Addiction

Response to a letter.

Dear Toni,

I am writing because of an addiction to overeating. As you have pointed out before with other addic-tions, there seem to be two habitual trains of thoughts. They seem to battle it out, with the one habit who is tied to overeating, the craze for something crunchy in the mouth, the searching for a food which will “fill the bill,” the seeming lack of awareness of what is happening, the mechanical nature of the hands going from food to mouth, the lack of chewing thoroughly and finally the lack of sense of ease in the stomach area and at the same time a “pleasantness of numbness,” or so thinking interprets the state. The other habitual pattern of thinking, “who didn’t get its way” comes in with scolding, the fear of the lack of control, images of becoming very obese and unattractive.

How does one work with this? There is the fear that just looking at it all isn’t enough, that there will be the continuing gaining of weight with the one habit of thinking that seems to want to overeat, to feel numb, winning. There is also the knowing that “I” may never have control over the com-pulsion to overeat. And Toni, that is truly terrifying to the self. “I don’t want to live as a fat person,” thought screams!

Sometimes there is the momentary realization that the eating isn’t the real problem, it’s the addiction to the two habitual trains of thought, the one who wants to eat moderately and healthfully, and the one who wants the numb yet over-full feeling.

I suppose by writing to you, the self wants some answer rather than just looking at all of this endlessly.

Dear _______,

You have observed what is going on in wanting to eat, eating more, getting to feelings of numbness and also the discomfort in the stomach area, thoughts that chide one’s lack of control and the haunting image of living as a fat person.

In the end you mention the occasional realization that eating isn’t the problem but rather addiction to habitual trains of thought, and then the implied question: “Is there something else beside this endless looking?”

Questioning, looking, and discovering need not end as long as we are alive — it is the antidote to our deeply conditioned unawareness. But there can also be a genuine interest in experimenting with what is being observed, questioning it thoroughly. Can you give careful attention to the very moment you find yourself reaching for the food, realizing how it is driven and supported by fantasy of taste pleasures, actually salivating at the thoughts, and truly wondering what happens if one doesn’t go with the alluring fantasy, simply abstaining, not out of principle, but out of genuine curiosity?

This isn’t easy because there is a powerful momentum in the urge to fulfill desire. But — can there, for one moment, be a shift in energy in which attention takes the place of fantasy? Waking up from living in a dream? In that shift from compulsion to simple attention desire has a chance to abate. What remains is what is here — the breathing, the refrigerator humming, an open listening space in which everything has room to come and go freely.

The difficulty is that the brain is tirelessly providing all kinds of rationalizations, excuses, justifications for doing what is most craved in the dream. Is it possible to see this activity for what it is, not be deceived by it, but simply take note of it, remaining with bare attention one moment at a time?

This is the life of meditation.

The sun is breaking through the cloudy sky, shining in all its glory.