The Good, the Bad, and the Chocolate
Someone critiqued my blog recently, saying he wished I would write about some of the good things that happened in my life, and not just my personal challenges. He wanted to hear more of what I do well. I hear that. And yet, my foibles and challenges are the places where l have learned the most and which provide lessons to share with my students and readers. Someday I may write a blog about my proudest moments. But not today.
Today, I want to share a short vignette about chocolate.
I have known for decades that dark chocolate can contribute to my migraines. But that knowledge hasn’t stopped me from eating quite a lot of chocolate. I once even had a friend deliver chocolate to me when she met me in India because I had depleted my supply earlier than anticipated. That gives you some idea. (Watch my video about loving your food cravings.)
One morning last winter, I was preparing to lead a Day of Mindfulness for a group of about twelve people. The day before, I had baked homemade chocolate chip cookies for the attendees. You must know that I ate bits of batter in addition to one of the freshly baked cookies. On the day of, just before I set up the meditation hall, I had one more of the delicious cookies.
As I set down the first cushions, I was hit with a horrific, stomach turning migraine. I managed to get through that day with a lot of support (and a nap during lunch), but I felt discouraged by my own addictive behavior. I judged myself as lacking in the will-power necessary to stop eating something that seemed to be a poison for my body.
A few days later, I told a friend about the incident and shared my shaming inner voice: “WHY DO I ALWAYS DO THIS TO MYSELF! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?”
She wisely suggested a reframe. What if, she counseled me, your inner voice said, “I love chocolate so much, that I am willing to risk getting a migraine” instead of all that self-judgment? This one change was revolutionary. My new story contained no self-shaming and no good/bad dichotomy — only the truth of my experience.
When I reached for chocolate, instead of saying to someone else or to myself: “Why do I always do this to myself?!,” I said simply, “I love chocolate so much that I am willing to risk a migraine.” Pretty quickly, something shifted inside me. I lost the judgement I had always attached to eating chocolate. I started eating chocolate only when I really wanted it, without judgement and with the full knowledge and acceptance of the risk I was taking. Amazingly, I have not had a chocolate-induced migraine since.
I recently read something by the Buddhist teacher Rodney Smith who said, “The fruit of the dharma is the end of polarities.”
Polarities, or opposites, are generated by our small-s self (sometimes referred to as our ego). Polarities create conflict between “good” foods and “bad” foods, “good” behaviors and “bad” behaviors, “good” people and “bad” people. These opposites can be the very source of our suffering.
Smith goes on to say that when we reach the end of polarities, when we stop pitting our ignorance against our wisdom, there is nonreferenced ease. Meaning there’s only ease. There is no self feeling ease, there’s just Ease. Could the end of polarities bring the nirvana we are seeking?
Smith’s teaching applies to eating chocolate and to everything else we think, say or do. When we cling to our polarities, making our way the “good” way (or the “bad” way) we generate the opposite polarity and create separation and striving in one instant. When I stopped thinking I was bad for eating chocolate, the struggle evaporated.
We do this with our yoga and mindfulness practices, too. So, the very struggle against our unmindfulness can be the thing that keeps us from waking up. We label being present as “good” and being distracted as “bad”. If I go to yoga or meditation class, then I’m good. If I sit home and watch another episode of Friends, then I’m bad. Imagine what it would be like to let go of this polarity. Without our good/bad polarity, we would need to trust each moment implicitly and completely. We would need to trust ourselves completely, too.
Experiencing each moment freshly is what Smith is moving us toward. It’s what Thich Nhat Hanh calls aimlessness — not running after something we call “good” and away from something we call “bad.” We are human, though. So I doubt we can ever completely remove polarities from our lives. What we can do is choose to focus less on opposites, less on our judgments of ourselves and others, less on comparing, and spend less time chasing future moments. Instead, we can exhale. And we can allow for the ease that arises in the moment, right here and right now. Whether we eat that next chocolate chip cookie or not.