This past week, I've been trying to pay attention to what sets off the negative feelings that lead me to eat inappropriately. I know that being tired is a big one for me, and that my sleep issues are a major arena that I have yet to deal with successfully. But beyond turning to food rather than sleep when I am exhausted, what is it that drives me to attempt to drug myself with food?
I think I've discovered a clue. So often when I feel the urge to eat when I'm not hungry, I have just bumped up against a reality that differs from my expectations. Yesterday was a great opportunity to have this realization, as I spent most of the day reeling from those collisions.
It started in the morning. All week, the weather forecasters had been saying that Wednesday would be the warmest, sunniest day of the week, and I'd been looking forward to taking a longer-than-usual bike ride. But I slept later than I had hoped and had a couple of things I absolutely had to take care of before I could take off, so it was almost 3pm before I left the house. Since we had somewhere to be at 5pm, I couldn't go ride where I had wanted. Moreover, three pm is the worst time of day for me, energetically speaking, so I found the ride that I did harder than usual. Then, when I got home, I learned that I would not be able to go to Green Mountain at Fox Run for the two weeks that I had just decided I really, really needed because they didn't have space for me.
The net result of all this frustration was the worst episode of night eating I've had in months.
Looking a little deeper into what had happened, I realized that having expectations at all is a dangerous thing to do, because it not only sets you up for frustration and/or failure, but it takes you out of the moment and into the future. Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment, accepting it for what it is, appreciating it, learning from it, and not looking beyond it. Straying from mindfulness is, at least for me, a prelude to trouble.
My explorations of mindfulness these past few years have led me to make a lot of changes with respect to expectations. I can see them most clearly in relation to my winter sojourn in Hawaii. I used to send or bring tons of stuff to Hawaii to work on during my time there and would spend most of the winter not doing those projects and feeling bad about that. And when I had to shlep or ship all of it back to Massachusetts in the spring, the feelings of frustration and failure would overwhelm my homecoming and cause me to start out my time back east feeling like I was already in a huge hole with no obvious way out. Eventually, I came to understand that my expectations for the few months I spend in Hawaii were totally unrealistic, especially given that I often arrive there totally depleted from the very intense week of KlezKamp if not actually ill.
This year, I took very little with me and had nothing more on my agenda than continuing to recover from my bout with H1N1 and pneumonia, and as a result was more productive and happier than I have been in many years.
When I first encountered the idea of non-striving as part of the mindfulness practice taught at Green Mountain, I didn't understand it. In fact, the idea that ceasing to push myself could actually help me get done the things that I felt unable to accomplish was completely counterintuitive. Yet I have experienced, over and over again, that this is so. Which is why I have been taking a laid back approach to biking this season: not training for Hub on Wheels, not following a specific program, but going out to ride as often as feels comfortable and desirable and finding that, when I'm healthy, that's pretty much every day.
I am reminded of the famous line from Pope's "Essay on Man": "Whatever is, is right." Surely, that is a rallying cry for mindfulness. Yes as someone who feels compelled to try to make the world (and herself) better, how can I actually believe that? If whatever is were right, wouldn't I be content with my fat, hypertensive, arthritic body?
The task, I believe, is to find a balancing point between a long-term, global expectation of growth and improvement and an active embracing of what exists in the moment. In Lifetime Channel terms, this amounts to the truism that until you learn to love yourself as you are, you won't be able to change. In mindfulness terms, I think it means not getting too attached to any vision of the way you think things ought to be so that you can stay focused on what actually is there, learn from it or let it go, and move on to the next moment.
A hui hou.