Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Eating – Why Does It Have to be So Complicated?

Sometimes I wonder about the road I have traveled. I know I have come a very long way from where I started, and I have managed to heal a great number of childhood wounds. From what I can see around me it seems that I have done more than most people in that respect, but still, sometimes I get really depressed and frustrated with where I find myself.
This happens especially if I haven’t been writing regularly and if I’ve been spending a lot of time outside myself, as has been the case lately. But, be that as it may, the stuff that comes up when I’m tired like this is real enough and not to be ignored. I’m talking about the problems I’m having with food.

A Zen Story

There is a well-known Zen story (one version here) about a monk who reached enlightenment. He left the monastery and lived a completely normal life thereafter. A visitor asked him what’s the big deal if he lives just like everybody else, he wanted to know what’s the difference between him and other people? The former monk answered, “I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I am tired”.
I have been pursuing that simplicity for years, and just now it seems that I have done so in vain. I even envy the alley cats outside my building – I see them lying completely content in small patches of sun, and they seem so at ease with themselves, an ease that is born out of a direct, irrefutable connection with the Creator. I look at them and I want that too. I want to be able to let go and surrender myself completely to His will, sleeping when I need too, eating when I am hungry, and most importantly, eating what is right for me and how much is right for me when it is right for me, because I am having a lot of trouble doing that.

My Food History
Elsewhere I already told how I came to be a vegetarian, and for years I was a pretty consistent one, with varying degrees of strictness. Eating that way always made me feel better than when I ate meat and dairy products. In fact, the best I ever felt, physically and spiritually in my life, was when I was on a seeds, nuts and fruit and vegetable juice diet, eating nothing else, and nothing that contained food additives, colorings or any other kind of chemicals. My circumstances changed and I had to stop, but I always remember that period fondly.
Until recently I completely believed in the strict vegetarian ideal, even if I did not comply with it, but then one winter I got sick. It was just a bad cold, but it was bad enough that I had to see my acupuncturist. She asked what I was eating, and I told her about my vegan diet which consisted mostly of cold foods. She said that according to Chinese medicine, cold foods, especially in winter, chill the body, and that it is better to eat warm food. This struck me as sensible and it was the first crack in the vegan wall I had enclosed myself in. I read a little more about the Chinese principles of diet, including a very interesting book in Hebrew, “The Chinese Diet” by Leora Houbara. It seems that Chinese medicine treats people as different types according to their innate tendencies in digesting foods. I quickly found that I was “ a weak digestive system type”. This fit in with my experience in being vegan, except that now I added some principles from Chinese medicine, which also allows meat. I became a lot more relaxed in what I allowed myself to eat, which was helpful, since my wife enjoys eating meat, and I really did not enjoy looking at her with envy, and neither did she. Actually – that’s the problem.

The Devil is in the Hamburger
On the one hand, my body knows what’s good for it – a vegan diet, lots of grains, vegetables and legumes, preferably cooked. My body is completely happy with that kind of diet. What is killing me, and frustrating me no end is that my soul, or something inside me isn’t satisfied at all. No way. My eyes want to eat the whole world. I want meat – barbequed meat, shishlik and steak and meat sandwiches, schnitzels, and frankfurters and hamburgers cooked on the grill, dripping fat, with mustard, and ketchup and relish, in a white flour bun (oh, the horror – and delight!).
I want chocolate cakes, and multi layered cakes with lots of fattening, delicious cream inside, and for desert I want multi-layered chocolate cakes filled with cream, and soft, fluffy éclairs, and chocolate fudge ice cream, and waffles and pancakes with maple syrup, and ice cream and whip cream on top and… well, you get the picture.
I’m hungry for everything that I know from long, firsthand experience, is not good for me, for things that make me feel awful the very same day I eat them, and sometimes for several days after that. The satisfaction is so momentary and fleeting, and yet, somehow – it has become almost completely irresistible to me. I can resist buying and eating these things, but if I pass them by on the street – I am tempted, and sometimes I can’t get them out of my mind. I just crave. I am also not so nice when other people (my wife) allow themselves to eat that stuff. In short – this is not a good place to be in.
So this weekend I indulged in one of these fantasies, and I prepared for us a Sabbath meal loaded with meat, in fact, there was nothing but meat (and some spaghetti, to be honest). It was great but it took me three days to get completely back to my normal self again.
I don’t know what to do, and I really feel at my wits end. I want to reach the point where I do not have to fight myself, where I naturally do not want to eat all that stuff that isn’t good for me, but somehow I just can’t get there.
Some would say that I am dealing with the devil here and that I should fight it with all my might. Well I tried. For years I have fought the good fight, but to no avail. I know I can force myself to stick with the diet that makes me pure and brings me closer to God, but I have already done that and it just never worked out, and anyway, I am tired of coercing myself to do what is good for me. If it is so damn good, why doesn’t God just let me be? Why doesn’t He make this easy and simple for me? Why doesn’t He tell me loud and clear what the hell He wants from me anyway? Why does everything have to be so complicated all the time? All I want is to eat when I am hungry. Is that so much to ask? Every animal knows how to do that effortlessly, so why can’t I?

Anyway, this craving is not going away. It demands attention and as my wife said, the best way to deal with it is to go along and see where it leads. A voice inside my head tells me that I’m just letting out the rope with which I will be hung later. I imagine myself trembling, alone and afraid, on the Day of Reckoning, when all the sinners will be judged and sent to Hell. But I have stopped caring.
For years I have been terrified of letting go, of letting my senses run free but I am sick of it. I am throwing caution to the wind. I am going to dine with the devil. We’re going out for a Big Mac and I don’t know when I’ll be back.


Jewish Israeli Princess (Bat Melech) said...

Just discovered your blog. Fascinating. I am with your wife on this one - go with it and see where it leads you.

Karma said...

I was also a vegatarian for many years, but started eating meat again for my health. I also try to follow some similar principles taught to me by my acuptunturist. Also, I recommend the book "Healing with Whole Foods" that she referred me to.

Now, I eat meat sporadically. I found that once I gave myself permission to eat meat, I did so a lot at first (countering that I had been depriving myself) and then only every once in awhile. I still eat a mostly vegetarian diet and have very little meat in the house.

Good luck!

westbankmama said...

I am a big believer in what the Rambam calls the "golden mean". Not too much of anything. You should, in my opinion, let yourself eat some meat, but balance it with other foods that you know are good for you. More importantly, stop making it into a very emotional issue! You are not "bad" for eating meat or "good" for eating strictly vegetarian.

Jerusalem Joe said...

Welcome Bat melech!

Karma - i'm hoping i survive that first wave of desire.

WBM - the emotions are there whether i want them or not. as far as i can tell, food and feelings are tied up very closely for almost everyone.
yeah, i want the golden mean, but i want it to come to me naturally, without forcing myself there.