Today is Halloween – we have a carved pumpkin by our front door and apple cider on the stove, a hot pot of soup awaiting the evening’s festivities.
Come tomorrow, for La Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead, we’ll set up our ofrenda, our altar and offerings for our departed loved ones. We’ll honor my grandmother who died just a week ago, our ancestors and grandparents, those ‘rafter dwellers’ who bless and keep us.
Holidays – with their rituals and traditions – can feed us with joy, remembrance, and celebration. They can satiate our hunger for belonging, play, and meaning. They can connect us with those we love, our family and friends.
Holidays can also pique and prick the very same hungers they satiate. On holidays, you may find yourself filled with a longing for togetherness – you may want to be close with others, to be celebrating, to be connecting, to be feasting or together in some way.
When we find ourselves alone or feeling lonely on holidays – even if we’re with other people – it’s easy to look to substitutes for connection, to try and find other ways to hold love close.
When food fills the hole
A popular substitute for closeness is food: it’s warm, filling, nurturing, tastes good, is a symbol of hearth and home, and is often tied to memories of loved ones and special times.
So when we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and it’s a holiday – a time when these longings may prick us the most – we may notice that we become immediately hungry, or start thinking about food.
Food may feel like the answer to our hungers!
It’s not that food is wrong – for feasting can be a glorious way of being together and celebrating the bounty of life.
But we can feel when we turn food into something else – when it becomes an object of craving, or a way of habitually caring for our emotional needs.
Then no amount of food can satisfy us, no matter how much we eat – for we’re tying to meet needs with food that food isn’t meant to fill.
Feeding your village
If you find that the holidays bring up strong fears about overeating, or you find yourself feeling particularly isolated and craving food, what often helps the most is dropping a focus on fighting off the food cravings and turning your heart towards feeding your hunger for connection.
In my classes, we explore our internal village, all the beings in our lives – loved ones, friends, teachers, pets, spiritual figures, places we’ve loved, mentors, friendships – that are a part of our inner landscape of connection.
This exercise is rich and powerful for folks as they deepened their sense of connection with their village. This process can bring up gratitude, delight and surprise as we open to the richness of connection we’ve had. And it can bring up grief as we mourn our losses, those places where connection was absent.
Looking more deeply at our internal village can also feed our longing. We may notice a heightened desire to pay attention, to notice those sparks of connection and connectedness that mark our days, and to fully acknowledge, embody and embrace them.
By focusing on those places of connection, they actually become stronger, and more alive – a living thing that feeds us all.
When you feel disconnected, rather than focusing on whether you should or shouldn’t eat, what can help is to feed your village. This strengthens your sense of togetherness, calms the limbic (emotional) brain, and softens the drive for food.
I know this can feel amorphous – how do you feed your village?
To make this concrete, here are 4 examples:
Start your day with connection – for me, this often includes spiritual practice, reaching out to friends or a loved one, and making an intentional effort to connect with the people whose physical paths I cross that day – even if it’s just the person next to me pumping gas.
You can think of this as a metta, lovingkindness, or mindfulness practice of slowing down and paying attention. It’s akin to a form of reverence, where we allow those moments of connection to exist in all their fullness, and then to truly fill us, to bring us a sense of satiation and rest.
In my experience, the more I slow down and pay attention, the more I’m filled by the connection that is around me, which helps me feel less despair about the other side, the holes of lack.
Share your appreciation – during a very difficult spell of depression, one of the practices that helped me was a daily practice of picking one person I was thankful for and writing them a note to tell them how they’d impacted my life.
This practice brought unexpected gifts and became a circle of blessing, enriching all within its folds. I noticed when I did this that the depression hurt less – as I felt less isolated the pain felt more manageable.
When we remember those people who’ve touched our lives, not only do we appreciate the gifts they’ve given us, and strengthen bonds of relationship, but we also remind ourselves of the ways we’ve been supported and cared for. It’s a way of gently opening the heart to receive and opening the heart to your internal village, to those people who have fed you.
Eat a meal from your ancestors – bring your family’s foods to the table more regularly, as a way of bringing them close. When I miss my family, I cook their food – I may make my grandmother’s marinara sauce or the beef soup my mother made when I was a kid. Eating a beloved meal to heighten connection is not disorder or pathology – rather, it’s a way of connecting deeply through food, something cultures all over the world have done for centuries.
Ask for help – neediness is not a dirty word, although in modern culture it ofen feels akin to one, where autonomy and self sufficiency are idolized and idealized. From an attachment and communal point of view, our needs and inherent neediness are holy, a sacred tapestry that weaves our hearts and lives together.
Everyone longs to give, for our hearts are made to serve. We feel happiest when we’re in connection, we’re in the cycle of blessing, of blessing and being blessed.
Asking for help allows others to give to us. It weaves this tapestry together. It’s a form of humility, for in asking for another’s help we acknowledge this interdependence. We open to receiving the love that longs to flow to us.
Asking for help is how our lives ebb and flow together in a sea of belonging, for it is our neediness, not our strength, that connects us to each other.
Francis Weller, a teacher and therapist of the soul, has a beautiful way of describing this dance:
“In traditional cultures there’s this idea of the ecology of the sacred. When this ecology is functioning correctly, there is a beautiful call and response between suffering, and gift…my suffering might be an opportunity for you to bring forth your medicine. But in this culture I’m taught to stay silent with my pain – to almost feel ashamed of it…[This can leave us] spiritually unemployed…to not feel needed.”
If I’m trying to carry life all by myself, I can’t open to the gifts that others long to give. But when I ask for help, I join the circle, the dance of belonging.
It’s vulnerable, I know – and I encourage you to take the first step. How can you ask for help? How can you allow another to give to you?
Connection is allowing more of life in
We long to feel more connected, yet we can also have so many barriers to connection. That’s because whenever we connect, we open. We receive, and take more in. We feel more.
We allow more of life to touch us, to intermingle with us. It’s a deepening of intimacy, of knowing and being known.
Being known may be our deepest longing. And it’s often tied to our biggest fears – will I be loved as I am? Am I enough? Do I belong? Am I whole?
So it takes courage to open, to breathe life into our longings. And, I believe, it’s worth the risk: for it’s in connection and meaning and presence that we feel most fully alive. It’s in intimacy that we are known. And it’s in intimacy that we can lay our fears to rest, that we can test them and discover: ah, there are others who get me, who understand my soul.
And it’s in intimacy that we are satiated, how our longings and hungers are filled.