This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal, find it here.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
What can alcohol and fried chicken sobriety teach you about grasping?
Surprisingly a lot it turns out. I learned this lesson the hard way after quitting both soon after leaving my corporate job. Truth be told I’ve never handled liquor well. I don’t have a strong success rate of NOT getting sick after drinking.
And yes I have tried all the tricks in the book. Believe me. I’ve searched far and wide for a solution to my alcohol intolerance. Who doesn’t want to loosen up and forget their problems every once in awhile?
I’m convinced that I have some version of Asian flush with my Pinocchio red cheeks and nausea.
Maybe it’s the good lord blessing me with this intolerance to avoid a family history of alcoholism. Who knows. What I do know is that I finally gave up on the lie that drinking was ever going to be pleasurable for me.
If the last 9 out of 10 times of drinking were awful, then those aren’t good enough odds to continue doing it regularly.
And then there’s the fried chicken. Yes I literally mean fried chicken…..that KFC $5 fill up is everything. However I do mean to encompass all fried foods in this discussion.
Let’s just be honest, you aren’t going to reach your fitness goals by indulging in these high caloric meals on a regular basis. That’s why I quit fried food, I’m not trying to be Gisele Bunchin, but I’d like to look legit in my yoga clothes.
Ok cool, so cold turkey it is then. No booze and none of the greasy goodness. Naively I thought this would be easy.
Logically I knew alcohol and fried chicken were shallow lovers who left me feeling like a cheap whore. Ever wake up hungover knowing you consumed like 3,000 calories the night before and it was really NOT.THAT.FUN?!
Or how the grease just sits in your gut after that damn KFC meal. And you then feel like you’re…oh i don’t know….900 lbs! And the best part of all of this is that you’re hungry literally a few hours later! What the actual fuck.
So logically I got all of this. I really did. But damn the lure of food and alcohol is so strong. ESPECIALLY on the weekend.
“It’s FINALLY time to relax and have fun.” “I was good all week, time for some treats.” “I DESERVE something decadent after this week.”
And now this longing, this desire is at the forefront of your mind. Like ALL THE TIME. You’re mind is doing what Buddhist call “grasping” or “craving.”
It is always reaching for something that it believes it needs to be ok. To feel better. Therein lies the self limiting belief.
“I am not whole.” “I need this 1 thing (career, guy, margarita) to feel at peace.”
And in reality it’s not only a self limiting belief, it’s a downright lie.
That gin and tonic never really cashed in on those promises it made. Yes it was easier to open up and have fun sometimes, but more nights ended in horrible fights and regret.
And the ANTICIPATION of that fried chicken was oftentimes BETTER than the actual meal.
And you know what’s not fun, the extra weight gain and the HARD HARD HARD work to get it off. Not worth it.
So here we are. We find ourselves in this endless cycle of craving. Marc Lewis wrote about this cycle and subsequent disappointment.
The cycle of human attachment is represented in Buddhism by a wheel that keeps on turning. First comes emptiness or loss, then we see something attractive outside ourselves that promises to fill that emptiness, then we crave. Craving is seen as a universal form of anxiety, focused on a specific goal. So we crave and crave, and then we grasp — we reach for it. That voluntary endorsement of one’s attachments — that’s what keeps the wheel spinning. Grasping of course leads to getting. Getting reinforces the attachment, and that leads to more emptiness and loss, because the thing we’re attached to is never enough to fill the void. And round and round we go.
The type of craving spoken of in Buddhism is called Tanhâ. In Pali, Tanhâ loosely translates to not only craving, but THIRST. Unquenchable thirst.
There are 3 types of Tanhâ in Buddhism:
- Kama-Tanhâ (sensual pleasures). This type of sensual pleasure relates to all of the 5 senses. So my desire for gin and fried chicken directly relates to the taste sense.
- Bhava-Tanha (craving to be). This Tanhâ is ego driven to become someone or something that you currently are not. The desire to be rich, famous, or have a rocking body are among the most common Bhavatanha’s.
- Vibhava-Tanhâ (craving for non existence). I think we’ve all felt the intense craving to be DONE with some parts of ourselves. Like goddamnit how many years am I going to struggle with anxiety?! Or a unhealthy body image. Why can’t it just go away?
All 3 Tanha’s boil down to not accepting yourself and where you currently are in life. Again it is the belief that you are not “ok” just as you are. All 3 further the lie that if the craving is satiated, THEN I will be happy.
But I want you to think back to the last thing you really craved. When you finally GOT IT, how long did the satisfaction last? Did it last longer than the time it took you to eat the meal or down the drink? Probably not.
And then the cycle starts again.
Happiness found outside of ourselves will never last. And frankly what does “happy” even mean? I think most of us live in an illusion about what happiness actually IS that we miss what it could be.
According to Buddhists, happiness=contentment.
And what’s the definition of contentment?
Contentment=Are my basic needs met?
There you go. THAT’S IT. And no…..I didn’t forget the rest of the definition!
And guess what, I’ve even met people living in 3rd world countries that don’t even have their basic needs met who are content.
So a starting point is to distinguish between needs and wants.
Needs can be MET. Wants are evolving and fleeting. There is NO END to our wants really. So how will there ever be happiness?!
Now we’re not monks here. I do understand that. We will have desires. And desires are a healthy part of our future. The tricky part here is “attachment.” When you think about that desire, does your chest hurt you want it so bad? Do you feel panic by the prospect of it not happening, or not happening soon?
If the answer is yes, you my dear are hooked. You are attached to this desire and need to desperately begin to detach and let go of that outcome. As Tony Robbins says:
Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.
So what to do when that craving takes over your body? Nothing. Well nothing meaning, don’t react! Don’t take that damn bait for the 100th time. Nothing dramatic is going to happen if you don’t immediately react and cave into the craving….that’s another lie.
Better yet, why not pivot and engage in another activity? Instead of skating down that worn down pathway, making that rut even deeper, why not lay down some new track? New neural pathways are then formed, and the desire is lessened.
Your mind will redirect over time away from the habitual desire for “fried food” to a peaceful neutrality.
Now in saying all of this I am in no way implying judgement towards my friends here who enjoy any number of these Tanhâ’s. I get it. I have my own that I won’t be giving up.
I gladly indulge my coffee Kamatanha whenever it calls. I enjoy it too much. I wouldn’t even give it up during my Yoga Teacher training in India where it was “forbidden.” And believe me finding coffee in the land of tea is no small feat!
It’s about picking and choosing what craving you’d like to understand more. Or get more control of. And then investigating the shit out of that!
This is not punishment. No my dear, this is for YOU. Whatever you have chosen to let go of is to bring you wellness and power. Not restriction or deprivation. You are now choosing to jump out of the endless cycle of attachment (samsara) and into the waters of contentment. And stability. And don’t forget peace of mind!
And only in doing THAT, will we find the relief that all of us are so desperately looking for.