Buddhists and various other groups that practice meditation regularly will tell you that anything can be meditation: walking, washing dishes, baking bread and cooking, sitting and breathing, anything. All you have to do is to do it with your whole attention, allowing no thought to enter your mind, but to fill yourself only with the doing of that thing.

You can eat as meditation, too. You can pay attention to every bite, the way the flavor travels across your palate, the mouthfeel of every morsel, the action of chewing, the sensation of swallowing, the cleansing of the palate with a drink or a bite of something else, allowing no other thought to take precedence over that. (This is sometimes referred to in intuitive eating circles as “mindful eating,” which borrows the term mindful from Buddhism. It’s not really a thing you can do every time you eat, but it can be really good to do occasionally, I find. There are also other interpretations of the phrase.)

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I occasionally keep a meditative practice. I’ll go for years not doing it, and then pick it up again. There is one really important lesson I’ve learned from it: lack of perfection is not failure. If a thought intrudes, I have not failed at meditating, and I don’t have to stop. I can push the though away, clear my mind again, and go on until my time is up, or my joints hurt too much, or whatever. If I miss a day of doing it, I have not failed. I can simply do it the next day.

Eating optimally is just like that. If I miss a meal, I have not failed at eating optimally. I simply eat the next one. If I do not eat what my body wants, not enough protein or veggies, I have not failed at eating optimally. If I only eat once or twice in a whole day, I have not failed at eating optimally. I simply do it tomorrow. That’s all.

It applies to a lot of other things in life, too. Sometimes I apply the principle imperfectly, too. If I start a yoga class, and I wind up missing two or three classes in a row due to illness, busyness, or whatever, I’m a whole lot less likely to go back when whatever it is clears up. And that’s ok too. I haven’t failed at applying the principle, I simply move on and apply it to the next thing that comes along that’s like that.

It’s been very freeing.