The yogurt I added on Monday caused no ripples in my well-being, so this morning I stand on the brink of adding cucumbers and am contemplating what it means to crave a simple vegetable.
In physical/taste-bud terms, it means that I am longing for the slightly bitter, slightly sweet, crunchy, juicy properties of cold cucumber slices or spears, a welcome relief from the sweetness of red peppers. Unfortunately, I don't particularly enjoy raw celery, except in tuna salad, and green pepper goes too far over the bitter line. Cucumbers are just right, the perfect foil (and conveyor) for smoked salmon or cheese or (be still my heart!) the hummus I plan to make next week when I've added chickpeas, sesame and garlic.
I've learned, these past two weeks, that I do crave variety in my foods, particularly at dinner. Though I'm perfectly happy having the same exact breakfast six days out of seven, and fairly content to have the same thing for lunch for quite a few days in a row, when my dinners get monotonous I start feeling as though food has become simple fuel and not the pleasure it often is. And without that source of pleasure in my life, I feel like I'm living behind a scrim, with everything looking dulled and washed out. I'm speculating that this feeling comes up in relation to dinner more than the other meals because those other meals, functionally, are much more about fueling the activities of my day. Dinner is the transition time to leisure, whatever that means to someone who's self-employed and self-driven. Dinner is a moment to pause and appreciate life, so much more than a simple pit-stop.
As important as that insight feels, it isn't the most important thing I've learned from my cucumber cravings. "Cravings" is a loaded word -- so often we tend to look at the things we most yearn for in a negative light. "Craving attention" is generally a pejorative description of someone, and "food cravings" most often pop up in discussions of how to eliminate, ignore or otherwise get the better of them.
In truth, cravings can be a positive tool, a way of hearing directly from your body what it needs. Though I have had my share of the less than helpful kind of food cravings, the ones that stand out in my mind are the times I've craved healthy things, like the time I was on the Atkins diet, when even carbs from low-calorie vegetables were verboten, and I found myself rooted to the floor in front of a pyramid of succulent Brussels sprouts in a sensuous reverie imagining how their sweetness and slight bitterness would contrast with the tang of mustard-mayonnaise. More recently, during my travels this summer, I realized I was absolutely longing for a salad one evening and realized that the previous three days had brought me nothing but sandwiches and fried food, with nary a vegetable in sight. And now, with my vegetables severely limited during these early weeks, I long for the variety of tastes and textures and colors they add.
I've also recognized that sometimes cravings can come from your spirit and tell you just as clearly what you need to nourish your soul. The other morning I was writing an email to my sister in which I was describing my longing just to sit somewhere for a while with no demands, when I suddenly realized I could satisfy that longing by beginning again to meditate regularly. At other moments I have craved sleep with an urgency that made me feel as though I would die if I didn't immediately lie down. And with increasing frequency, I find myself yearning to be out on my bike or in the pool, moving.
With cravings representing such primal wisdom, why do they have such a bad reputation? Perhaps because so many of us are oblivious to anything but the most obvious cues and don't pay attention until it's almost too late for satisfying those needs to do any good. But more likely it has to do with the fact that most of us don't seem to feel that we deserve to satisfy ourselves, to nurture ourselves and give ourselves what we truly need.
I'll be thinking more about this as I enjoy my cucumbers at lunch.
A hui hou.