Here in Texas where I live, it has felt like summer for a long time now. It’s about, oh, 98 degrees every day – so it’s hot. And what I was thinking about was how we care for feelings of deprivation.
We’ve been doing a lot of swimming. It’s how we stay cool in the Texas heat. When I go swimming with my kiddos and my family and my husband, we typically stop and get something like ice cream, or they even have these kind of all-natural snow cones here in Austin at one of our favorite swimming places.
I don’t eat a lot of sugar. I noticed there was this real longing for me the last time that we went out and everyone was enjoying their treats, and these feelings of deprivation popped up for me of it’s not fair, I really wish I could eat that ice cream, and just this kind of little achy loss in my gut and in my heart.
Missing the tastes of summer
It’s not even so much that I was missing the taste of ice cream as much as I missing the experience of really enjoying that essence of summer, because when I think about summer, and I imagine you might think about it, as well, summer’s kind of a time when we just let our hair down, and we relax, and we kick back, we go on vacation, we wear shorts and flip flops, so it’s just a more casual, relaxed time. If you’ve got kids, you’re not taking your kids to school every day, so you might stay up a little bit later. With that ease of summer also comes a sense of celebration or ease with how we eat, so you might be eating ice cream, or you might be someone who’s enjoying little fizzy drinks by the side of the pool, or when you’re out in the evening with your girlfriends, or on a date with your partner.
If you’re someone who’s choosing not to eat the ice cream, or let’s say you’re someone who doesn’t drink, how do you relate to those feelings without white knuckling it and without kind of suppressing them, or shaming them, or pushing them away? How can you relate kindly to that feeling of, “Ouch, I feel left out,” or, “Ouch, I feel deprived?” That’s what’s been coming up in my heart.
So in this podcast, I’m going to talk about three pathways that have helped me and that I hope might help you in relating to your feelings of deprivation.
The first pathway
So the first thing that comes to mind is really feeling that “ouch” of deprivation itself, in so many words just to pause and to allow yourself to feel that, “This hurts.” Now, intellectually I know that eating sugar is not in my best interest. I really know that. And if, let’s say, you’re someone who’s not drinking, you might intellectually get, “OK. It’s much better for me not to eat the fizzy little drink in the summertime.”
But I think there’s a big difference between what we know to be true and what we feel to be true. I’ve known intellectually for over 20 years that it’s not in my best interest to eat sugar, and yet those feelings some time they still come up, that feeling of, “Ouch, I really wish this wasn’t the case.” What I have learned is that that’s OK, that if I don’t make that feeling wrong and just allow it to be there, and I don’t feel like I have to fight against it, or suppress it, that it can be a really beautiful opening, which I’ll talk about in the second pathway.
But for now, what I would just say is if you notice that feeling of deprivation pop up, just allow it to be there. It’s OK it’s there.
It feels like deprivation for me, it’s like a little hollow right behind my ribcage, right under my ribcage and my solar plexus. Sometimes it’s a little ache in my heart and my chest. It’s this little kind of hollow, achy feeling. It’s this feeling of loss. It’s a mini grieving. I was having a mini grieving process while I watched my family enjoy their sweet sugar treats, and I wasn’t participating.
I actually have the highest esteem for grief, which might sound a little radical in our culture, because we’re not necessarily a culture who values “negative feelings” like grief. But what I’ve learned about grieving, the best way I can describe it is how one of my mentors, Dr. Gordon Neufeld puts it, and he says, ‘When we’re confronted with something we can’t change, one of life’s limits, we become changed by what we can’t change.’
In other words, when we allow ourselves to grieve and feel that sadness of, “Ouch, I really wish I could eat the ice cream,” or, “I really wish I could enjoy that fizzy drink,” when we can accept that “no” of, “Wow, I wish it were different, and I can accept it,” we become changed by what we can’t change. I find that so beautiful. And how we honor what we can’t change is by grieving what we wish were different.
So it doesn’t have to be a huge grieving process. I’ve done a lot of huge grieving processes over my inability to eat sugar. So how they kind of come up for me today is like these little grieving processes, where I just feel those feelings again and go, “Oh, yeah, I really wish I could eat it.” They’re usually not as intense as they were when I was first really coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to eat sugar. For you, they might be different.
You might be at that place where you’re coming to terms with something you can’t change, because what we’re really talking about here – honoring life’s limits. I’ll talk about this more on the third pathway. But you might have a limit in your life, and you’re feeling that “ouch” of, “Oh, I’m feeling that little loss of I wish it were different.” So just saying to yourself in so many words, “Ouch, this hurts,” and bringing this kind of kind attention to that hurt.
The second pathway
Then the second pathway is opening to compassion through that “ouch,” and what I love about this path is it opens it up a little bit, because when I’m feeling that “ouch” of, “Oh, this hurts, this limit in my life I don’t like,” I can start to feel like the world’s stacked against me. In other words, I can almost create these two boxes, where everyone else is in a box where they can eat what they want, and they can eat ice cream and enjoy sugar, and then I’m in this little box over here, where I’m not able to eat what I want.
So I’m creating a very subtle form of separation, where I’m putting everyone else in this box, where they get what they want, and I’m over here feeling left out, feeling separate. It can even go to a place of feeling a little bit punished, like, “Why me?” in a victim state, like, well, “Why am I the one who can’t ice cream?”
When I opened to compassion, I brought in that space, and I actually put all of us in the same circle.
Instead of looking at everyone else as being someone who can do whatever they want, can eat whatever they want, and me over here not being able to do that, I put us in this same human circle of belonging, where I recognize all of us bump up into life’s limits at one point or another.
Their limit might not be in the form of sugar. It might be in the form of something else. But all of us bump up into one of life’s “no’s.” It’s something we all share, that feeling of, “I wish it were different,” the feeling of, “I wish I could get out from under this,” that feeling of, “I wish this wasn’t the case.” That’s something all of us experience.
So it’s not taking it so personally, in other words, because if I ask myself what I’m believing to be true when I’m feeling deprived, I’m believing that I’m the only one who has to say no to the sugar, and it’s not fair, and it shouldn’t be this way. I’m usually tight and tense. I’m feeling a little bit punished, almost like a child who isn’t given ice cream when everybody else is. If I open that space and really look under those beliefs and question them a bit, I can recognize, “Wow. Is it true that I’m the only one that bumps up against that ‘no’?” That while, yes, my family might be enjoying ice cream, that they all bump against life’s “no’s.” All of humanity does.
Then when I put myself in that same circle as everyone else, and when you put yourself in that same common boat, that big boat of our shared common humanity, there’s this softness and peace in the body and the heart that comes from that, because we’re not looking at, “Well, they get everything, and I don’t get anything.” It’s not like our nose is pressed up against the glass, watching everyone else have fun while we feel left out.
When we open to that shared common humanity and that compassion, it’s like a gentle exhale, and rather than seeing people as adversaries, it’s like they’re just my fellow traveler. So we can use our challenges and our “ouches” to grow that compassion. I love the way Kristin Neff puts it, who studies self-compassion, wrote a beautiful book called “Self-Compassion.” The way she describes this is, ‘Others feel this, too.’ In other words, I’m not the only one.
The third pathway
So the last pathway I’d like to share with you is after you’ve just felt that “ouch” itself and opened to compassion, another thing that I found really helpful is opening to the essence of the need itself.
In other words, when I am looking at my children enjoying ice cream, what’s coming up for me is this true delight for just the essence of summertime itself. It’s that sense of ease and relaxation of all the summers that I’ve had before and the summer that I’m having now. That is truly what I’m seeking or longing for, and in some ways the ice cream is just a symbol of that. It’s just one tangible way of having that feeling come about. Are there other ways of having that same essence of summertime be met?
So it’s digging under your needs, and on the surface the need might look like a cookie or a drink or ice cream or a shopping trip to the mall, but I’m guessing that underneath those surface needs there’s something really deeper, like a need for beauty, or a need for celebration, or a need for joy, or a need for connection, or a need for ease and relaxation, or a need even just to savor, to slow down and savor that essence of summertime, or just slow down and really feel the sun on your skin, or feel the warm air, to lie in the grass and see the leaves on the trees blowing in the wind, slow down and savor to feel that essence, to feel that sense of beauty, or connection, or joy, just to take it in.
So in many ways it’s expanding that space and saying, “Well, what’s another way that I can meet that need?” If I’m saying no to this form, say the ice cream or the drink or the new outfit, what’s another way I can give myself what I’m truly, truly needing?
So I invite you to play with those this week, and I’d love to hear what you uncover. What does the essence of summertime really mean to you? And when you’re feeling deprived, what are you believing to be true, what are you feeling, and how can opening to your feelings of deprivation be an act of kindness towards yourself and an act of kindness towards everyone, towards all of us who deal with those feelings at one time or another?