August 29, 2016

Pasta, We Need to Talk. {Bonus: 5 Minute Meditation}



thinking about eating

It’s not you, it’s me.

Actually, it’s also you.

Mainly, though, it is me. Pasta has been, for as long as I can remember, my favourite food. I would happily go without dessert for a second take at the spagbol.

Most people use pasta as really just a transportation device for the sauce, but not me. Not only am I perfectly content to eat a bowl of spinach fettuccini with nothing more than a knob of butter or a sprinkling (fistful (two fistfuls)) of cheese—I am also a chronic muncher. By the time the pasta I’ve put in to the pot (about three times more than necessary) has actually cooked, I’ve usually eaten whatever measly amount remained in the packet completely dry.

But, my memories of pasta are far from consistently happy.

There are some foods that elicit wonderful, instinctual reactions—savoury mince on toast brings memories of cold mornings at the kitchen bench with my Mum before school, babbling away about my choir audition that afternoon. Make a pizza in my presence and I may as well be five again kneading dough with my Dad and trying to guess what herbs he put in the pizza sauce, smoothing it around the base with the back of the big silver spoon. Something as simple as scrambled eggs can bring back the sounds and smells of the chickens in my childhood backyard, squabbling over the food I spread on the ground while I sneakily collected their eggs from the henhouse.

Pasta, on the other hand, brings feelings of shame and sadness.

When I was little, eventually my Mum had to go back to work. That meant that after school I arrived home, quite often, to an empty house and a few hours of freedom before my parents got home. I thought about these moments all day—whenever my friends were laughing at a joke I’d missed that I was sure was about me, the time my boyfriend stopped talking to me because his friends told him I cheated on him, the day my friend found out I’d betrayed her trust and I thought I’d lost her for good. Every bad grade, every glare, every barely audible whisper as I walked down the hall to lunch.

The time I bought a coke from the tuckshop and someone from my year yelled out that I was a cow, in front of everyone, and I threw the coke away before anyone else saw.

The week I stopped eating my lunch and cried quietly as I threw away my sandwich—thinking about how early my Mum got up to make it for me, and how much she loved me and cared for me—because the thought of someone seeing me eating was too terrifying.

The time I was sitting on a table outside, enjoying the last rays of sun on my skin before it got too cold, and a boy I’d never seen before walked past telling me to make sure I didn’t break the table. I responded with a meek “I’ll be careful”, and then hid in the coldest part of the carpark to avoid seeing them again.

We’ve all had moments of embarrassment or shame that aren’t the sort you laugh off. In one way or another, we all go through stress and pain—and we all have a coping mechanism.

The thought of being alone in my house helped me through those times, probably because I knew I was safe there—but also because I was comfortable. I didn’t have to suck my stomach in anymore and figure out how to breathe without loosening the choke-hold my abs had on my organs. I didn’t have to sneak bites of salad sandwiches, or pretend I’d already eaten. I could do whatever I wanted. Those moments of indulgence then became the way in which I regained control—I chose what I ate, how much, where, how, when. And, when rebelling against unwelcome control, we don’t do so with sensibility and restraint. We do it with wicked abandon, every action a purposeful “f*ck you” to those who had suppressed us.

Pasta was the ultimate indulgence, simply because I loved it so much and I had been warned a number of times by parents and friends that I would get fat if I ate it, that I ate it too fast, that I ate too much of it. My favourite “snack” when I arrived home was about half a packet of whatever pasta was available—cooked in the microwave for maximum efficiency and minimum nutrition—covered in a thick layer of corn and grated cheese. I basically inhaled it. I sometimes ate it so quickly that my stomach hadn’t had adequate time to register that it had eaten, and I got half way through making a second batch before I realised I was far too full.

I ate it anyway.

Eventually my Mum started policing how much of these ingredients was there before she left for the day and if I gulped down too much I knew I had a good talking to coming up. It didn’t really stop me—if anything, it only added to the feeling of indulging in something I had been denied.

The irony is that while I was sitting on the couch flipping through tv channels in my pyjamas, filling my ever-widening girth with almost entirely empty calories, telling myself I would do all my chores later (and inevitably forgetting, forcing my Mum to traipse down to feed the chickens in the dark), I knew I was just trying to plug a hole.

I also knew it wasn’t really working.

But the one thing I didn’t know was what I truly needed. And this warm, comforting, taboo bowl of personal control was the closest I could come to feeling fulfilled.

I’ve tried time and time again to get pasta out of my life, because in my adulthood I have more desire to be healthy than I have to hurt myself out of spite. But, I can never seem to shake it for long—the moment I have a bad day, a long day, a stressful day, a difficult day, a painful day, I’m just a kid again seeing how much I can stuff into my mouth before my Mum walks in the door and I have to hide the cheese-encrusted microwave bowl.

Right now, I have a packet of pasta sitting in my cupboard. You would think that would be too tempting for someone with, dare I say it, a “pastaddiction”. I thought it would be too, and this weekend proved to be jam packed full of bad, long, stressful, difficult, painful moments. And yet, my pasta packet remains unopened.

No matter what your addiction is—drinking, shopping, exercise, sex, danger—it all comes from the same scared, confused place. Really, we’re just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks—hoping something fits the in to the emptiness we feel. We waste years, decades, entire lives, blindly grasping for whatever might cover up that gaping hole inside. So that, at the very least, we won’t have to look at it anymore.

Unfortunately, our hearts and souls don’t play the “out of sight, out of mind” game.

This week, instead of denying myself, I have indulged my soul. Instead of reaching for the white flag and wallowing in my room with endless Grey’s Anatomy episodes and the cheese from about a hundred cows, I have stripped my armour and walked towards myself with gentle, bare feet and open arms.

The key to healthy living isn’t really will power—that’s the key to dishonesty. Will power is only necessary where understanding and compassion are lacking.

Because there’s a difference between feeling full and being fulfilled. There’s a difference between fixing a problem and solving it. I don’t want a day of being healthier—I don’t even want a week or a month. I want a lifetime.

Whatever your indulgence is, whatever our mechanism of control, it only ends when we confront ourselves and truly listen to our wants and needs.

When I finally had the patience and courage to have this conversation, that person inside me who’s ignored and silenced and marginalised so often, didn’t want a big bowl of Napoletana. It wanted forgiveness, it wanted a conversation. It wanted time with friends, to dive under the waves or to run along with the setting sun. Sometimes it wanted a creative outlet, and sometimes all it really wanted was to be seen.

“This is all well and good”, I hear you crying in to the night, “but how?”

Behold, fellow metaphorical Fat Girls.


Conversing with Fetch – A Five Minute Meditation.

Begin by getting physically comfortable. This can be in any way that you choose—sit cross-legged, lie flat on your back or stomach, walk slowly, hang like a bat from a tree. There is no restriction placed on how your body chooses to understand and align with itself. Do not police this, simply do what comes naturally and settle into your chosen position.

I prefer to close my eyes during my meditation practises, however you may choose to keep them open.

Breathe intentionally and deeply, inflating the stomach first and then the chest. Do this, focusing only on the breath, until you feel that this has settled into its natural rhythm.

Visualise yourself in front of a deep forest. A narrow path is clearly visible, and you walk towards the entrance. As you quietly approach, notice what you are wearing (if anything) and how this feels on your skin. Are you wearing light, loose cotton? Have you got nothing on but a clown nose? Don’t force anything specific or criticise what comes to you.

In your own time, begin walking slowly down the forest path. Notice what type of woods you find yourself in. Is it a thick pine forest, getting darker the deeper you go? Is it a rainforest, full of filtered light and the sounds of busy creatures? Is it a ferned and mossed floor heavy with the scent of wet earth and rotting leaf litter? Become part of this landscape, and accept it as your own internal sanctuary.

Go deeper and deeper into the woods, following the path set out for you. Let this environment take a more visceral shape around you and experience it more tangibly. Let this process drive itself—if you have never practised a visualisation exercise before, this may take some extra time. Don’t force this step, and don’t lose patience with yourself.

When you are ready, see a clearing just ahead. This could be a meadow, a waterfall, a house—any sort of break in the forest walls. Again, when you are ready, enter this area. Here, you will find a creature. This could be a person or not. Many people see this as a small child, while others see this as an animal of some kind. Note what appears in front of you.

Pay attention to the body language of this creature. Is it huddled in a corner with its back to the world? Is it standing defiantly or aggressively? Is it startled by your presence? Or, is it entirely at ease? Be wary—this creature does not always have a healthy relationship with you, and it is wise to be cautious and respectful in your approach.

Once you’re comfortable, approach this creature. This is your Fetch self. It is the primal centre of your being, and it controls your physical body as well as your emotions, desires and distastes. It communicates in symbols and feelings, and it believes what it is told. It does not understand irony or sarcasm or faux gestures—communicate with it clearly and with kind intention.

Request permission to converse with your Fetch. This could be, and often is, as simple as “Would you like to talk?”. Your Fetch may get up and walk away, it may react angrily, react positively, speak to you directly, or not react at all. Honour what your Fetch communicates with you—this means that if your relationship with Fetch self is seriously damaged, you may need to leave the area and try again later. Sometimes, in cases where your relationship is extremely toxic, you may need to attempt this exercise consistently for a long period of time before your Fetch learns to trust you again. If this is the case, don’t be disheartened—this is often a result of decades of social conditioning, and with patience and empathy from you, your relationship can heal.

If your Fetch responds positively to your request, get comfortable and say hello! Introduce yourself, be polite, and explain to you Fetch that you’re here to ask some questions about what it wants and needs, and how you can best support and foster them. Fetch requires care much like a child, and may need specific things to feel content. The area in which you find yourself having this conversation may give some clues as to how your Fetch is feeling and what it may be lacking.

Follow Fetch’s lead in your communication style, but do your best to keep it intimate, polite and casual.

Begin asking Fetch a series of questions, dependent on what has driven you to do this exercise. For example, when I find myself stressed or anxious, sometimes without an obvious cause, I ask my Fetch what it needs to feel calm. If, however, I am doing this exercise as a simple moment of checking in, I might just ask whether Fetch needs or wants anything to make it happier.

Your Fetch may communicate wants and needs with you in a number of ways, including presenting you with symbols which can be heard or seen—sometimes even smelled or tasted, or they may communicate with you using feelings—and these can be expressed physically (such as crying) or non-physically (a “sense” of something, or a “gut feeling”). If any of these arise on their own, allow them to do so, however I find this visualisation quite useful in communicating with my Fetch:

As a question is asked, see your Fetch walk away or reach into a hidden place, and return to you with a large stone. On this stone is a picture, a symbol, or a word. This could be anything, including simple symbols such as colours. Notice the body language of Fetch when they present this stone to you. Sometimes, there may be more than one stone, and more than one symbol to answer your question. If you’re able to maintain your meditative state, you should open your eyes and right down the symbol your Fetch has shown you. If you can not maintain a meditative state while opening your eyes, simply set up a recording device such as a phone and describe aloud what you see.

You can ask as many questions as you and your Fetch like, and you can stay in this state for as long as you’d like. Sometimes, I find it helpful to just go and spend time with Fetch—if you find that you have a problematic relationship which needs repair, this may be a good start.

When your conversation has finished, thank your Fetch and say your goodbyes. Leave the area the way you came, and feel the forest melting slowly away behind you as you leave. Slowly open your eyes and re-adjust to your surroundings. Be sure to record your results as quickly as possible if you haven’t already.

Most importantly, be sure to implement what you have learned. Ignoring a message your Fetch has given you is a sure-fire way to damage your relationship, and to continue perpetuating the cycle of unhealthy behaviours that you have travelled internally to rectify.


Author: Erin Lawson

Image: Author’s own

Editor: Erin Lawson

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