When we’re feeling stuck in a compulsive, obsessive, painful relationship with sugar or food, we tend to long for one of three things:
- to cut out our cravings, our desire and longings for the food
- to cut out eating the particular food or food group (sugar) that we’re obsessing about altogether
- or to wish that the whole problem would just go away already.
These reactions are understandable. It can feel terrifying and frustrating to be caught in something like craving and obsession, to be caught in the thing you wish you didn’t do, to feel out of control.
It is also vulnerable – for when we struggle with something, we confront the limits of our power and of our will.
We often know more than we are able to do; we can often see farther than we reach. This gap – the difference between what we yearn to do and what we are able to do in the moment – can be a source of tremendous frustration and humility. For in it, we meet our vulnerability, our undeveloped parts, and all the little, painful, small, messy bits of ourselves.
In this gap we come face to face with our very humanity. And in this gap, we also encounter the subtle ways we judge, shame and fear ourselves for it.
Our judgment primarily appears as resistance – the degree to which we believe, argue against, or feel that we shouldn’t be feeling the way we’re feeling in the moment.
Our judgment also appears as control – the many ways we try to feel differently, to change our experience, to turn it into something better, “cleaner,” or more comfortable. We expend a tremendous amount of energy and work very, very hard trying to make ourselves or the situation different.
In both cases, the way in which we approach ourselves in these moments of vulnerability reveals a common desire to eradicate and overpower, often in the name of healing.
Let’s make this concrete. You’re going through your day, feeling okay, but then a craving for sugar arrives.
What do you feel? How do you react? What thoughts go through your mind? What do you tell yourself? What do you believe about yourself in those moments?
Usually, it’s something along the lines of a curse: “Oh, !)#&,” or “Not again,” or “I don’t want this,” “This shouldn’t be happening,” “not again,” or, simply, “No!”
Oh, this simple longing, this pure craving: it is a barren and outcast thing.
Rather than offering up a tender reverence – a deep listening to what the craving is expressing or longing for or asking of us – we tend to tighten up and close down in the face of this unwanted, unloved, disregarded guest. This can appear in a number of ways.
We may feel anxious and threatened by it – how do I make this feeling go away?
We may hide: we may feel frightened or guilty or ashamed about what our feelings and cravings say about us.
We may go to war to eradicate the feeling. We often do this with very subtle means – with nutritional hacks, self help tools and spiritual practices – that, on the surface, look productive, well intentioned, and helpful.
These tools are not wrong in themselves; there is a season and place for everything. But they are often employed from a mindset of judgment, of wrongness, arising from a belief that the craving shouldn’t be there in the first place, is a sign that something’s wrong, and therefore needs to go away.
Of course, underneath the craving is often a judgment against ourselves: that it’s somehow our own damn fault that we’re feeling what we’re feeling, that we’re craving the cookie or the ice cream or the chocolate. Feeding our judgment is the guilt and responsibility we feel for being human – for having this very human feeling – in the first place.
This tangled web of fear, guilt, shame, (over)responsibility and control spins us around and around and around. It’s excruciating – a searing source of separation – and doesn’t lead to possibility, understanding or renewal with sugar, ourselves, or with the relationship that we have to either.
It also breaks our own hearts. For in saying “no” to our cravings, we make ourselves – where we find ourselves in the moment – outcasts of love.
There is an alternative, and I’d like to offer this perspective to you.
It starts with how we see. What if we stepped back and looked at sugar, cravings, and food from a depth, mythic, or soul perspective?
I’ve found that this perspective offers up a more workable, more respectful, and more life affirming approach to cravings and food obsession – one that doesn’t ask us to go to war or break our hearts or shame our humanity in the process.
It begins with the question: who is the one doing the craving?
The call and craving for food/sugar is not a reprimand or mistake, but a cry that arises from the soul. Yes, they can be the byproduct of trauma, of painful childhood wounds, or of developmental stuckness. And this is not all they are.
The cry for sugar is not something negative to be cast out, but something essential, important, necessary, and even beautiful – a part of the soul of the world and a part of your unique soul, unfolding and expressing itself.
This call, this craving, has its place and its belonging and its purpose, and is something beyond the control of either the ego or the personality, although they may feel threatening to both. This is why whenever the angels bring such messages, they begin with a reassurance: fear not.
The cravings are meant and are longing to arise. Their call, and their source, is from something much deeper than the surface you, from the One itself, and therefore, are not meant to be under control of the human mind, will, or ego. They are meant to unfurl, to speak to and transform us in their unfurling.
This deeper meaning frees us both from the burden of responsibility for causing (or not preventing) them as well as the judgment that something is wrong in that they arise at all.
It also frees us from the role of the “fixer,” the one who needs to fix our problem with sugar: what a burden for anyone to carry!
We, in turn, respond and are responsible to (not responsible for) this call of the soul. We become its steward. We heed its harbinging message. We move from a position of control, anxiety, or fear into a position of surrender, listening, and humble service.
To put it simply: we stop making ourselves wrong for craving and become more curious about what the craving is pointing towards. This softens the alarm that drives so much of our compulsive behavior around sugar, food, and the body.
We offer ourselves in service to the sugar craving, to the soul, to the longing and growth that our soul is asking of us. In our response, something in us arises and bursts forth – something that would not have arisen without this soul’s call, without this craving.
In this, our offering, the pain and suffering and loss of addiction and compulsion transforms into an act of renewal, an act of birth and creation and regeneration: an offering that we send out back both to the soul of the world, and to our own soul.
From this perspective, the hot spot of craving is not something to be feared or avoided, but a crucible of growth and transformation. In our feelings and cravings – where our desire, yearnings, fears, and vulnerability collide – we are also met with a tremendous opportunity.
And in this opportunity, we rediscover our wholeness and healing.
Photo credit: Masolino da Panicale (Italian, c. 1383 – 1435 or after ), The Archangel Gabriel, c. 1430, tempera (?) on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, The National Gallery of Art.