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What the Spiritual Masters Teach Us about Big-Ass Appetites

By Heather Smith · July 30th, 2008 · Cravings

I've been thinking a lot about appetite lately -- when you gain 30 pounds in six months, it's something to ponder.

I keep returning to the same question: "What is the origin and nature of sudden-onset, big-ass appetite?" The kind of appetite once satisfied by turkey burgers and a side of vegetables that is now still unsatisfied after a three-course meal, dessert and two martinis.

To get to the bottom of this, I decided to go straight to the source of transcendental truth -- the great spiritual masters, even though it would have been way more fun to do a Google search or ask my girlfriends over drinks. Inquiring, "Where does appetite come from and what should we do with it?" I started with the dead ones, and worked my way up to the live ones.

First, I looked to what the life and path of Siddhartha/Buddha tell us about food and appetite. Brief spiritual bio: He began as an ascetic, then bought in to self-mortification and soon found that starving himself was making him so weak, tired and mentally fried that he couldn't even recognize his own hand in front of his face, much less enlightenment, as anyone who's ever gone on Slim-Fast knows.

More importantly, he did not realize enlightenment until he finally ate a bowl of yummy madhupayasa (rice pudding with milk) brought to him by the beautiful Sujata, a local wealthy woman.

Lessons learned: (a) madhupayasa must be really good (b) God seems to want us to eat (c) men might be the closest they'll ever be to God after a woman cooks for them, particularly one who is rich and beautiful.

That didn't get me too far, so I moved on to a living master, Thich Nhat Hanh, an expatriate Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. Here is what he has to say about eating: "There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past and future..."

Lesson learned: Master Hanh just described exactly what is happening when my friends and I share a pound of vending-machine M&Ms between our two desks at work, while chatting happily about our tasks. How could I apply this teaching to other areas of my life? I could probably bring more mindfulness and consciousness to my eating, so I think I'll drink more coffee with my meals instead of wine.

Next, I looked to my former spiritual teacher for advice. I don't think he's an enlightened master, but it's been a while since I've seen him, so who knows? People change.

A shaman, he understands that our cravings often come from our ancestors. For instance, if Grandpa really liked liquor, it's possible that he left his addiction with us when he passed on rather than, say, the $500 and riding mower he left our cousin. But that's the luck of the draw when it comes to relatives.

Fortunately for us, Grandpa probably wants whatever he left behind back, and I have seen people cured of addictions through sending that particular part of grandpa back and casting it out as "not of them."

Lesson learned: There are more relatives than our parents to blame stuff on now; we have a whole new pool of dead ones as well, stretching back even as far as the 1600s maybe, so it looks like a good time to do some genealogy.

Contact Heather Smith: hsmith@citybeat.com



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