I’d gone into therapy during my sophomore year in college, and remember the day I brought up my current prime-time fixation: how to stop binge eating. No matter how committed I felt to my newest diet plan, I kept blowing it each day, and mercilessly judged myself for being out of control. When I wasn’t obsessing on how I might concoct a stricter, more dramatic weight-loss program, I was getting caught up in food cravings.
My therapist listened quietly for a while, and then asked a question that has stayed with me ever since: “When you are obsessing about eating, what are you feeling in your body?”As my attention shifted, I immediately noticed the painful, squeezing feeling in my chest. While my mind was saying “something is wrong with me,” my body was squeezing my heart and throat in the hard grip of fear.
In an instant I realized that when I was obsessing about food—craving it, wanting to avoid it—I was trying to escape from these feelings. Obsessing was my way of being in control. Then I realized something else. “It’s not just food” I told her. “I’m obsessing about everything.”
Saying it out loud unlocked something inside of me. I talked about how I obsessed about what was wrong with my boyfriend, about exams, about what to do for spring break, about when to fit in a run. I obsessed about what I’d tell her at our next therapy session. And most of all, my tireless inner critic obsessed about my own failings: I’d never change; I’d never like myself; others wouldn’t want to be close to me.
After pouring all this out, my mind started scratching around again—this time for a new strategy for changing my obsessive self. When I started down that track, my therapist simply smiled and said kindly: “If you can notice when you’re obsessing and then feel what’s going on in your body, you’ll eventually find peace of mind.”
During the weeks that followed, I kept track of my obsessing. When I caught myself planning and judging and managing, I would note that I was obsessing, try to stop, and then ask how I was feeling in my body. Whatever the particular focus of my thoughts, I’d find a restless, anxious feeling—the same squeezing grip I had felt in my therapist’s office.
While I didn’t like my obsessing, I really didn’t like this feeling. Without being conscious of pulling away, I’d start distancing myself from the pain almost as soon as I’d contacted it, and the relentless voice in my head would take over again. Then, after a month or soof this, I had an experience that really caught my attention.
One Saturday night, after my friends and I had spent hours dancing to the music of a favorite band, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Inspired by the full moon and the scent of spring blossoms, I sat down on a bench for a few moments alone. Suddenly the world was deliciously quiet. Sweaty and tired, my body was vibrating from all that dancing. But my mind was still. It was big and open, like the night sky. And filling it was a sense of peace—I didn’t want anything or fear anything. Everything was okay.
By Sunday morning, the mood had vanished. Worried about a paper due midweek, I sat down to work at noon, armed with Diet Coke, cheese, and crackers. I was going to overeat, I just knew it. My mind started ricocheting between wanting to eat and not wanting to gain weight. My agitation grew. For a moment I flashed on the evening before; that quiet, happy space was like a distant dream. A great wave of helplessness and sorrow filled my heart. I began whispering a prayer: “Please . . . may I stop obsessing . . . Please, please.” I wanted to be free from the prison of my fear-thinking.
The taste of a quiet, peaceful mind I’d experienced the night before had felt like home, and it motivated me not long after to begin spiritual practice. In the years since, I’ve become increasingly free from the grip of obsessive thinking, but awakening from this mental trance has been slower than I initially imagined.
Obsessive thinking is a tenacious addiction, a way of running from our restlessness and fears. Yet, like all false refuges, it responds to mindful awareness—to an interested and caring attention. We can listen to the energies behind our obsessive thinking, respond to what needs attention, and spend less and less time removed from the presence that nurtures our lives.
INSPIRATION BEHIND THE INTENT? I know these two practices hold the key to my health: emotional, mental, spiritual, physical. I have let other things in my life take precedence: job, family, responsibilities. these are all very important but not MORE important than my internal peace and health. I am on a journey to establish these rituals as I believe they hold the key to all of the answers I seek.
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I admit it… I’m a self proclaimed A-D-D, multi-task-master with looong to-do lists.
At any given moment, I have 20+ windows open on my desktop and often forget what I’m searching for while opening up another browser to find an email in another account. I check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks while waiting for my Final Cut Editing Program to render — you video editors out there feel my pain. Did I mention, I also just picked up my iPhone to check some other apps? (I really did.)
To stay on task, I’m blogging in OmmWriter, a writer’s app I recently discovered that clears your screen and plays zen-like music.
With all the flash, video and pictures proliferating the wild wild web, it’s hard to catch my attention as I am sure it is to capture your eyeballs for more than 30 minutes on any given site. But this Facebook post by our friends at Service Space made me pause, smile and inspired me to blog… about happiness.
We all search for it and make excuses of why we don’t have it. We all can rewind and think about something that happened in our past that creates our bad attitude and bad habits. Likewise, we can look into the future and think our happiness is hinged upon a bigger paycheck, finding the right partner or _____Fill in the blank_____.
The truth is, we have the power to change our thoughts no matter what situation we’re in. That is why I LOVE THIS quote by Deepak Chopra. I stumbled upon this sweet message and picture posted by our friends at Karma Tube.
“Be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you’re in trouble, because that reason can be taken from you.” ~ Deepak Chopra
This resonated with me on many levels. Just last week, I was on a walk in my quaint San Francisco neighborhood and was completely in the moment. I stopped and asked myself why I was smiling. I remember being happy just for the sake of being happy.
I’ve had naysayers – aka “haters” – tell me, “It’s easy for you to be happy, you have nice clothes, lots of friends and a job.” While that may be true in my current situation, there have been times where that hasn’t been the case. Growing up in bad neighborhoods when I was a child, I wore lots of hand-me-downs from my two older brothers. My mother, being resourceful, used the tattered clothes to stuff the burlap rice bags for pillows. After leaving my TV reporting gig to start up Go Inspire Go, there have been times where I had $0.80 in my bank account. Yep, 80 cents. And there was a time when I lost four family members in one short year.
Looking back during those times, I do remember many happy moments. Most of the time, I didn’t let the situation define my happiness. As one of my favorite authors, Eckardt Tolle, said, “It is what it is.” I’ve learned to surrender to things that happen around me because I can’t worry about what I can’t control. That’s a good start. Instead, I focus on what I’m grateful for.
It seems like my gratitude list is longer than my woe-is-me list:
1. I’m grateful for the family that I still have in my life.
2. I’m grateful for my volunteers, viewers and everyday heroes we feature on GIG.
3. I’m grateful for my Skype sessions with my niece and nephew.
4. I’m grateful for the crisp autumn air.
5. I’m grateful for my breath.
These are just five things I’m grateful for. I made it a habit to log five things I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal before going to bed every night. Oh I have one more to add to the list – I’m grateful for the picture that inspired this blog.
As adults, there are so many distractions: social media, climbing the ladder (whatever the ladder may be), material things, living up to the status quo… the list goes on. I guess as the aforementioned picture shows, we have a lot to unlearn as adults and re-learn from children. I know I do. If this makes you happy, please share with someone you love!