Today I am celebrating a year of Ramen.
It is an important milestone that marks for me a certain level of mental fortitude & mastery, but not for the reason you might think. It has nothing to do with my love of ramen itself, and more to do with an outlook on life. What I have been doing for the past twelve months every weekday, is preparing the same three meals to eat; muesli, ramen, rice.
Sounds crazy right? Friends often ask why I do it, and while I do my best to explain with spoken words, I never quite capture the importance of this seemingly mundane ritual. Unlike writing, spoken words usually miss the mark when trying to explain something meaningful; they lack the specificity and nuances that written words convey. Writing does more than communicate information, writing captures the essence of an idea or person.
The first thing that babbles from my mouth is usually something about consistency; that there is something powerful that routine brings into our life when followed rigorously. Most people can relate to this. Everyone has that little routine in their life that brings them joy. It may be something so small that an outsider would overlook it as insignificant, but this tiny little routine is what adds a little sparkle to their life. It could be a favourite treat for some, or morning ritual for others; regardless what it is, the act of doing something regularly gives it meaning in the same way that religious rituals gain meaning from regular repetition. Each day as I prepare the same meal in the exact same way, it brings me a little joy to perform this self-constructed ritual; bringing me closer to the food that nourishes my life. With that being said, joy in routine is not the main reason why.
Other times when trying to explain, I turn to the aspect of simplicity; that by preparing the same meal daily, it removes a small choice from my life. For an activity that we do three times a day, every day of our lives, we always proceed it with the feeling of indecision: what shall I eat today? This is not inherently bad, more so interesting; that as animals of habit, we still torment ourselves so regularly with a fundamental decision. Now arguably, I love simplicity more than most; I dress like a minimalist, I listen to music like a minimalist, I buy like a minimalist, so it makes sense that I would eat like a minimalist. However the beauty of its simplicity is only a small factor in why I eat the same thing every day.
Before coming to the root cause, I want to share a concept that a friend enlightened me to recently: the Hedonic Treadmill Theory. The idea came from a study comparing the happiness of lottery winners with paraplegics. It found that there seemed to be no long term correlation between lottery winners being any happier than paraplegics. The idea is that as humans, we are extremely adaptable, as our situation changes so does our expectations and desires. So if we are making more money, we are also expecting more things; hence our level of happiness stays constant. Thus the treadmill analogy, as the person has to keep walking to remain in the same spot. We need to continually have new sensations, in order to maintain a set level of happiness.
So coming back to food, the real root cause of why I eat the same three meals every day is to practice contentment on a sudo-religious level. Our minds are fickle and flighty by nature, we quickly get acclimatised to sensations (tastes, smells, feelings). If unaware of this adaptation, it can lead to a life of ever increasing desire, one that can never be satisfied. I eat the same meal every day as a tactic to combat this treadmill effect.
Every day I prepare the same meals in the same way, which means that each meal has the same flavour as the day before. By intentionally constructing this monotony, I force myself to slow down and appreciate the flavours that are always there, despite how accustomed I may be to them. This is incredibly powerful because it is not only in food that we quickly bore but in all aspects of life. It’s the reason we take our family, friends and lovers for granted until its too late; the reason why we are constantly striving after a better car; the reason why we quickly bore of the things we laboured for. After any amount of time, the mind naturally becomes accustomed to what it has in front of it and hence wants something more. It takes mindfulness and appreciation to overcome this natural tendency; mindfulness to pull us out from inside our heads, in the fictional world that we spend most of our lives living, and appreciation to then look at the present moment with wanderlust and find beauty in it.
Further by eating the same meal every day, food becomes a self-reflection tool, it becomes a mirror aimed at my subconscious mind; one that reflects subtle states of agitation that are not visible on the surface. On days when the food seems monotonous and insipid, that is more of a reflection about my state of mind then the food. The food has the same flavour as the first time I ate it; it is my mind which is lacking in appreciation. My food becomes the clearest indicator, a litmus test so to say, that something is not sitting right within me.