Impermanence is the real diet.
Empty calories are seen as a negative thing—something to be avoided, like calories without any other value: chips or chocolate.
However, I propose a different kind of empty eating—one that is empty of struggle.
When Buddhists speak of emptiness it is often misunderstood to mean lackluster, without feeling.
However, what we are empty of is concept and, therefore, we are full of possibility. The 17th Karmapa says in a quote from his upcoming book The Heart is Noble that “emptiness is full of potency…emptiness inspires optimism rather than pessimism, because it reminds us of the boundless range of possibilities of who we can become and how we can live.”
Part of the way that emptiness reveals all of those possibilities is through interdependence. Interdependence, when combined with emptiness, reminds us that cause and effect are not neat—they are multi-faceted and complex.
A great practice before you eat, or even while you are eating, is to contemplate from where your food came, to take into account all the hands this meal has passed through before reaching your plate.
For instance, last night, moving backwards, my wife assembled and cooked my tofu and broccoli curry with brown rice. She purchased these things from a store where they were stocked by separate employees in three sections of the shop, using money she and I both earned at jobs totally dependent on others.
While we were earning money, and before she bought the food, many humans and a great deal of fossil fuel, took part in delivering those foods from myriad sources to Madison. Even the packaged goods like tofu and curry were made from originally growing ingredients somewhere, so beyond even human hands, the earth and rain, wind and sun all had “hands” in that meal.
Rather than, or for a momentary respite from, feeling overwhelmed by the state of our earth, or by our overeating habits, we can express a deep appreciation for all has gone well, simply because of interdependence.
It can be easier for us to think of animals, for instance, our pets, as dependent. Often humans don’t like to think of themselves as being dependent. But we are—on each other to eat and move, on prior beings for the condition of the planet, on future beings to carry out what we leave behind.
Every step you make, every breath you take—to quote the Police in a slightly less creepy usage—the world is supporting you.
While we often focus on what isn’t going right (“My car didn’t start this morning, then I spilled my coffee…”) to even be in a situation where we have a car, coffee and a life to wake up to is phenomenal, and certainly not only a self-made situation.
The thing that is amazing about both emptiness and interdependence is that they don’t care whether or not we believe in them.
They go about doing their thing all the time: the rain falls and crops grow or are drowned and die. Food gets harvested, and we eat it whether or not we are aware of its sources and consequences.
Our suffering, as relayed in the four noble truths, arises partially out of our denial of the facts of change. So accepting them, or better yet, testing them out in our lived life to see if we truly feel they are reality, can only help us out.
There’s no “secret” here in the manifestation sense—it’s plain and clear. We cannot exist without each other and all the elements, and throughout that constant interdependence, impermanence permeates.
Our impermanent and interdependent identities—how I am a sister in one context, and a wife in another, a teacher in one context and a student in another—are the best testing ground of all to see if we in fact exist as permanent and solid beings—or if we are empty of those expectations and instead full of all the possibilities that interdependence allows us to experience.
When we eat without mindfulness—a different kind of empty eating, one that denies our actual emptiness—we can never be full.
Empty calories (including diet food that attempts to be food and also have no impact on the body) and mindless eating are in the realm of the Hungry Ghost—a being with a huge stomach and tiny throat and mouth, who can never be satiated.
Working with actual emptiness, especially when paired with an indelible appreciation for interdependence, creates a richness that fulfills in more than just calories and nutrients, delivering a felt sense of fullness of truly being: shopping, cooking, eating, digesting, in the world.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise