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“You have more time to be really present with each mouthful”: Subhana Barzaghi on meditation, compassion and mindful eating

Kylie Kwong introduces us to the individuals helping to grow a stronger community. This month we meet Buddhist practitioner Subhana Barzaghi.
Sabina Rabold (main)

Subhana Barzaghi has been a friend and guide to me for over 20 years. Through her spiritual retreats and one-on-one teachings, Subhana has taught me so much about the importance of taking care of our mind, the importance of ritual and ceremony – in and around food – and how to cultivate quality and true happiness within our day-to-day.

I have found these life skills to be invaluable in my hospitality career as a business owner, manager and chef, and especially now in this increasingly complicated world we find ourselves in. Subhana’s humility is palpable and powerful, and she is passionate about sharing her wisdom and knowledge with all. – Kylie Kwong

Community x Kylie: Subhana Barzaghi

Meditation, silent contemplation, mindful eating and personal reflection. These are a few techniques we may have called upon recently in order to stay calm and collected during this time of uncertainty. But for long-term Buddhist practitioner, teacher and psychotherapist Subhana Barzaghi, these aren’t simply techniques, they are ways of life. Asking Barzaghi to sum up Buddhism is a bit like asking someone to describe the colour blue. But she manages to do it in an honest and insightful way. “I think of it as a spiritual practice,” she says. “There’s a contemplative dimension of meditation, and practices of mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness and inquiry.” More than anything though, Barzaghi describes it as a process of personal transformation, a journey she has been on for 45 years. “It’s an awakening, at an in-depth level,” she says.

Barzaghi was the first female to be given teaching status as a Zen Roshi in the Diamond Sangha (an association of Zen Buddhist Centres) in Australia and across the world. Zen Roshi essentially means “Zen Master”, and in this role Barzaghi passes on her knowledge to people such as Kylie Kwong, as well as the greater Buddhist community across Australia and New Zealand. She was also a founding member of the Sydney Zen Centre in Sydney’s Annandale, a place of meditation and practice.

Along with meditation, Buddhism has long been linked to the arts and creative practices. “[The arts] are linked to Buddhism, particularly in the Zen tradition,” says Barzaghi. “You’ve got Zen and the tea making, calligraphy and flower arrangement. Zen encourages creative expression.” To develop her practice and creativity, Barzaghi hosts retreats in Byron Bay where she meets with people to paint, do mosaic work and meditate.

Barzaghi is also deeply entrenched in the Northern Rivers region of NSW as a founding member of Bodhi, an alternative-living community established in the ’70s. Living there for 25 years, she developed a deep appreciation for organic farming and produce as a response to working on community gardens and orchards. “You grow your own food, you build your own house, you birth your own young, you bury your own dead,” she says. It was also here that Barzaghi helped to set up the Fundamental Food Store, an organic food shop, which is still a thriving business today. “We were kind of pioneers.”

While Barzaghi’s appreciation of food stemmed from growing her own produce, it has deepened through the practice of oryoki: a contemplative practice of eating. “It’s this really beautiful dance of serving and being served, and the sense of gratitude, the deliciousness and mindfulness all woven into the act of eating as a practice,” says Barzaghi. Servers present meals in silence, and before eating there’s a blessing of the food. “You have more time to be really present with each mouthful,” she says.

Oryoki also encourages you to contemplate how much food is really needed. “By slowing down and being really present in your experience, it enhances all the senses,” says Barzaghi.

With new challenges thrust upon us collectively each day, finding a sense of peace in today’s world is vital, whether it’s through a personal spiritual practice, slowing down to appreciate a meal, or finding a new creative project.

In this time of transition, introspection and uncertainty, Barzaghi leaves us with a thought to contemplate: “Spring comes with flowers, autumn with the moon, summer with the breeze, winter with the snow. When idle concerns don’t hang in your mind; that is the best season.”

Introduction by Kylie Kwong. Words by Jordan Kretchmer.

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