44. Train in the three difficulties.
The three difficulties (or the three difficult practices) are:
- To recognize your neurosis as neurosis,
- then not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit, and
- to make this practice a way of life.
– from Always Maintain a Joyful Mind by Pema Chodron
Last week, I made 6-dozen chocolate chip cookies – 4 as a contribution for a hospice function and 2 for my boys, Mike and Jaden (husband & stepson, respectively). (I mean really, is there anything more heartless than volunteering to bake cookies for an event and then telling the people you reside alongside with: Sorry guys, I know the house smells delicious and all but these cookies are all spoken for.) As my home bakery got up and running, there were cookies on every available surface, strewn about the kitchen, as far as the eye could see. And my practice in that moment was to not eat the cookies. And it wasn’t easy. But, as I’ve been training in the skilled art of not eating the cookie, for the past 3-4 years now, it wasn’t as hard as it used to be.
Four years ago, I would’ve thought it madness, an impossibility of colossal proportion, to not eat the cookie. After all, cookies – and chocolate in general and most other things full of sugar – are the express culmination of all things good and decent in the world. But now that I’ve been training, even though it is still trying at times, I’m starting to enter a new realm that I’ve heard tale about, but scoffed at and sloughed off as being sheer and total nonsense and lunacy. The realm of not only not eating the cookie but delighting in not eating the cookie. And much of the time, this realm includes not even being tempted to eat the cookie, as its allure has greatly diminished over time.
They don’t call to me like they once did – or, maybe it’s that I’ve learned to tune them out. Ah, yes. That’s it. I now declare, triumphantly: Let the cookies call all they want! I’m not picking up!
I’m now imagining our landline ringing. Bring bring, bring bring. I go to check the caller i.d and there, displayed in bold letters taking up the whole of the phone screen, is one word: COOKIES. If it had been when I first started working on my sugar addiction, I would’ve burst into a cold sweat upon seeing that COOKIES were calling. But now, I’m all like: Leave a message after the beep, COOKIES. But don’t hold your breath waiting for me to call back! And the COOKIES are all like: Nicole, was it something we said?! We miss you. Don’t you miss us?! And then I’m all like: Boom! Nope!
It’s important to mention that my ability to not eat a single cookie when surrounded by 6-dozen in various stages of preparation in the kitchen, is the equivalent of the sugar Olympics, when it comes to the sport of not eating the cookie. I would not advise anyone to start here. I needed to do some serious training to get where I am now. Trying to break the cycle of sugar addiction while surrounded by a sea of cookies is like learning how to swim by just jumping in the deep end and seeing how it goes. In short: it won’t be pretty. There will be flailing about – and most likely, it will end by either you or someone in close proximity uttering these words in distress: Man down!
So, don’t start in the cookie Olympics is my point.
Set yourself up for success, if you’re interested in trying to break free of your fixation to all things sweet and sugary. And, while you may be like me, who was once unable to fathom the validity of these words, I will say, speaking from my own experience, that it does get easier not to eat the cookie, the more you practice. The cookies will slow their roll, too, when it comes to calling. Over time, your ability to tune them out will strengthen and their powers of seduction will lessen.
There’s a powerful and debilitatingly illusory notion at play here, too. It’s the false notion that such a thing as an insignificant moment can exist. But this is not a thing. There is no such thing as an insignificant moment – meaning one that does not cause impact or create an affect of some kind. Everything we do and everything we don’t do, makes a difference. Nothing big ever happens without the influence of a bunch of little things adding up.
So, this means that every single time we don’t eat the cookie is an important step in the direction of transformation – every time we don’t eat the cookie, we’re training not to eat the next cookie, too. It makes a difference, every…single…time. And equally, every time we give ourselves an allowance or make an excuse to eat the cookie “just this one time,” builds and strengthens our resolve to eat the next cookie that comes along.
Perhaps it’s worth posting this motto in a visible location: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.
We move closer and closer to a destination with every step we take. And the good news is, we’re in charge of where our feet are pointed.
If you’re like me, training in the art of not eating the cookie – or whatever your own kryptonite is – please remember the following:
- You’re not alone,
- it will get easier, and
- every action AND non-action matters.