerland!”
Although I was comfortable with the role of “Chocolate Missionary”, I was not sure how I felt about this promotion. He continued “Everyone has a role in life to fulfill. Maybe yours is to serve as some kind of moral eraser, removing needless guilt that burdens innocent people.” He turned metaphysical on me, saying that “the path” had found me, though I was not consciously seeking it. I cannot say for sure, as the mysteries of the universe are never crystal clear, but rather, tend to be opaque – much like a dark chocolate truffle.
Reluctantly, I agreed that he did have a point, even if it was not exactly about the Chocolate Priesthood. I never set out in this direction, but chocolate and Chocoletics have become fixed elements in my life. After all, I enjoy giving it as a present to people, and whenever I travel back to the US, about half my suitcase is filled with chocolate. Likewise, on visits to other countries, I have also been known to carry significant amounts of chocolate in various forms, handing them out to friends and relatives the way a priest hands out communion wafers – only in my case – the wafers tended to be the chocolate coated kind.
Shortly thereafter, a client experienced an insight as a result of the exercise in mindful eating; a chocolate induced Satori, one might say: “It’s not just about chocolate is it?” he asked with a knowing smile that told me he had found the insight I wanted to convey.
“It is just one doorway into learning how to improve my concentration and really notice and appreciate things in life – be it my lunch, my family or a work of art.” He added, “But this kind of meditation is certainly easier to start with than the kind where I have to sit for twenty minutes per day and focus on my breath.” Exactly! And a lot more fun too.
Why not chocolate? Why not indeed.
Copyright S.D. Shantinath, Ph.D. All rights reserved.