Friday, April 30, 2010

Change the Question

Here is an old dialog between me and the seductive voices of compulsion promising comfort and happiness:
Me ~ feeling bored and not wanting to tackle anything on my to-do list.

Voices ~ "Here, we'll take care of you. You don't need to be feeling bored and down. Let's just comfort ourselves with a little treat in town, shall we? We need to go to the grocery store for milk anyway. Let's just see if we can find something to make us feel better."

M ~ "I don't really need to go to town. It can wait until tomorrow.

V ~ "Well, yes, sure it can. But why not do it now and get it over with. Besides, we deserve a treat. What shall we have?"

M ~ "My pants are getting much too tight. I really shouldn't eat any more sweets."

V ~ "Well we can find something with nuts or something that's delicious but not so sweet."

M ~ "No, I really don't think so. Not this time."

V ~ "It'll be OK, just this once. And we'll feel much better."

M ~ "But I really shouldn't."

V ~ "Never mind about that. It's no big deal. We'll get something reasonable..."

The argument would go on like that for a long time, until at some point I would just give up and know that I would buy a bag of candy coated peanuts and eat all of them in the car on the way home, even as I was telling myself I could save some for tomorrow or to share with my husband. And now, stuffed, uncomfortable, shamed and regretful, where was the happiness pledged by the voices? Definitely not as promised.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas writes about this type of self-conversation in her book Holy Hunger, and says this:

The argument would escalate rapidly, inexorably, until my mind was filled with the din. In effect, I'd be distracted from the grief, and the voice of sorrow would be silenced. The clamorous debate would absorb my attention, eclipse my awarness, extinguish every other concern, smother every nuance of feeling, until absolutely nothing mattered to me but the single question: Should I eat right now or not?

Re-reading that passage, my idea is to change the question, to be vigilant about Should I eat... questions and short-circuit them by asking some other question. Change the question. One possibility is to distract myself with a question on a totally different subject, such as: Which one thing on my to-do list can I get done right now? What were the names of all of my gradeschool teachers? What fabrics might I use for the next quilt I make? Another possibility is to seek awareness of the original feeling and explore it more deeply by asking such questions as: What might be underneath my feelings of boredom? What might be contributing to my feelings of boredom today?

Yes, it's day-14 of abstinence, yet periodically, the siren song of Should I eat... pops into my mind. Whenever this happens, I will notice it and change the question.

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