March 15, 2018

What a Late-night Snack taught me about my Survival Instincts.

Almost every night around 10:00 p.m. I have a craving—and it’s not for sex, unfortunately. (Although, under the right circumstances, it definitely could be.)

No, the craving I have is for a different succulent treat…what I crave is a satisfying snack of cheese and crackers.

Oh yes, a little preschool-style plate of cubed bits of cheese with some crunchy round (or square, I’m not picky) crackers really does the late-night trick! (I am salivating just thinking about it.)

Because to me, cheese and crackers epitomizes that perfect combination of carbs, fat, and protein. This snack is truly a delightful mix of flavors and calories designed to provide sustenance throughout any physically challenging time that might present itself.

What a smart, intelligent reaction on the part of my mental-physical system!

Actually, when I consider what my body is trying to tell me late at night, I am honestly amazed at my own system’s ability to remind me that a nutritious, calorie-packed, late-night nibble has the ability to prepare me well for any type of flight I might have to make in the middle of the night. My physiological system is so considerate!

I mean, it would be considerate if I actually needed to be kept safe at 10:00 p.m.—like, if I actually was preparing to flee.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, really), I have absolutely nowhere I need to be at 10:00 p.m. at night. Therefore, I have no need for extra physical energy.

I don’t need to be kept safe at this time, as I am almost always already lying safely in my bed. (Actually, I am usually in bed by 8:30 p.m.—so my body is a little tardy, if you ask me.)

Nope, there’s not been a single night in my life thus far that’s had me planning on fleeing anywhere.

In contrast, I am actually trying to calm my system down and prepare for a good night’s sleep at the time that I typically crave cheese and crackers, so I can wake up well-rested and focus on my tasks the next day. The only thing I need to do—or even want to do at 10:00 p.m.—is sleep.

However, my system seems to have a different idea of what I need, and this I will call: a system mis-wiring.

Of course, I don’t know exactly where this mis-wiring has come from—and even if I tried to analyze it for days, I will never really know the true answer…but I can definitely guess.

Perhaps in a past life, I did need to be ready to flee at 10:00 p.m. at night; maybe in my ancestral history, this was important.

My personal lineage is of the Jewish faith, so you can just imagine the cellular memory from the Holocaust—a need to ensure the proper energy to flee at a moment’s notice.

The Jewish holiday of Passover is coming up, in which we commemorate the Jews literally fleeing Egypt to become free from slavery. The Jews at that time, coincidentally (or not), made crackers (that we call Matzah) to take with them as they fled into the night away from their persecutors.

So, maybe my body does know what it’s talking about when it suggests a little crunch and munch of energy-producing cheese and crackers late at night.

Let’s also consider binge eating—not that I do that…

Well…okay, I do.

Maybe binge eating is a ancient desire to bulk up for winter. When in danger, eat more and get fat—because there might not be reserves or resources come the cold, dark nights of low food supply inevitably ahead.

And of course, this doesn’t just go for eating. We have many survival instincts that have us doing weird things at strange times for seemingly no reason. If we didn’t, the human race—or at least the ancestors who made our existence possible—probably wouldn’t have survived long enough for us to be here now.

Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything, points out:

“Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, struck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result—eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly—in you.”


Staying alive and safe as a human has never been easy—and that is why we need to be kind to ourselves (and often to others too) when facing seemingly irrational survival fears, cravings, or habits.

Your body, mind, and spirit are wired for survival—and if you have to actually ensure your own survival, this is a good thing.

Right now on the planet, there are millions of people who are struggling to maintain physical safety all the time. There are people in war zones, jails, abusive relationships, or refugee camps who really do need their fight-or-flight physiological reactive systems to be strong. They do need to ensure they have energy to flee or to bulk up when reserves are in supply.

But, if you are not one of these people, then there is only one thing you need to do when survival instincts show themselves—and that is: be kind, use mindfulness, and ask yourself what you actually need.

If you are feeling scared or lonely or unsafe—what is actually going to change this situation for you?

Eating cheese and crackers when I feel unsafe at night is not going to heal the trauma. It will temporarily numb it and end the feeling of having a craving—but then the next night, I will just feel the same.

So, I have learned to ask myself: what will truly make me feel safe when insecurity hits late at night?

Mindfulness can do the trick: noticing I am a good temperature, feeling that my bed is safe, touching my own heart and feeling that it’s able to support me. This re-wiring through intentionally creating a mental attitude of safety will protect me—if I allow it to.

Cheese and crackers has the ability make me smile temporarily, but it won’t leave a lasting feeling of safety in my system.

This ability to access a wiser self when confronted with survival-related physiological patterning allows us to intentionally choose how we want to respond to our immediate environments—but let’s always make this choice with kindness.

And now, because it is only 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, I will go have my snack of cheese and crackers—with no worry that I am strengthening any survival fear. This is what my wise self thinks is best.



The Origin of our Hardened Hearts


Bonus: “5 Mindful Things to do Each Morning.”


Author: Ruth Lera
Image: Flickr/Mark MorganFlickr/Ginny
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

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