Notes on a Buddhist path

Get to the cookie

October 17, 2011 By | 4 Comments

Night and day, why is it so
That this longin’ for you follows wherever I go ?
In the roarin’ traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you day and night ~ Cole Porter

Every spring and fall I embark on a cleanse. The list of what I can eat is decidedly shorter than what I deny myself for two, three, four weeks or more. No coffee, caffeine, sugar, salt, flour, dairy, fermented foods, soy, alcohol, exotic fruit, limited whole grains and legumes and no meat, except a little bit of chicken and fish a couple of times a week. Or more succinctly, as one of my friends put it, no fun.

I’m sure for many people cleanses are just another name for diets and although I invariably lose weight when I adhere to this finite food regimen that isn’t the primary reason I sign up for dietary boot camp twice a year. It’s a seasonal cleaning for my body, giving it a rest from overeating and unbalanced food choices that have taken up residence in my body over the many months and years of my life on the planet. In goes the steamed veggies and quinoa, out goes the last remnant of a sticky bun I ate three years ago. Along with flushing the pipes, detox reactions stir up including headaches, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, aches and pains. Accompanying the toxic physical tremors are bubbling emotional upheavals. Tears, loneliness, depression, elation and euphoria have room to meet and co-mingle with each other without being banished and stuffed along with a Thanksgiving turkey.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me in cleansing is noticing where my addictions and cravings lie around food. The voices of baked goods and café mochas are louder and sound much more alluring during my cleanses. Also for some reason they start to speak in male French accents. It’s in those moments, hours, days and weeks when I observe true hungry against the habits and patterns unrelated to sustenance that attempt to seduce me.

This year while watching my mind and body’s appetizing discourses I read Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD. Besides the well established suggestions to eat slowly, chew your food 40 times and put down your fork in-between bites, she presents a Buddhist approach of mindful awareness focusing not only on what we eat, but what calls us to eat. The Seven Kinds of Hunger (eye, nose, mouth, stomach, cellular, mind and heart) explains so well why the smell of fresh baked bread beckons us like a siren’s call or when we’ve had a particularly stressful day convincing ourselves that snuggling up with Ben & Jerry will somehow, at least for a few minutes, solve the problem. The fact I just remembered there is an open chocolate bar right now in my kitchen cabinet is my mind hunger trying to get me out of my chair and into that sweet treat when my stomach is completely satisfied and would complain later if I tried to push one more thing into it.

Cleansing creates a space between the hungers and the hand’s reach to satisfy one or more of the yearnings. It’s a chance to be fully present with what comes up, whether it’s remembering how your mother made you eat everything on your plate or forgiving your father who forgot to feed you and your siblings after he had been out drinking all night. It’s a time to go inward, into the flesh of our bodies and the tender piercings of the feelings that reside there as well. To be present with all that is without pushing it away or trying to get to the next meal, the next fix on the banquet table of cravings.

How many times do we tolerate or get through something so we can have our just desserts, in whatever form we want them? It isn’t just wanting something at the end of our long list of wants, but the fact that we want them all now. Even our Western societal names for eating impart a frantic urgency to get to the task at hand as quickly as possible. Short order cooks, food to go, drive through, take out, fast food. As an antidote to literally eating on the run, the slow food movement has been making inroads in many communities and it’s a welcome reminder to take a breath and truly enjoy what the farmers, the fish and fowl, the harvests of all our fruitful labours have gifted us at each meal.

Every week I meditate at my neighborhood zendo along with others from my sangha. After two 25 minute sits we partake in a community ritual in which we serve each other tea and a treat as an exercise in bringing our attention to the every day activities of eating and drinking. While I was on my cleanse I didn’t partake in the treat portion of our ceremony. Taking the cookie off the table, so to speak, made me aware of how often I coaxed myself through meditation just so I could get to the cookie. The tea portion of the ritual seemed like a poor runner up to a mini sugar high. Removing the sweet ingredient from my meditation practice allowed me to fully experience my tea: the warmth of the cup, the texture of it in my hands, the curve of its solidness and the sensation of the tea’s steam caressing my nose. Feeling my hand lift the cup and relishing the velvet liquid as it touched my lips. It was a glorious experience.

Saint Catherine of Siena, the 14th century scholastic philosopher and theologian, wrote “all the way to heaven is heaven.” Savouring heaven in each element of preparing food, inviting presence and patience to sit down with us at each meal, experiencing those heavenly bites with each sense open and welcoming changes our relationship with food and with our my bodies. Enough becomes a welcome state.

And, no, I didn’t get up to eat that chocolate bar. It’s sultry whispers faded as I fell back into writing. It can wait. And so can I.

Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, Shambhala copyright 2009

Night and Day, music and lyrics by Cole Porter, copyright 1932


  1. Once, in preparation for a long retreat, I had bought a large number of bars of chocolate to keep me going (hey, it was a retreat, not a fast!). Half a bar per day, which at the time was a major reduction in my usual intake. One day I decided to see just what this chocolate craving thing was about. I started to eat the chocolate VERY slowly, but allowed myself to eat as much chocolate as I wanted. At first, I noticed that my stomach wanted the chocolate, my mouth wanted the chocolate, and my mind wanted the chocolate. After a while, my stomach said “That’s enough for me”, but my mouth and mind said “We still want more”. So I carried on. A little while later my stomach said “Hey, I’m starting to feel a bit sick”, and my mouth said “Yeah, I’m satisfied”, but my mind said “No, I want more more more!!”. So I kept eating. Finally, when my stomach was saying “Please, enough already!” and my mouth was now tasting tar instead of chocolate, my mind finally said “OK, I’m now satisfied”. But since there were just two pieces left of that bar, I finished those off too. That must have been my ………. higher self talking. Yeah, that’s it, my higher self didn’t want to leave a mess behind! Good for it. Yeah.

    • I can SO relate to your chocolate triad! I’ve had that conversation in various forms with my Higher Self too. My, she has a sweet tooth!


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