What is the basic message that your brain is sending you each day?
For many of us, it’s some kind of variation on MORE MORE MORE.
The brain tells you, in subtle and not so subtle ways:
I need more food.
I need more love.
I need more money.
I need more sex appeal.
I need more clothes.
I need more security.
I need more certainty.
I need more validation.
I need more self-confidence.
I need more sanity.
I need more peace.
The brain turns everything, even the noble quest for peace, into a self improvement project. Nothing is ever good enough. It always wants more. Satisfaction is fleeting – a shot of dopamine to the system, the seeking-reward feedback loop complete for a nano-second. And then we descend back into the hunt, in a trance-like state, seeking out higher and higher levels of stimulation to numb to crushing pain of constant dissatisfaction.
Binge food and binge TV. The perfect numbing combination.
Isn’t this modern life? We move from overstimulation – excitement, violence, sex, drug-like foods, intense sensorial experiences – to numbness, the sweet deadness of disconnection, and conveniently we no longer feel the pain of our genuine human experience. Our bodymind crashes like a pinball from one extreme to the other – overstimulation to numbness, overwork to burnout, the peak experience and then the crushing low.
I sometimes wonder what it does to me, a sensitive person, being surrounded by all these high levels of stimulation. I am aware of the violence on TV, the fear-driven news cycles, the feeling that this earth is not safe. Eating becomes a form of self-violence, consuming food that is not really food at all, but a toxic food-like substance. Food that has drug-like effects, but no medicine. (If you want medicinal foods, look to plants). Foods that are designed to create a powerful hit, a rush of pleasure, and then a deep hollow feeling of dissatisfaction. No capitalist business was ever built on providing lasting satisfaction for consumers – just like our technological gadgets, processed food has its own kind of inbuilt obsolescence – it’s only designed to work for a short time, so you must keep buying more.
What can we do, when our brains are full of CRAVE, of desire, of wantingness? When we want so much to lose ourselves in the object of our passion – which could be anything we wish to possess or consume. We are chasing, chasing, seeking the moment of obliteration when our neural connections light up like a thousand Christmas trees, and for a moment, we are gone. I wanted it. I possessed it. This pleasure consumes me. Now give me more.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a deep inquiry into the ‘neurotic emotions’ that drive our lives. One of the primary neurotic emotions is known as desire and wantingness. It’s that feeling we get when we so desperately want to merge with an object outside of us. Desire and wantingness is a very human experience, but in the West, with our consumerist tendencies, our thirst for more has become the very fabric of the culture itself. We are invited to consume hundreds, if not thousands of times a day.
If we have a predisposition towards passion – like a personality type, which in Buddhist terms, is described as the Padma type – it will be extremely challenging to navigate the constant barrage of stimulants. In this way someone who is naturally loving, passionate, warm and open-hearted finds themselves deeply entrenched in these addictive patterns of wanting and seeking, hurting themselves as they descend into habitual and then addictive neural pathways. These pathways are so hard to unhook yourself from that people spend years in the same loops, wanting to change and never quite getting out of the grip of their substance or behaviour.
Tibetan Buddhism also teaches us that beneath the neurotic emotion is pure, clear wisdom. There is simply a movement of energy within our being, and this is not a problem at all. When we stay with the clear energy before our neurotic interpretations, we can identify the presence of passion WITHOUT an object. Passion with an object sends us into the trance of seeking, possessing, and the cycle repeats ad infinitum – we want our substance, we get our substance, we want more. We want certainty, we try to grip onto and control life, we lose control, and round we go again.
I have been practising experiencing passion without an object, and for me it feels like a warm flow of energy from the heart up and out into the world. It’s a loving feeling, an embrace. The clear and wise energy beneath the neurotic emotion is known as “Discriminating Awareness Wisdom” because as our passion draws us closer to life, we experience “tremendous interest and inquisitiveness. Everything is seen in its own distinct way, with its own particular qualities and characteristics.” (Choyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the teacher of Reggie Ray, my meditation teacher).
I know that craving, desire, wantingness, MORE MORE MORE – when this arrives within me, I must retreat into the body. The benefits of body awareness in these moments are twofold. First, I can learn to stay with the pure physicality of the pull – the warm tug towards the object – and remember that I CAN experience passion and desire without attachment to the object, usually food. I can just STAY WITH and ALLOW the feeling of wanting and desire rising within me.
Secondly, once I am anchored in my body, I get access to the body’s felt-sense of my natural limits. My body knows when she is overstretched, overstuffed, or fed toxic substances. She registers this and offers me feedback in the form of sensations. In this way my body creates safe boundaries around my consumption, warning me if it’s too much, too fast, or too toxic. These sensations may have been overridden, overlooked, ignored and avoided for many years, living as we do from the space of the head, not the belly brain. But these feedback systems are still there, buried beneath the rubble of many years of habitual disembodiment. We do some neural untangling – questioning the conditioned mind again and again – and pointing our minds back onto the body to access our whole selves, and our deeper wisdom.
Questioning the conditioned mind looks like this – a moment of awareness and spaciousness. We are literally CREATING SPACE (second principle of the IEWIN Process) between ourselves and our habitual ways of being in the world:
Is it true, what you are telling me?
Do I truly need MORE of this?
Do I need this at all?
And if we get CURIOUS – the third stage of the IEWIN Process – we can even look deeper beneath these habitual thought and behaviour patterns:
Where did this message originate from, that nothing is ever truly ENOUGH for me? That I always need to have more, do more, be more? Is this messaging still helpful to me? Do I want to hold onto it?
How is this message reinforced by the highly CONSUMERIST and CAPITALIST society and culture we inhabit?
And finally –
Do I truly have to consume this? Or can I hold my desire, my passion, without attaching it to an object?
Is it in my bodymind’s best interests to do this?
Could I please have a moment to consult my belly?
We must learn, in the moment, to breathe and feel our insides, to dive into the inner spaces of our body. This is crucial. Without practices that support you to access your body, on the inside, it’s impossible to know what is true, what is reality. This is the beautiful and tender principle of BEING IN YOUR BODY, the fifth principle of the IEWIN Process.
Our brains, full of crave and desire, cannot argue with a bloated belly, a headache, or the sudden awareness that we are holding a crushing sense of fear and dread. We learn to listen to the deeper layers of emotional and physical sensations that lie beneath the noise of the conditioned mind. We begin to understand that our thoughts and habitual impulses are not accurate reflections of reality, and must be questioned.
By practising the Process in this way, we align ourselves back towards our natural eater, and we practice, time and time again, dropping the conditioned mind, the habitual responses to life we learned along the way. We recognise when our minds are actually pointing us towards self-abuse and dysfunction – in innocence, the mind is trying to protect us, to keep us safe from feeling or registering too much – and we reorientate back towards reality, this moment now, and our body awareness.
This is not a linear process. We get stuck, we start again, (the sixth step of the IEWIN Process) we become conscious, we fall asleep, we overstretch ourselves, we go back into food and TV. We don’t need to turn the awakening of our natural eater into yet another self-improvement project, yet another stick to beat ourselves with. We flow with the seasons of our being, recognising that there are periods of intense craving and wanting, and periods when our natural eater seems to be more available to us, more accessible. That’s OK, and part of the journey.
My wish for you is freedom. May you be free, and well, and may your natural eater awaken.
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