As a working mom of a toddler who’s had little to no childcare during the bulk of the COVID pandemic, the idea of a meditation practice has felt laughable. “Just make it part of your morning routine,” they say. I’m lucky if I get three minutes to shower, I think. But the concept of a silent breakfast, where you, well, eat in silence, piqued my interest. Billed in The New York Times as a meditative practice for people who don’t meditate, it seemed…less daunting? More realistic? I lined up my husband to manage my two-year-old and tested it out.
First, what is a ‘silent breakfast’?
Per The Times, the ritual has origins in monastic communities. In secular settings, silence promises significant wellness benefits, but also an effect on our bodies that mirrors meditation. (It reduces our cortisol levels—associated with stress—and lowers our blood pressure and heart rate, too.) The rules of pulling off a silent breakfast are clear: No phones, no background TV, no multi-tasking of any kind. Simply focus on your food quietly and listen to your thoughts. (You can do this alone or make it a group activity where everyone at the table eats silently— no small task.)
How my own silent breakfast efforts went
After explaining the details of my assignment to my spouse, he was happy to lend his support. It was the week of the election, and my brain—and phone—was buzzing. I prepped my toddler’s breakfast, then left my husband in charge and my phone on the table, and carried my own plate to a separate room. The duration of time you spend on a silent breakfast is up to you: I set a timer for 10 minutes and chose a seat by a window.
Without my phone, my food was the focal point. I prepared myself an English muffin with an egg (and a sprinkle of Parmesan), and a small bowl of strawberries. The first thing I noticed as I tried to quiet my mind was the sound of my food. (Of course, that moment was briefly interrupted by the sound of my toddler resisting his own breakfast routine in the other room.) I resisted the urge to help, and caught my thoughts turning to my to-do list. I decided making a grocery list in my head probably wasn’t the most meditative mindset. Meanwhile, the absence of my phone felt significant. Why be alone with your thoughts when you could be scrolling Instagram, right? By the five-minute mark, I’d spent more time policing my internal dialog than being present or still.
But somewhere around the 7-minute mark, something clicked. The sun was still rising outside and I noticed for the first time the way the trees cast various shadows on the porch. I was only halfway through my meal, and I felt myself appreciating its taste. It sounds cheesy, but my thoughts drifted to gratitude: Gratitude that I had a partner who would support me in a project like this, gratitude for my health, access to fresh air and a silly toddler goofing off in the next room. My breathing also felt more measured and less stressed and shallow. It felt good.
So good, in fact, that I attempted this three times during that week. With the election competing for my attention, it was hard to concentrate on anything else, but for whatever reason, I still found myself able to prioritize 10 minutes away from it all. It might have something to do with the timing of the routine: At 7 a.m., I wasn’t behind on anything yet. Instead, I had the whole day in front of me to get it all done. It wasn’t easy to control my thoughts, but I did feel significantly calmer just taking a beat.
What did I learn? I’m privileged in that I have a partner who will watch my son while I grant myself 10 minutes of solo time. But I also feel like this is a concept that can be adapted. What about a silent dinner, post-bedtime if you have kids? Or a silent work break where you leave your phone/laptop/book behind and steal a handful of minutes to just be? Stillness is hard to come by in a life that’s rush-rush, but when you find it, it’s a reprieve that can leave you feeling more centered and mindful.
Maybe I’m capable of a meditation practice after all?