This week we share a post from Steve, a passage meditator living in Santa Rosa, California. In this post Steve shares how he leverages his life-long love of sweets to build up his willpower.
I like sweets! Always have.
While growing up, breakfast was a sugary dry cereal, lunch always concluded with cookies and dinner wasn’t over till ice cream or something similar had been enjoyed.
The pattern continued through my adult life. The entrees became healthier, but the desserts remained ever present.
Since becoming a student of EE, things have changed. I learned that “training the senses” is one of the eight points and critical to the larger process of taming self-will. So now I try to keep sweets out of the house. I (almost!) always drive past frozen yogurt shops without stopping. Avoidance of ice cream - my very favorite treat - while shopping at the grocery store is still sometimes difficult, but I (almost!) always manage. Rigorously controlling my own environment has yielded enormous gains.
But alas, the task becomes more difficult during the holidays, especially since my wife and I now live in a senior community, where we’ve joined many groups (all of which have holiday parties) and gained many wonderful friends (who also have holiday parties). Everywhere I go, it seems that something terribly attractive and very, very available is staring me in the face.
My wife and I at the Boomers Club Mardi Gras Party
The holidays also bring frequent travel to see family. Out of my normal routine, I find it tough to deny myself “comfort” food, especially if prepared with love by a relative.
Of course, I know this problem is not unique to me. “Lose weight” and “eat healthier” must be very high on the list of the most common New Year’s resolutions! For me, however, it’s become a year-long struggle as my age advances and my metabolism slows.
So, what to do?
What to do?
As usual, the eight-point program holds my salvation. In particular, the first four points (meditation, mantram, slowing down, one-pointed attention) are the ones I call on. I note the patterns in my life that tend to create problems and plan my use of these four “points” carefully.
My “food samskaras” (negative patterns associated with food) include:
- Eating with less discrimination when I'm with friends and food is readily available (as during the holidays)
- Eating with less discrimination when I'm feeling down
- Craving more sweets later in the day if I eat sweets early in the day
- Eating while doing other things (particularly reading) if I'm in a hurry
- Eating with less discrimination if I feel speeded up, which happens as the day goes on (particularly during the holidays)
- Thinking about (and enjoying in advance!) my next meal well before I need to
In addition to my morning meditation, I meditate in the late afternoon. Missing the second meditation of the day is easier when I’m away from home. But that second meditation often occurs at a time where I’ve gotten speeded up and desperately need slowing down. To keep this from occurring, I plan my day in advance and mindfully consider when and where that second meditation will happen. It’s useful for me to consider dinner well earned by the meditation prior.
The mantram is most helpful to me just after eating a meal, when the craving for sweets peaks. At home, I’ll usually force myself to retire to a loveseat in the bedroom where I can read quietly or repeat the mantram while the urge for sweets dissolves. I call it “timing myself out,” after a practice used with our kids when they got a bit more amped up than was useful for them. In a short period of time, as I occupy my mind with something healthier than Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup, I slow down, become more considered and the temptation invariably wanes.
The “time out” method borrows from the phrase “use your mighty arms to free the senses” (from the meditation passage entitled “Living in Wisdom” from the Gita). Rather, I’m using my mighty legs to escape from the world of “ten thousand things” (“Holding to the Constant,” Lao Tzu) to a place where time and temptation have less purchase. The idea is that if my legs can get my arms far enough from attractive foods, my arms can’t reach anything unhealthy! I’m not always successful, of course, but I know that, when the strategies are employed, they inevitably work.
The “Time Out” Sofa
The "Time Out" Sofa
Slowing down has always been essential for me. When I think, speak and act slowly, the space between thoughts opens up and I gain the needed perspective and time to make good choices.
Over the years, I’ve painstakingly noted those situations in which I tend to speed up (talking on the phone, interacting with people at parties, working on the computer, putting too many activities into one day) and work hard to avoid them. Where they can’t be avoided, I time myself out after each in order to return to the baseline slowness I feel after finishing meditation, completing an absorbing task or exiting from an extended mantramming period.
My best meals are those I eat by myself, with one-pointed attention to each bite. Savoring the flavor of my food, often with my eyes closed, returns the satisfaction I’m “losing” when I don’t eat sweets. While enjoying the company of others along with my food, I force myself to eat slowly and try to notice when the speeding up occurs.
As the years have passed, I’ve realized that, for me, successful eight-point-program-style eating means using EE’s tools to make good decisions at those key moments when I’m tempted by food. Thankfully, there are not many of these moments. I alert myself in advance prior to going into a grocery store, a restaurant, a friend’s home for dinner, or a party that I am about to be tested. I remind myself of the import of my choices, why I’ve resolved to make them and what the benefits will be.
Above all, I know that I’m forming good habits when I make the right decisions at those moments where I’m tested. In addition to displacing the negative food samskaras, the stronger will I’m building helps me better focus on undesirable tasks and stay the course on long-term goals I’ve set for myself. My entire life has been touched in a positive way by this increase in will power.
Like life, it’s a work in progress!