Here we are: October 31. Halloween. I don’t know about you, but in my childhood it was all about how much candy I could rake in that night. Oh, sure, the pumpkin carving was fun, but my mom never made nutrient-rich pumpkin soup. And we never ate the apples we bobbed for. It was all about the object of desire: Sugar.
In recent years there has been a growing awareness of how unhealthy it is to consume abundant quantities of sugar but these messages are trumped by a long-standing cultural mandate that if you don’t join in during the holidays and eat that big slice of Aunt Mary’s cream pie, you are being selfish and rude.
As the specter of the holidays looms, I have begun to frame it in a new way: How do I cultivate a different relationship with consumption? Not just of food and spirits, but gifts or clothing or anything that vibrates with the lure of desire. In her book, The Zen of Eating, psychologist Ronna Kabotznik refers to the “numinous muffin”, numinous being the experience of divine love. So often our objects of desire take on this quality — I must have it, and when I get it, “I” will shiver with pleasure, and be transported from my ordinary, often anxious or depleted state, into an altered state of being.
The genesis of this very human behavior goes very deep, often into a childhood where the candy at Halloween, or the sweet cakes at Christmas were the only respite from the lack of “treats” in the emotional life of the family. In the case of an extreme like anorexia, children deny consumption, rather than join in the feast, in the hopes of gaining some sense of control in a chaotic family.
To alter our relationship with consumption, the first question is: “What am I really hungry for?” Instead of embarking on the holidays by saying, “What do I get to eat at this party?”, ask, “What if it is not about giving myself permission to indulge, but about opening myself to a new reality of possibilities?”
I spoke to someone recently who has given up wine, once a pleasure so desired that she organizing all of her time to optimize her ability to drink. Her consumption was not on a level where anyone would call her an alcoholic, but she realized this was part of the problem. She blended in with the cultural norm. It took a personal crisis for her to wake up to the true nature of her relationship to wine. She sought help, and now, 3 months alcohol-free, she reports experiencing life in a new way.
“The leaves on the trees seem more vibrant. I notice the pain and beauty in every moment. I cry at the footage of the siege of Aleppo. I laugh with the checker at the store and we share a moment of simple joy looking at the baby in line behind me…..I am examining my relationships, friendships, and life goals with new eyes. I’m not embarrassed to say ‘No thank you,’ when offered a glass of wine, or a cookie (I discovered that when I gave up wine, I didn’t want any form of sugar!) And the world looks different, because I feel so differently about myself. “
Changing, and sustaining our relationship to consumption is a life long journey for most of us. At the dawn of the holiday season, I invite you to embrace the real spirit of the holidays, by discovering what your soul truly desires.