I listened to a podcast by one of my favourite Buddhist teachers, Tara Brach, called ‘Healing additions – de-conditioning the hungry ghosts.’ She talks a lot about food so I decided to take notes!
In Buddhism, there’s an image of ‘hungry ghosts’ – creatures with thin necks and large bellies – symbolising desire that can never be satisfied, the feeling of never having enough or being content. That’s something I can relate to.
Tara explains that when basic needs aren’t met, e.g. safety, love, security, desire gets riveted to something else that is available – in my case food. Whilst meditation won’t get rid of desire it can help us to see it as a habit. It can help us to de-laminate from the desire and meet ourselves with kindness and compassion.
She talks about the three layers of suffering from addiction:
- The first is that the fix is temporary and never cures the real, deep need. I get caught in a cycle of craving, reaching for sugar to satisfy the craving, getting a temporary feeling of pleasure which then feeds the cue to binge again and get the reward again.
- The second level of suffering is SHAME and SELF-AVERSION which feeds the cycle. This addiction turns me against myself. I hate that it goes against my healthy values and is so visual. It’s obvious when I put weight on. I see myself as fat, lazy and weak-willed and think that everyone else can see that too.
- The third layer is not being present and missing out on so much of life being preoccupied with the addiction. It makes me sad when I think of how many moments I waste obsessing about food and thinking that I need it to feel better. All the moments spent feeling like something is missing.
Tara gives the following advice for working with the three layers of suffering:
- What is the message the shame most needs?
- How can you work with the shame?
- Watch the looping and identify the cues. For me it’s loneliness, not feeling seen, not feeling valued or good enough and finding it hard to tolerate difficult feelings at times.
- When you are wanting a fix, what is it you are really wanting? For me it’s intimacy, closeness, someone to hug, hold my hand or stroke my hair. It’s relief and soothing.
- Plan ahead -what activity might turn me towards what I really desire? For example before eating the food, read something, send a loving message or email, eat some fresh fruit and yoghurt. If this strategy was to work 50% of the time it would be a big improvement. I think I have the idea in my head that I will just stop one day and that will be it. However if it was that simple, I think I would have done it by now. Instead I think I need to see each day that I don’t binge as an accomplishment.
- Believing that it’s possible to change and overcome the habit makes it more possible. That belief comes from others – knowing others have walked this path and taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I’ve been really touched recently by a dharma friend who has opened up so honestly to me about her battle with food. She’s been reminding me that it is possible to overcome on the days that I haven’t been able to hold that belief myself.
- Whatever we practice is strengthened. Notice the craving, choose to pause and bring tenderness to the parts that are feeling shamed and make fresh choices.
I’ll end with a quote from the Buddha that gives me hope it’s possible to change:
“whatever we frequently think of and ponder, that will become the inclination of our minds.”