Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Meditation: Mindful eating the Buddhist way.

"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul."
-Dorothy Day

"Food should be fun."

I never thought I could find spirituality in food. Instead, I felt that most of my adult life was plagued by an eating disorder that repeatedly bowled me over with guilt and shame. It seemed such a simple daily task of nourishment, one that (on the surface) many other people didn't think about twice, was one that left me perpetually frazzled and always fretting.

That is, until I realized that eating is a societal obsession and few people in our culture can go without a bad body image day or thirty or three hundred of these in a year. Around the world, food is our common language, because we all need to eat to survive. And, ever more so in a Chinese household, where dishes replace the dialogue of affection. 

Food is how my parents, grandmother, and relatives expressed care. Rather than a "Hello, how are doing? I've missed you!"— words that would have been much too difficult to formulate on their tongues — my family members instead chewed around the question and command, "Have you eaten? Come! Eat!" 

It's a primal thing, wanting to feed ourselves. We suckle our mother's breast before we can even see clearly. As toddlers, we crave pacifiers for comfort. And, we experiment with the world by placing objects in our mouths before learning that there are certain things that we can't digest. As we get older, sweetness on our tongues may sometimes replace the bitterness at home, the crunchiness of certain foods helps us swallow anger when we do not know how to express this emotion otherwise, and the creamy denseness of luscious desserts temporarily fills our hearts when the vacuum of loneliness becomes too  empty to bear.

After a lot of therapy in my mid-to-late twenties, I got to the point where I was very cognizant about my behaviors and thought patterns. Even so, I quickly learned that being aware of the "what" and "why" was not quite the same as changing those patterns. In fact, it often became even more infuriating to realize that even though my brain knew better, my heart couldn't help myself from choosing "wrong." Or, on days I managed to be a bit nicer to myself, choosing a path that was infinitely more familiar than the road less taken. Now, I see how it always returned to one simple question that, unlike my straight-A performance in school, I could not answer at the time: How much do I value my heart, my body, my soul? 

It's taken me just as long as the fifteen years of my eating disorder to finally get to a point where I choose to honor my well-being more than my illusory security blanket. And, it's not a clean cut once-and-for-all-wipe-my-hands-clean kind of decision. It's a choice I have to make multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times a minute, to pick that higher part of myself that wants to thrive and soar. But, I'm not alone in this. We all have something, a human part of our existence, that challenges us to have to pick the harder and more noble path. For some of us, it's anger. For others, it's jealousy. For all of us, it could be beating ourselves up or succumbing to an outside pressure of what we're told we "should" be, rather than giving ourselves permission to shine so beautifully with the brilliance of our Spirit.

I remember hearing, "The farthest distance we ever travel is often between our head and our heart," and over the past year, I have worked diligently to reduce the space between these two internal places, transforming the journey from miles to millimeters. It has not been easy and, for at least six months, has felt almost unbearably uncomfortable. However, over the past two days, I've experienced huge results that have made it absolutely worthwhile!

I have, perhaps for the first time in my adult life, let in love. Pure, genuine, true love. I've opened up to it after taking a stand for what I believe in, for honoring my truth, and for respecting my needs above anyone else's. After doing so, I was greeted by such unexpected openness of affection and boundless care from so many different sources — both from people who know me well and those who only know me virtually. What's more, I genuinely believed the sweet sentiments they were sharing with me. There was no deflection, no excuses to make that they were simply "being nice." Instead, when they told me how I'm making a positive impact in their lives, how I'm finally coming into my own power, how I'm absolutely worthy of every good thing just by being me, I let their sentiments slowly sink in. It's taken me about a day to process everything (my emotional processing speed is still a little slow to start) and become fully aware of this new ground level on which I stand. 

I bow my heart in big gratitude for myself and for every blessing in my life, because I still vividly remember what it was like to fall to my knees again and again in hopeless sadness and a blurry charcoal depression. What I consume now in my life takes a more mindful approach. Again, it's not every moment or every meal that I digest like this. It's a practice, just like yoga is designed to be. There is no perfection. There's just the practice of being in the moment as best as I can in a space where my heads, heart, and spirit are aligned in pure presence and infinite joy. It's basically touching that place within ourselves where we believe — and know — that anything is possible. 

Absolutely anything.

Especially love.

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