I thrive on being inspired. Experiencing others’ wisdom feeds my soul. Today I am particularly inspired by two amazing women: Chela Davison and Anita Johnston. These two women are writers, healers, and visionaries. Chela writes in poetic prose on her blog, words that we can all relate to: “Our addictions keep us all wrapped up, entangled in the illusion of release”.
When we become addicted to something — alcohol, food, sex, gambling, drugs, work — this forms a way of coping with a particular sensation that is uncomfortable. “But it’s not the vice that we crave”, writes Chela, “it’s the relief from the arising sensation.” What if we found a way to eliminate the suffering that can come with pushing away uncomfortable feelings, and instead found a way of being with them in an accepting way?
Dr. Johnston is a clinical psychologist and the author of one of the all-time flagship books of my own journey to recovery and ultimately helping others, Eating in the Light of the Moon. I am fortunate enough to be invited as the guest speaker at the Conscious Living Book Club on June 14, and I have chosen this book as a spark for discussion and deep meditation. Why? Because it invites us to explore, through storytelling, myth and metaphor, our relationships with food and emotions, where “stories help us connect with our inner world, to the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth, and to the power of our intuitive wisdom.”
Chela and Anita both draw us deeper — they invite us to truly meditate on what nourishes us and how food or other “things” can become ploys for trying to meet some deeper need. Can we find what we are truly looking for and stop the seemingly endless race (sometimes in a hamster wheel, spinning, spinning) to avoid what we are feeling? What if we already have everything that we will ever NEED?
I invite you to begin a meditation on what your “drug of choice” — whether it be food, alcohol, sex, relationships, shopping, exercise — truly does for you (or used to help you with, but doesn’t work so well any more). What’s your metaphor? What are you truly hungry for? Could it be love? Attention? Self-acceptance? Companionship? What is its symbol?
We are taught from a young age that pain is something that is bad to feel. That we shouldn’t feel it. That we should do everything we can to change it. This might involve eating, drinking, or taking drugs as a way to try to change that feeling. However, pain is a normal, human feeling that we all feel. It’s okay to feel it. The true struggle comes when we exert endless amounts of energy to try to avoid it, and then we develop eating disorders and other addictions because it doesn’t work. Food, at that point, is not what we’re truly hungry for.
As infants, we eat intuitively. We don’t want to eat when we’re not hungry. Sometimes, as a way to try to meet our needs, our caregivers may feed us when we actually are tired, lonely, in pain. Thus begins the cycle of trying to soothe an emotional need with a physical thing. Food can take on a whole other role: companion, soother, nurturer.
How do we free ourselves from these struggles? First, we must understand what we are truly hungering for. Then, we must find a way of connecting with our bodies and our emotions (ALL of our emotions, even the scary ones) in a healthy, accepting way. At this point, we are able to shift the way we experience our emotions and find a way of being with them that is nurturing, not self-destructive. Your need to use food or other substances in unhealthy ways will no longer be so forceful!
So what’s your story? How does food talk to you? Eating in the Light of the Moon uses a metaphor of an old woman in Japan who followed her hunger to a dark cave filled with scary creatures who tried to keep her captive. Only by finding a way to give them what they TRULY needed, was she able to escape. Reading this, and other stories in the book, can help us sort out what’s going on under the surface in a fanciful, endearing and enlightening way.
Tell me: What are you TRULY hungry for? And how can you nourish that hunger in a compassionate, accepting way?