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Zen and the Art of Grocery Shopping

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It happens at least once a week, the ritual trek to the local grocery store. We need food, we need supplies, we are creatures whose needs must be met and this is how we do it. It's more convenient than growing our own vegetables, or baking our own bread. And although we may not get the same satisfaction that our ancestors did by working the land, we are in a sense doing our own harvesting by what we choose, and how we shop at the supermarket.

Here are some ways that we can get the most out of the experience, and turn what could possibly be mundane into something rather special and spiritual. This is how we can "bloom where we are planted" even if that happens to be in the middle of suburbia.

Bring your own bags. This seems like such a simple thing to do, and yet when you look around at the other shoppers, how many people actually do it? In Europe there is not the option of paper or plastic. You bring your own bag or you carry your purchases out in your arms. We did an informal survey recently in front of our neighborhood market and found that although most people thought this was a good idea, they hadn't gotten themselves in the habit. (You can see the video we made up on CoffeyTalk.tv.) Make this conscious choice. Carry your bags in your car so they are there for you when you need them. It's one little contribution towards making the world a better place.

After you park, if you see a stray cart in the lot, take it with you into the store. Many carts are left loose in the parking lot only to bump into cars, or block the way as someone is trying to open their car door. Returning a cart is being a good citizen, and also setting a good example.

Many stores have now been kind enough to provide anti-bacterial wipes at their entries so that we can wipe down the handle of the cart. Use them to protect yourself and others from germs that are easily passed around in public places. And when you're done with the wipe, dispose of it carefully in the container provided.

When shopping for produce, choose fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. Shipping from far away places puts a burden on the planet by requiring extra fuel to get items where they need to be. Also, be aware of packaging. Again, reuse bags from home, or don't bother to use bags at all when selecting your produce. Select one thing that you might not have tried before -- open yourself up to new culinary possibilities!

Consider your time in the market as an opportunity to practice present-moment awareness. Be fully present when choosing your items. Smile at the people sharing this experience with you. This is a community, and you are an important part of it. Be grateful for the store employees who work so hard to keep the place neat and orderly so that you can find what you are looking for. Marvel at the abundance of choices that we have before us.

Think about the many ways that you can be a conscientious consumer. Rather than buying paper napkins, use cloth napkins at the table for dinner. Rather than using paper towels to clean, use dishcloths and rags. Rather than using cleaning products with chemicals, investigate the many natural alternatives, such as vinegar, that can be used just as efficiently with less impact on the planet. Take lunch boxes or cloth lunch bags to work or school instead of using paper lunch bags. These are all the little things that end up making a big difference. Consciously participate in green living.

Read labels to know what you are putting into your body. There are so many options now, so check the shelves for products that are lower in sugar, sodium and fat. Opt for healthier alternatives, like whole grains and higher fiber cereals.

More and more people are deciding on a vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle. Even if you don't want to commit all the way, try going meat-free at least one day a week.

If you have a full cart of groceries and someone behind you in line has just one or two items, practice kindness by offering to let them go ahead of you. If someone ahead of you is having trouble getting credit approval, or is taking a long time to write out a check, this is an opportunity to practice patience and compassion.

When checking out, have your discount cards or coupons ready so as not to keep the people behind you in line waiting longer than necessary. Make sure to present your bags to the bag-person before he or she starts to pack. If there is no one helping the cashier to bag the groceries, pitch in and help yourself. Always show gratitude for the help you were given by expressing thanks.

Everything in life, every moment we live, can be a meditation, a learning experience. With this state of mind, we can turn something like grocery shopping, which we might have thought of as a chore, into an adventure.

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