What everyone is searching for is a quiet mind, and there lies the answer.Sydney Banks
Have you ever bought one of those kitschy snow globes from a tourist location?
The kind that are about the side of a softball, or smaller, and have a flat bottom. They usually have a scene of some sort inside, a cityscape in miniature or an animal or a North Pole scene. When they’re shaken up, ‘snow’ flies around inside the globe, temporarily suspended in the watery substance that fills it.
Your mind (and mine) is like that snow globe. It can get really shaken up and busy with thoughts swirling around. It can seem really stormy inside there at times, and it can feel as though the snowflakes will never stop swirling. And in response to this, we can develop strategies for dealing with those swirling thoughts; maybe an extra glass of wine to soothe ourselves, or picking a fight with a friend to distract ourselves and drown out the noise.
But here’s the thing about snow globes and minds: if we leave them alone, they quiet down all by themselves.
You don’t have to do anything to make the flakes inside the snow globe stop swirling. If you leave the globe alone, the flakes settle down on their own.
We use lots of metaphors when we’re talking about the inside-out understanding because they’re such a powerful way to convey new ideas. This is one of my particular favorites and one that was really helpful to me when I was first learning about this understanding.
We humans are thinking creatures. We come to life equipped with enormous problem-solving brains. So, often, when we have a problem—say, for example, when we feel a drive to overeat—we can innocently add more thinking to that problem, assuming that this will help. But, perhaps counterintuitively, it is often when our minds are settled that the most helpful ideas come to us.
Adding more thinking to a problem is like shaking up that snow globe while expecting it to settle. But like the lead mare in the previous story, we are at our best, and most helpful to others, when we are calm. When we see that we don’t need to do anything to create a state of calm—that the snow globe settles down all by itself—we can simply wait, and clarity will return.
* * *
When I was six or seven years old, I fell on an icy patch of snow and broke my right arm. When I got home (this was the 70s, so kids were free range) my mom took me to emergency and they put a cast on my arm.
A few years later, when my brother was about the same age, he ran headlong into a wooden banister and cut the top of his head open. His scalp bled like crazy and he had to get five or six stitches.
When we injure our bodies, we use the tools available to us to repair them: bandages, stitches, plaster casts, splints, and ointment.
Innocently, when we misunderstand where our emotional experience is coming from, we do the same for our feelings.
Had a bad day? Put some alcohol on it (as the Brad Paisley song goes).
Furious with your spouse? Put a bowl of ice cream on it.
Sad about losing a job you loved? Stitch up that wound with a piece of chocolate cake.
The problem with this strategy, as innocent as it is, is that we are a river of feelings that is in perpetual motion. Our experience is coming to life, moment to moment, and there’s no need to stitch it up with anything. It’s not broken. In fact, it works perfectly well without our interference.
Our emotional body is self-correcting, just like that snow globe. When we leave our thoughts and feelings alone, they settle down on their own. Maybe not immediately, but 100 percent of the time they do change and settle.
I know with absolute certainty that the way I feel now is not the way I’ll feel in the future. I could bet ten million dollars on that and I’d win every time.
* * *
My overeating habit formed when I had this understanding backward. When I thought that I needed to do something to feel better, I developed the habit of using food to do that.
This is an excerpt from It’s Not About the Food, which is available in ebook, paperback, hardback and audiobook wherever you buy books. You can also ask for it in any of those formats at your local library.