My last post saw me getting transparent about my addictive tendencies and how meditation and Buddhism had provided the space and support to allow that transparency to blossom. So now I’m not on retreat anymore and I don’t have a 7.00am rising bell to gently coax me out of bed, or a beautiful shrine room perfumed with the scent of fresh flowers and tea-light candles to meditate in, or a community of likeminded people whose sole intention for the day is to open their hearts and get out in nature simply to appreciate its beauty.
I could’ve very easily nosedived straight back into destructive tendencies upon my return to “real life”. Luckily, the stillness, loving-kindness and sense of purpose cultivated in me over that week gave me the strength on my return home to really give living in alignment a chance. This Friday, it’ll be two weeks since I got back from the retreat and I have: meditated every day, gotten at least 8 hours of sleep 90% of the time, eaten mindfully 90% of the time and used my phone after 9pm only a handful of times (and used it before 6.30pm only a couple of times).
“Abstinence-based recovery is like living with a caged, raging, tiger in your living room. If you open the door for any reason, you know it will kill you. The non-abstinence-based addictions are the same, but you have to open the door to that cage three times a day.” – A quote paraphrased from Brené Brown, from this post
This quote is a pretty spot-on description of what it’s been like trying to maintain my healthier habits. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book ‘The Miracle Of Mindfulness’, he tells an anecdote of his friend eating a tangerine mindlessly. He’s compulsively tearing out a new segment before he’s even eaten the one in his mouth and Thich pulls him up on it. At the beginning of my retreat, one of the leaders was eating an orange and I started talking about how I don’t have the patience to eat them as they take so long to peel. He just smiled. Throughout the retreat, oranges were eaten so often by others that I got over my impatient aversion to them and, following Thich’s advice, ate each segment reverently – catching myself if I was ever rushing to the next segment before enjoying the one in my mouth.
Ever since I got back, I have oranges in the house all the time. I take one to work every day to have at lunchtime. They have become a symbol of mindfulness to me. Regularly eating them has been one way that I’ve been intentionally maintaining a healthy relationship with food. I also make a rule of really enjoying each mouthful of food that I have. Being present with it, not being preoccupied with the next forkful. I often put my cutlery down between mouthfuls and lay my hand on the table in front of me to remind me that I am in the here and now. And that there is no need to rush.
It’s been amazing to reconnect with the real feelings of hunger and satiation which were often so blurred before. I know what it’s like to feel full now and I’m relearning what my appetite actually is. This has been a natural side effect of eating slower. Before when I was eating — I never really felt full. I either felt almost ill from eating too much or I felt this emotional emptiness that I was trying to fill with food but that was actually just exacerbating it.
With this comes a significant consideration for time – it takes time to eat like this. Which means going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I don’t really know how I’ve managed to keep up with the earlier nights, to be honest. I just do it. I know what it feels like now to not be perpetually exhausted and be abusing my body by depriving myself of sleep. So I’ve been going to bed around 10pm every night and getting up sometime after 7am every morning. My intention was to be getting up at 6.45am every day but it’s been a bit of a trial and error process feeling out my new routine and factoring in meditation and walking to work. So these times have varied a bit. But typically at the top of my list of priorities is: a good night’s sleep. And sometimes that has meant missing a morning meditation or an open mic. So be it.
My general rule for phone usage – strictly between the hours of 6.30pm and 9.00pm – has been working pretty fucking well. It’s felt a bit alien. I don’t have my phone with me at work so I can’t check it on my breaks. If I post something on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or send something on Messenger, I can’t immediately check my notifications the next morning. I have to wait a full 24 hours to see a reply or a post engagement. But what a fucking liberating feeling. It’s like this space that opens up the morning after. My life doesn’t revolve around my phone anymore. Knowing that it’s switched off, in my drawer, gives me this sense of freedom and peace. Like I can breathe. Like I’m free from the web of addiction.
Although I have been mainly keeping to this new routine fairly well, there has been a few occasions when I didn’t. I wrote about one of them in my journal:
Tonight, I was looking up something on my phone. I found a jacket I really liked today (in a shop) but it wasn’t in my size, so I wanted to check online. Just as I was about to, my phone died. Even though it was coming up to 9pm, I decided to fire up my laptop so I could check quickly. I couldn’t find it online but kept searching for around 15 minutes – then I checked Facebook, then I checked my blog, then I checked my email. Then: half past 9. The feeling of terror! I shut down my laptop quickly and even put my charging phone out of sight. I felt such a sense of panic and terror and fear! But then I thought: I’d rather have this awareness with the terror than have the lack of awareness with the arrogance and self-assurance. I’d rather feel everything than bypass it and fall into a black hole out of nowhere – I’d rather see the black hole coming.
The black hole to me, in this case, symbolises the emotional depletion and suffering (and potentially, depression) brought about by immersion in addictive, destructive and mindless behaviours.
I’ve known for a long time that I need to get more sleep, eat more mindfully, use my phone less and meditate everyday. In fact, I’ve been saying for months that I know I need to meditate everyday. You can have all the information in the world and not be ready. Something that I’ve learned is true in my case is that I needed the conditions for a mental, emotional and physiological shift to come about. The retreat provided these conditions.
And it’s not all la-di-fucking-da-everythingisgreatnow. That exception of overusing technology has happened more than just once. I’ve consciously overeaten a couple of times since I got back and had the odd night where I didn’t get enough sleep. But it’s the gravity of the situation that I’m aware of now. I’ve learned the difference between barely functioning and intentionally living. I have a new normal that actually serves me – and that hasn’t been the case for a long, long time.
Thanks so much for reading! Next week I plan to write more about addiction or on meditation and the importance of the spiritual community.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx
Art by Chinese buddhist monk Dachan.