For a long time, I've had a checklist that shows fundamental daily tasks: meditation, stretching, exercise, etc. I decided a week ago that I do not actually need this. There is some pleasure in putting check marks in the little boxes, but this checklist is more often the source of a mild sense of failure. "Tomorrow I'll do better," I think, which is an awful lot like "Tomorrow I'll stay on my diet." I saw that this checklist was mainly a visual representation of whether I'm good or bad (since if you go off your diet, you're bad) and I did away with it. The only thing I'm tracking now is meditation, without noting whether it was 45 minutes or ten, which I used to record. I'm now just putting a colorful star on the current day's page in my calendar book, though maybe even that isn't necessary.
Daily meditation itself is quite necessary, and the other tasks are pretty necessary, too, but if they happen most days, that's good enough. If something really does contribute to well-being, I will be motivated to do it with or without a checklist.
I have also lately had a major insight regarding crunchy snacks. When I decided about six weeks ago to make another effort to eat mindfully, and to try to exercise more choice about what and how much I eat, I stocked up on potato chips and cheese puffs and so forth. I had some meals that consisted entirely of one of these and right away discovered that, while I was eating in response to physical hunger and stopping more or less when I wasn't hungry anymore, I did not feel well after such a meal.
I had a lot of meals where I had whatever I would normally have, plus a bowl of potato chips or whatever. Soon I noticed the amount of potato chips getting larger and larger, and I noticed my waistline expanding a bit. I started to think, for the millionth time, that maybe I just can't have these things in the house. I felt the impulse to have the kind of binge known as Finishing All of This Because From Now On, I'm Never Going to Eat It Again, a close relation of the binge called I Might As Well Keep Eating, Because I Already Overate. In the former case, I either finish the particular item or give the rest to Tom, and in either case, I eat food I'm not physically hungry for, and the cycle of what amounts to dieting and bingeing continues.
In regard to the part about never eating whatever it is again, it has taken me so incredibly long to grasp that it does not matter what I intend to do later. The only thing that matters is what I do right now. I guess this has taken so long to learn because not eating potato chips later is extremely easy and feels great, whereas not eating potato chips right this minute has basically been impossible.
So, determined to break this cycle and determined not to continue to eat compulsively—determined to have the fantastic feeling I get when I choose—I reassured myself that it doesn't matter if I gain some weight during this learning experience, and I started having a small number of crunchy snacks with meals. For instance, I would have my normal breakfast in a bowl (millet or buckwheat, canned salmon, vegetables, rosemary salt, hot pepper sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, and a low-sodium bouillon cube; shiitake optional) and next to that, on a plate, five potato chips, five cheese puffs, and five of a kind of crunchy rice thing I like (Laiki Rice Crackers). Also fake sour cream for the potato chips, which I prefer to real sour cream.
After a few meals like that, no overeating having occurred, I made an astounding discovery: that there is no way eating crunchy snacks can afford satisfaction, for me, anyway. The first potato chip is obviously not satisfying: who eats just one potato chip? Nor is the second, nor the third, nor the fourth, nor any potato chip after that, until I'm completely stuffed. That is frequently the point at which I stop, of necessity, and that is also not at all satisfying, physically or psychologically. The worlds of true satisfaction and potato chips do not overlap! There is no actual need that potato chips meet! It's purely about sense desire, which puts me in mind of the thing I probably say to myself more often than any other single thing, a quote from Joseph Goldstein: Desires fulfilled breed more desires.
Fortunately, feeding actual physical hunger with actual real food is satisfying. For a few meals, I skipped putting the five of this and five of that on the plate: what's the point? However, I have a number of bags of potato chips, cheese puffs and rice crackers in the apartment now, so I will probably do the five of each thing fairly often until they're gone or until they start to inch toward their expiration dates, at which point I'll give them away.
Today I went to Rainbow and bought no crunchy snacks. Along with other groceries, I bought artisanal whole-wheat bread, goat milk ghee, large green olives stuffed with feta, kalamata spread, and artichoke parmesan spread. For lunch, I had toasted bread with ghee on it, or with ghee and one of the two spreads. I had two olives. It was such a delicious meal. The ghee is lovely—just pure fat, which is always a good thing, but with a goat cheese tang. Eating when I'm genuinely hungry and stopping when my body has had enough feels so great. I always knew this would be true, but I mostly could not do it. I feel like I've finally arrived in a whole new world.
(Not to say that I will never again eat a whole bag of potato chips. As the Zen saying goes: Whichever of the two occurs, be patient. But to eat mostly mindfully for six weeks is absolutely unprecedented.)
I also feel often lately that I am the luckiest person on earth. My diabolical plan worked! I am being paid to do something that has tremendous meaning to me, and which affords a huge amount of satisfaction. Something I would do for free, and do actually do for free, each week at County Hospital.