It’s funny… mindful eating is something I’ve really resisted, despite my interest in meditation and other mindfulness practices. I’ve been introduced to the concept of mindful eating many times, and it’s always made sense to a part of me, while another part of me has rejected it, saying, ‘That’s too hard. I like my food habits. I don’t want to change.” As much as I’ve felt pained by the consequences of mindless eating in my life, there’s still a part of me that defends it, finds something comfortable in it, maybe even sees it as necessary.
You know, on some level this just makes sense. A lot of us self-soothe with food. After all, food was our very first comforting experience in life, after the wildly traumatic birth experience, where most of us were forced out of the warm, safe, happy womb by means of a painful journey through the birth canal. This – just to remind you – consisted of literally hours of our whole body (including our soft little baby skull!) being tightly squeezed, until we dropped out into the cold and overwhelmingly bright and noisy world, in our tiny bodies which we probably weren’t even aware of before this wild moment, let alone able to operate or control. Most of us in the Western world were birthed into a sterile hospital room surrounded by (essentially) large aliens in white outfits with metal instruments… we had no ability to filter things out yet, so it all came at us at once: every sound in the room, as well as whatever sounds we could hear from outside the room; every shape, color, and texture; every reflective surface shining shimmering lights on and around us. All the sensations on our skin were new to us – dryness was new. The texture of latex was new. The feeling of a slight draft in the room was new. Talk about sensory overload!!! And in the middle of all that chaos we were the absolute definition of helpless, totally at the mercy of whatever force governed this strange new environment we found ourselves in.
I wonder what time perception is like, in those first moments? Did each moment stretch out like a lifetime, or did it pass by fast, in a nonsensical frenzy? Or both? At the end of their lives, isn’t it common for people to say it all passed by in a heartbeat? So what does that short-by-our-standards period of time feel like to the baby who has no concept of time yet?
Isn’t that just life? The hard, painful moments seem to stretch out indefinitely, excruciatingly, endlessly. Yet as soon as they hit us, they’re gone. In fact, we leave those moments in the dust and forget about them.
This image I’m creating about being born might just be speculative reconstruction, but whether it’s accurate or not, I think we can agree that the experience still just sounds… pretty rough, right? It can seem like a joke when people talk about birth trauma, but when you think about it for a second, how could the birth experience not be traumatic? It’s possibly the most terrifying thing we go through in our whole lives.
As awful as I believe my own birth must have been at the time, I also believe it was perfectly counteracted by what happened next – an experience matching the intensity of the birth itself, but in the opposite direction, towards goodness. What happened was this: I was handed to my mother, the strongest woman I know, who radiated only goodness and love towards me from her battle-worn and fierce body. She pulled me to her bosom and cradled me. She looked me in the eyes with love. Nothing was left after the long battle but pure, vulnerable, unashamed love. In her presence I found something that I already somehow knew in this strange environment; I knew her, and I felt safe. And instinctively, I sought out the nipple, and drank a sweet nectar from this being of love, a magical, nourishing substance made literally just for me from the one who will, at the end of it all, have loved me most fiercely. This was my first experience in the physical world of being cared for. Of being able to let go of the tension of a hard battle. Of realizing something along the lines of “it’s going to be okay”.
As I’m writing this out, I’m realizing that the whole birth experience pretty much sets up life itself. It’s all there, in those first moments. The good and the bad, the impossible challenge and the sweet relief that makes it all worth it. We just get to keep cycling through it all, keep getting to revisit the same things in different forms, hoping we get better as we go. And even as we grow, we’re always helpless against the infinite force of life, which brings us where it will, oftentimes to unfamiliar and scary places… but it always works out somehow, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, it always dips back up after it dips down.
Returning to the present… I think it’s good to visit our distant past sometimes, to remind ourselves how truly far we’ve come, just in a portion of a lifetime. It helps us develop compassion for ourselves, to remember that we once were children- we were babies! – and we did the best we could with what was in front of us when we started forming our earliest habits. I have to remember my little baby self sometimes, when I’m angry at myself for finding comfort in food. This habit has momentum that literally started in the first moments of my life! That’s a lot of momentum and power!
And maybe it’s not such a bad thing? Maybe it’s something I became ashamed of at some point, because of cultural influences, learned insecurities, body-consciousness… who knows. I think we have a hard time collectively with our own neediness, our own helplessness. In America we don’t like to talk about our struggles, really. We don’t like to show our emotions, the parts of us we consider to be weaknesses.
I think the true effect of whatever our first trauma was, be it birth or some other uncomfortable experience – one way or another, it had to happen – might have been that we associated pain with our own helplessness. Maybe we blamed the pain on ourselves, thinking, if only we were stronger, I would be able to do something to make this terrible feeling stop. If I was less weak, I would feel less pain.
[End part 2. Stay tuned for a follow-up tomorrow…]