Day 33 – Living Without = Living With More
It’s always a pleasure to spend time listening to Kusala Bhikshu talk about Buddhism. His funny and honest approach always reminds me not to take my practice so seriously and remember that even a monk as wise and as practiced as him still has work to do.
I especially love Kusala’s talks because I can relate to his weakness in his practice that occurs whenever he is faced with an Entenmann’s Chocolate Cake. They used to be my drug of choice and may be again in the future if I ever get over this intolerance I have to cow’s milk.
As Kusala explained in today’s podcast, Buddhism is a path of renunciation. The idea of this can be very scary, sending our ego and mind into red alert, but as I’ve experienced in my life renunciation often leads to a better life rather than the worst one our ego tries to convince us will inevitably follow. *
As I said, I have just recently found out that I have an intolerance to cow’s milk and crustaceans. I’m also seemingly borderline when it comes to garlic. I had been having a lot of problems with food for a while, but couldn’t seem to figure out what was causing me problems. I finally decided to bite the bullet and pay to get tested.
While I was excited to find out what was really going on with my relationship to food I was also worried about how the information would change my life. What I found out was nothing that I didn’t already know. I have always had a natural aversion to seafood, and I had thought I was lactose intolerant so had been avoiding milk for the last few years. I didn’t realize, however, that I needed to avoid all food made with cow’s milk. Learning this information has left me feeling empowered in being able to do something to prevent my suffering with food, yet it has also left my ego and mind raging at all the things I now have to renounce if I want to prevent suffering in my body.
I can’t say I was a healthy eater in the past. I mean I did eat my vegetables when possible, and often substituted red meat for tofu, but like Kusala I have a weakness when it comes to chocolate, cake and candy. In actual fact, whenever something bothers me that I’m not willing to face head on the first thing I reach for is a chocolate bar. Recently I felt that my emotional eating had gotten out of hand so I tried a tapping technique recommended by Sandy Newbigging in his book Life Changing Weight Loss: 3 Steps To Get The Body and Life You Want . Surprisingly, for the first time in my life I found something that flipped that switch in my head that craves chocolate like someone would crave water in the desert. Don’t get me wrong, there are still times when the urge returns and I can’t let it go, but I have more control over it now and can opt for the darkest chocolate I can cope with instead of hoovering up any and all chocolate I can find.
Now that I have had to renounce several beloved foods that I have spent the majority of my life enjoying to their utmost I have begun to see much more clearly when I am eating and why. The moment the emotional eating starts I can label it and work with those feelings because I can no longer simply pick up a chocolate bar and stuff those feelings down into my stomach.
This experience has given me a lot more clarity and strength when it comes to facing my emotions and how I deal with them. It has made me much more inclined to sit down on the mat when I see suffering and difficulties arising and feel my way through them rather than run away from them by eating. I have so far been trying to sit with my breath to do this, as Kusala describes in this Zencast. I haven’t been counting my breath as Kusala suggests, but I may try that in the following weeks. Both Kusala and Gil Fronsdal have explained that practitioners who use labeling and counting during meditation find that they progress much faster in their practice than practitioners who don’t use these techniques.
Speaking of techniques, last night I did have a bit of a breakthrough with my meditation that actually came about because of a suggestion Gil Fronsdal gave in Zencast 31 – Thoughts Part 2. Gil suggests that in order to become more aware of our thoughts and how they proliferate our minds one meditation technique is to sit down and count your thoughts as they come up. I tried this for the first time last night and the results had me in awe! I’m not saying that I’ve found the breakthrough meditation that will solve all your problems, however. I also don’t want to hold on to the feeling of yesterdays meditation myself or I’ll end up back where I started because I’m too attached to replicating the experience of yesterday evening.
What happened was that I spent so much time counting my thoughts, which were often difficult to count because it took me a while to realize they were there or that they had been and gone, that I sped through my alotted 10 minute timer and before I knew it the bell rang to signal the end of the meditation. It blew my mind! I’ve been having such trouble sitting for the full 10 minutes that I was sure there was no way 10 minutes could have already passed. I even triple checked my iPod to make sure it was working properly!
Another interesting thing that occured was that many of the thoughts I was counting were visual images of people (dressed as if living in the 50s) who stopped what they were doing (generally walking out of a room) before turning, smiling and waving at me. I don’t know how this could be interpreted, but it was a very pleasant visual experience. I had just watched Revolutionary Road that night, so that could have been what inspired the 50s setting. In terms of the waving, I can only figure that these people were my thoughts taking a physical human form and waving to me as they passed by my mind.
So, what with the renunciation of activities that have kept me from examining and exploring what’s really going on with my mind and emotions, and with a breakthrough in my meditation practice that I’m trying really hard not to hold onto, I believe that at the 33 day mark I have encountered a small but encouraging landmark in my practice. I guess I’ll have to wait and see if that landmark signifies a real change or if I’m destined to hit difficulties now I’ve had a glimpse at how wonderful practice can be!
To sum up, I believe that in order to get to the truth we are seeking with our practice renunciation is something we must embrace, even if from a distance at first. It’s no easy path to take, but it’s definitely an exciting one that puts us out into the fringes of society (as @evbogue discusses in his letter.ly). It’s a brave person who can weather this path, and it’s a worthwhile one.
Hopefully in trying we can do at least a little to shake up our karmic energy in order to achieve a life filled with less suffering in the future.
* @evbogue is a writer who explores and lives the idea of renunciation along with Buddhism, yoga and technology. If you’re interested in deeper writing on these topics subscribe to his letter.ly. I love it!
Here’s a great article from Tricycle.com that touches on the topic of renunciation.