Taking mindfulness practice off the cushion and into the kitchen
I’ve always been interested in contemplative practice, and over the years I’ve studied with teachers from Buddhist, Christin and Jewish traditions. On several occasions I asked the teacher, “How do I bring this practice into everyday life?” The answer was always the same, “Keep at it, it will come.” It wasn’t happening.
I would sit in meditation, observing whatever arose, when I got lost in thought I’d gently pull myself back to the present moment. Then I’d get up and resume life. Even after 30 years of practice I was still reacting to my thoughts and emotions, still overeating, and still riddled with depression and anxiety. I have a particularly vicious inner critic who screamed at me constantly — and I was listening to her. It’s fair to say I was a hot mess.
I was eating out of control, making poor choices and then eating way too much. I grazed constantly and binged often. I had the pizza shop around the corner on speed dial and as a result ballooned to nearly twice my healthy body weight. Was I overeating because I was depressed? Or depressed because I was overeating? Was I so emotionally broken by a crappy childhood that years of therapy couldn’t fix me? When I started going to bed at night hoping that I wouldn’t wake up I knew it was time to do something.
It dawned on me that my spiritual practice might offer some answers. I’d been introduced to the idea of mindful eating but practicing it was a different story. I felt like I was grasping in the dark hoping to find something to grab on to. Even after a weekend workshop on mindful eating, approaching my behavior with openness and curiosity didn’t seem to be doing any good.
The shift came several months later at a party. The food table had two large bowls of my favorite chips. What played out was all too familiar, it’s something I’ve done countless times in the past when I embarrassed myself because I couldn’t tear myself away from the chips. When the bowls were empty I went to the kitchen and refilled them. While others were munching on small handfuls, I parked myself next to the food table and try as I might, I simply couldn’t stop eating and didn’t stop until they were all gone.
But something had changed. My awareness was different even though my behavior wasn’t. It’s a strange sensation, to watch yourself do something and simply be present with clarity and compassion, rather than reacting to it. Seeing the situation more clearly did two things, it gave me some insight into the addictive process that was acting in me. The combination of salt, fat and crunch — what I’ve come to call my holy trinity — was driving me to act counter to what my conscious mind was telling me to do. And by dropping the self-loathing and guilt I was able to feel how bloated and sluggish eating that much made me feel. In the past those emotions acted like a shield that kept me from fully experiencing the physical repercussions. When you feel compassion toward yourself, you want to treat yourself better. That ended up being my last major binge.
I wish I could tell a story of magic transformation — immediate with no effort — and I would really like to add that mindfulness has allowed me to eat chips moderately. Instead, the change was gradual. It’s taken time, persistence, compassion, practice and a willingness to look honestly at what I’m addicted to and give it up.