In a recent talk given by Jessica Morey at the Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico, the following story was recounted. Unfortunately, there was no transcript so I can’t quote exactly, but you can listen to the podcast on Upaya’s web site. Ms. Morey spoke of her teacher, Michele MacDonald, who was travelling and decided to buy a gift to bring back to her staff. As an admitted “choc-aholic”, she thought chocolate would be an appropriate gift. So she bought alot of it so that there would be enough for everyone on her recipient list. As she was driving back home, she kept thinking about the chocolate and wanted to try some. She soon realized that she really wanted to eat all of it. She decided that she would, in fact, eat it all, but she would do it mindfully. That night she ate every piece of the chocolate making sure to savor and experience every bite fully. With each bite she experienced the feeling of craving, the brief relief of satisfaction, followed by a seemingly insatiable recurrence of craving. The process took several hours. Satisfaction remained temporary and elusive. Amazingly, she did not get sick, but she did learn some powerful truths about her “choc-aholism”.
This is not a practice that I would recommend. However, there are some good lessons here. We all have cravings with associated triggers. Sometimes we can resist. At other times we throw caution to the wind and spontaneously succumb to the lure. Then, in order to avoid focusing on the fact that we’re doing something we know we shouldn’t do, we proceed as if in a trance to follow the siren’s call. What this story suggests is that if you must give in, try doing it mindfully. Instead of trying to numb yourself to the experience and beat yourself up for it later (e.g., “the devil made me do it!”) try paying attention to the activity and really feel what it is doing for and to you. Is it making you feel good? Or bad? Do you like the feeling, whatever it is? Does the feeling last? Is it giving you what you thought it would give you? If it is, can you accept the consequences?
You could also apply this strategy to something you fear. Or something you know you should do, but momentarily don’t feel like doing. Like exercising or going to a class. You wake up and think “I don’t feel good today. I’m really tired and achy. Maybe I’ll skip class today.” Or you’ve been meaning to try a class, but today seems like it is just not the right day. Fine. Make that choice. But try doing it mindfully. Think it through. Examine what’s truly in your heart. What are you really feeling? Are you afraid you won’t perform up to standards? Whose standards? Your own? Or someone else’s? Can you let go of perceived performance ideals? Are you prepared to go through the whole day possibly regretting that you didn’t go to class? Or maybe you really aren’t feeling well and need to take a day off. Whatever the answer, try exploring your real emotions instead of mindlessly following your initial impulse.
You may decide that your fears are justified and deserve acquiescence. But before you make that choice you may want to consider the following from Brene Brown (this from an interview with Krista Tippett on the APM program On Being):
“Vulnerability is courage. It’s about the willingness to show up and be seen in our lives. And in those moments when we show up, I think those are the most powerful meaning-making moments of our lives even if they don’t go well. I think they define who we are. I think there’s something incredibly contagious and powerful about it. I think it makes the people around us a little bit braver and I think it helps us get very clear on the ideals and values that guide our lives.”
Approaching your life mindfully can be a very courageous choice.