Dieting and Awakening

I was struck today by the many similarities between dieting and awakening.

We diet because we’re overweight. We eat, repeatedly, the same old sweets and fried foods. We don’t like the way we look. We feel sluggish and frequently out of breath.

We are attracted to awakening because we feel weighed down by our repetitive thoughts. We don’t like the way we feel. We would like to have more energy. We want to feel the wind of deep breathing fill our chests.

Anyone who has put on more weight than they would like will be keenly aware that they often want MORE! And when we eat more than we should, we often feel uncomfortable after a meal. But there’s always room for dessert.

The ego is just the same. It always wants more. More for me is the perennial call of the ego. I am never enough and my world is never enough. I must have more of everything – except for what I don’t like. And, mirroring the craving for more, we will always demand of less what we find uncomfortable and scary. It’s only reasonable the ego asserts.

Anyone who has ever dieted knows how tough it is in the beginning. You’re sitting watching television in the evening and you’d really like some ice cream or some cookies or maybe a bowl of cereal (if you’re like me). The habitual drive to eat not only bigger portions, but more sweets is all but overwhelming. Our mind is consumed by desire.

And anyone who embarks on a spiritual path knows how insistent our habitual thinking is. We’re drawn into the same ego positions time after time. We must assert ourselves in countless situations. We are haunted by the energizing emotions of self-focused anger, envy, and, perhaps more than anything else – desire.

We can also see that food the makes us heavy and very much like thoughts and feelings that also make us feel sluggish. Imbibing in excessive eating and indulging in excessive thinking have much in common.

Those of us who have dieted know that over time, the insistent call for bigger portions, more meals, and more sweets, eventually dies down. Our spirits are buoyed up every time we get on the scale and discover that we weigh a pound less.

And those on the spiritual path know, that over time, the power of the personal voice to undermine presence also dies down. We can feel the current presence circulating in our lives and our habitual self-focused passions and desires don’t have quite the weight they had prior to our setting on this path.

Our diet is ended when we have reached our goal. But we know that to sustain what took so much work, sacrifice, and, less face it, physical pain, requires us to change how we eat and how we use our bodies.

And this is where the two differ. In one sense they are the same. The thinner body is encased in the large body of the dieter. The awakened self is always present even when our egos are most vigorous and unseen. But the goal of the spiritual path, if there is one (it’s debatable), is experienced in the very beginning of the process, for it is presence – the self prior to conceptual thought. Unlike physical dieting where time defines the length of the process, our presence is always there outside of the artificial limits of time.

Thought, like sweets and unhealthy food, don’t go away. The conditioned self is always ready to re-assert itself. But the key difference now is that prior to setting out on the journey, this time it is not nearly so well ensconced in the costume of the self. Now we see it and in that seeing is our liberation. Seated within presence we can now clearly discern the beauty of our many thoughts and feelings. They are neither our core identity and nor are they our enemies. They are just happenings on the screen of life. Just like ice cream and sweets. They also never need be our enemies. We can still indulge in them with a light, open-hearted seeing.

Dieting and the spiritual life each have the same potential to be ego expressions, just like anything else. When we diet to impress others, when our self-worth depends on our appearance, then we are operating from the same fear-based world as any other ordinary mind. The same is true of the spiritual journey. If we doing it to impress others with our solemn superiority – our closeness to the sacred, that we have the mysterious way and others lack it, then it is, again, the same fear-based life that undergirds the desperate drive to show the world and yourself just how great you are, when down deep you know that you’re not.

The path always encounters the cross road of fear/separation and love/inclusion. What path will you choose?

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