Here it is the heat of the afternoon, a time of being cooked and stewed by the sun in August, the hottest month of the year where I live.
The heat has me thinking of a quote by Viktor Frankl – “What is to give light must endure burning” – and all the ways we get cooked and stewed in the healing journey.
I wanted to take some time to share more about this idea and how it relates to your journey with food. It dovetails off last week’s post where I wrote about walking through the gate of vulnerability – a necessary step (and a catalyst) to heal food compulsions like overeating, sugar obsessing, or binge eating.
The myth of “I should’ve known better”
A very common and painful myth that can arise with any struggle – particularly a chronic one – is the idea that ‘I should’ve known better:’ that your food pain was something you ‘should’ve controlled better.’
This past week, I’ve been reflecting upon forgiveness, and I wonder – perhaps one part of forgiveness is releasing this idea that we should’ve known or done or coped better. For holding onto the idea that we ‘should’ve known better’ is a subtle but powerful way we try to hold onto control – for we want to believe that everything is within our power, and our hands.
In a paradoxical way, blaming ourselves for not doing better is how we try to protect ourselves from feeling the deeper pain of powerlessness, grief or loss. Even though it hurts, it’s a subtle way we try to regain control when things don’t go the way we hoped.
The still point of forgiveness
Forgiveness, by contrast, asks us to let go of both control, and our desire to avoid pain.
It’s a subtle but powerful shift where we turn away from blame (of self and others), assigning responsibility, and all our expectations of how we should’ve done – even though it’s incredibly difficult to do so – and move into a place of deep acceptance:
“I did the best I could with the knowledge, skills, and capacity that I had at the time. If I could have known or done better, I would have.”
It’s a still point of inaction, where we stop trying to figure things out, stop trying to make things different, and stop trying ‘to create a better past,’ to quote Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield.
This still point is a place of vulnerability, humility and exquisite tenderness.
For as we move out of guilt, blame, shame and judgment – and even the very well intentioned desire to understand and make sense of our experiences – we move into a space of presence, of pure feeling, where we simply feel the pain of loss itself, the grief for that which we wish were different.
‘The Well of Grief’
David Whyte captures this experience eloquently and simply in his poem, The Well of Grief:
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
Oh, to forgive. It is to grieve, and it is to love. It is to be expanded – not contracted – when things don’t go the way we had hoped.
The grand belonging
When we directly touch our grief – all the ways we ‘wished for something else’ – we not only touch our own grief, but we also touch each other’s. We touch our ancestor’s grief, what Jung calls ‘the lament of the dead.’ We see all the coins of our collected heartache, present, past and future. In this space of shared vulnerability, our individual pain transforms into our collective human pain.
In this opening, we come home to a grander belonging. What an irony – that it is through failure, tenderness, and limitation – and not the fulfillment of our ideals – that we open our hearts to ourselves, to the human experience, and to each other.
How grieving brings rest
I suspect that until we touch and face our grief, we will continue to ‘work’ to feel a sense of worthiness and loveability. We will try really, really hard. We will work to fix our pain, we will work to control our compulsive behavior, we will work to control our weight and binges, and we will work to feel loved and loveable.
It is exhausting, all this trying.
When we face our grief – especially the grief of limit, all the ways we’ve fallen short of our own expectations – we stop trying. It feels like humiliation, because at first we see all the ways we don’t meet our own ideals, all the ways we haven’t ‘measured up.’
But this space of grief – opening to our own limits and imperfection – is actually a place of deep rest. We can set down our blame, our guilt, our frustration, our endless trying, all our strategies and ‘hustles for worthiness’ and rest in the sense of, “I am flawed and imperfect and full of mistakes, and I am deeply loved.”
What a relief! So little to prove, so little to have measure up to, so little to ‘get’ or achieve or have – for we are already loved.
As poet Danna Faulds says, “I and you and all of us are more than enough.”
How forgiveness leads to change with food
It is another irony that once we accept our limits, our typical behavior, and our patterns around our pain, the way we respond to them changes, too.
I see this happening with food in concrete ways like:
- You ask for help instead of hiding – rather than trying hard to control binges on your own, you’re open with others and ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed
- You experience less spirals of bingeing – you forgive yourself when you make mistakes much more quickly, easing the post binge guilt and shame that feeds more overeating
- You learn from your mistakes – mistakes are included as part of the journey and become less of a ‘big deal’ – you feel much less perfectionism about getting it ‘right’
- You give yourself what you need – you feel less resentful and less rebellious towards limits. You can no to yourself when you need to say no.
So today, here I think of all our limits and losses, all the ways we have not loved well or been loved in the ways we’d like.
All the countless binges and overeating and hatred and vitriol sent out towards our bodies. All the shame and sense of brokenness.
To know, to know in the marrow of our bones, that all the stories of our unworthiness are not true, that our ideals are not achievements we need to strive to attain, that we are loved, beloved, home.
How odd and how beautiful that it is grief – and yes, the heart – that takes us there.
Like the endearing Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings, and like the small children who climbed into Jesus’ lap, it is the ‘least of these’ within ourselves that lead us home, and into love.