In my last blog, I mentioned a Buddhist saying that I like: “Between the stimulus and our response is the space in which lies our power and freedom.” I was listening to one of Tara Brach’s audio talks this morning, as I do several times a week before getting out of bed. (You can find them here, or you can subscribe to her podcast.) I find it starts my day in a mind frame of compassion for both myself and the world, which sticks with me even through rush hour…some days.
The talk I listened to this morning was from December 14 called “The Dance of Relational Trance.” From the description on the website: “When we become emotionally reactive in our relationships, we often go into a trance that creates separation and locks us into a narrow sense of self. This talk explores how, by pausing and deepening our attention, we can reconnect with the wisdom of our hearts.”
Tara conducted an exercise in which we were to close our eyes and think of a situation that happens often, one in which we react immediately in a usual emotional way. I called to mind a situation with someone I’m close to in which I often feel misunderstood or dissed. My reaction is to say things that aren’t true to my heart to make that person “like me” again. Tara then had us invite into our minds someone wise (the Dalai Lama, Jesus, our grandmothers, Yoda) and think about what they’d say to us in that space between the stimulus and our response. At the end of the exercise, Tara said that the advice we imagined came from our own highest self, that when we are caught in a trance of reactivity, we have the intuition within ourselves to respond in a wiser and kinder way.
I turned off my iPod and started thinking about the new eating plan I wanted to develop for myself. That got me thinking about a particular situation with food in which I get caught in a reactionary trance. It goes something like this: I get done working at the soup kitchen or I get done working out and it’s time to eat. I might have a salad in mind or a veggie burger. Innocent enough. But what happens while I’m making the salad or burger is that I start justifying. “You burned 300 calories! (Or in the case of the soup kitchen, I stood for 5 hours.) You can add an extra tablespoon of almonds and dressing and, oh yes, put on a few more croutons. They don’t add up to a whole slice of bread, it doesn’t matter.” Before I know it, my salad is overflowing or my burger has so many added condiments and side dishes that all the calories I just burned are now going right back in, with no doubt a few extras in there as well.
I called upon my wiser self for advice and discovered two old patterns of behavior working:
1) In my trance state, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’ve maintained my weight so long that I don’t need to keep track of everything that goes in my mouth. My wise self knows better. The only possible way to maintain is to be constantly mindful of everything I eat and how much. I’m not beating myself up for falling into this mindset, but I’m definitely guiding myself back to tracking and, more importantly, revisiting the reasons why losing weight in the first place was so important to me. (I’ll be digging out old journals and rereading some old blogs this week!)
2) In my trance state, I shove food in my mouth because it keeps me from thinking about how busy I am and all the things I have to accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a semester. I love the saying, “If hunger isn’t the problem, food isn’t the answer.” My wise self says to use the space between stimulus and response to feel the anxiety rather than run away from it. Wise self promises it won’t be as bad as I think.
My wise self also reminded me to follow my own best advice: How will I feel five minutes after eating this? If my answer is “I will feel great, like I’ve made a good choice!” then I will eat it. If the answer is “I wish I hadn’t eaten that,” I will let it go.