Space, The Middle Frontier

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.

I love how every day can be a fresh start. It doesn’t matter what choices I made yesterday. What matters is what I chose right now, in this moment. And right now, in this moment, I need to get this blog posted because I have to wash my hair and get ready to do a Meals on Wheels route and…and…remind myself that shoving something in my mouth other than the omelet and toast I made and consumed 30 minutes ago will not in any way change the fact that I’m facing a busy morning on snow-covered roads. Stimulus…space…wiser, kinder response.

11 thoughts on “Space, The Middle Frontier

  1. Hi. I am a new to your blogg. I was just reading an article “The Fat Trap” in the NYtimes. Then You name came up on the page 6th.
    Sorry for the grammar mistakes or wrong words choices because the English languege is not my native.
    However, regarless their national origins, many people out there struggle with their weight and maintaining it. ANd I am one of them.
    I just wanted to ask if you watched “Forks over knives” documentary about whole foods plan based diet. I started it about 2 weeks ago after I had stopped my Weight Watchers membership. I don't track what I eaat and haven't exercised for the past 2 weeks–I was too busy on the holidays–and still losing about 6-8 oz a day.

  2. Hey, Lynn – just wanted you to know that I missed you during the time you weren't posting! And this post?? WOW! Full of timely info for me. I'm going to spend some time looking for my “space” and ways to use it wisely! Happy New Year!

  3. Great post, Lynn. I know I do this sometimes at places like Panera where they give you a piece of bread even if you have ordered a sandwich. I have set a goal to really pay attention and track this year.

  4. Hi Lynn – I found your blog after reading the recent NY Times “Fat Trap” article. Congratulations on your accomplishments. I really enjoyed reading about your experience being on Oprah's show back in 2007.

    As a 51-yr-old male, I've “only” struggled to lose about 35lbs of excess middle-aged weight – nothing like what you went through to lose 168lbs – so I'm hesitant to offer advice. But I've been adding to and subtracting from my adult weight enough times that I wanted to add a response here.

    Nobody rational would suggest your current weight hurts your appearance or your health, but your blog suggessts the excess pounds are bothering you and you don't feel in control. So if you know you're in a period where you're letting your weight creep up, AND you wrote in September “I sometimes want to be that waif again”, AND deep down you're afraid that you're currently on a trajectory that ends back where you started in 2004 – then why don't you just summon that internal outrage at letting yourself be out of control over your food intake and go back to exactly what you did to lose the weight before?

  5. That space between the stimulus is a small piece of time that often goes unnoticed by most of us, but it is crucial to how we behave and what we do. I'm so glad you called attention to this, and I will pay more attention to my own “small piece of time” which contains the wisdom that I have been compiling all my life. So often I know better, but react impulsively–will be more mindful. Thanks.

  6. Love, love, love your blog which I found through the New York Times article. I'm a former professional journalist turned attorney. You're a talented writer and an inspiration. Keep your voice.

  7. It's E. Jane again. Sorry, I didn't finish my thought as I wrote. I meant to say “between the stimulus and the response.” Anyway, you sure got me thinking!

  8. I've followed your blog for a while, but happy to see your mention in the NY times article is leading others to it. After having lost a great deal of weight , I struggle to maintain and your blog helps.. I was moved by the comment about the 'space between'.. I wrote it down. I've looked at it several times. I researched it and found it attributed to many different people. Doesn't matter who said makes sense. I found this blog and the other links mentioned in it and thought I would share.

  9. Thank you for such an informative post. Having started yoga for my anxiety a few months ago, I'm really appreciating the wonders of the mind and how it affects every aspect of our being. I love the fact that each day brings new possibilities and experiences. Always so good to read your words, Lynn.

  10. I came by way of the New York Times piece as well.

    I can't give you a number since I avoided the scale when I was at my heaviest, but I lost 12″ off my waist alone.

    That bargaining thing? I do that too and I do it if I count calories, or weigh myself; you only had 1600 calories you can have that, or you only weigh 143 … I tracked my weight loss with a tape measure and it wasn't until I got to 145lbs that I bought a scale for the first time ever, or track my food occasionally.

    It's frustrating because while the weight was coming off I saw the exercise as additional calories burned towards losing more inches instead of using it as an excuse to eat more. I really should know better by now …

    Ahh, the evils of complacency.

    Thanks for words, I never had anyone to talk to about this so its nice to see I'm not the only one continuing to struggle with it all, it leaves me feeling a little less alone.


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