Martha Beck has a book called The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace. One of the big take-aways for me was the notion that people so often fail at dieting because they haven't built the foundation beneath that then supports "doing what we know: 'move more, eat less.' " She said that most people come to dieting without having done adequate preparation; she outlines the series of stages that must be completed to be successful. All are necessary. The first of these is a 'pre-contemplative' stage, where there is no intention, maybe intentionally no intention, of change. The next of these is considering change. The third is preparation, and it's not until the 4th stage that action (dieting and exercise) is taken. Her point is that most people come at dietary changes directly from "pre-contemplation" directly into stage 4, without going through the others between. Therefore there is no foundation under the action plan and is ultimately unsustainable. It's called "Will Power." You're treading water, baby.
Of course, her book is about diet, but it's really about transformation.
I don't think I'm imagining there was an explosion of the "Self-help" genre of books in the 80's, 90's and beyond, and I was an eager consumer. It seems a very common exhortation was to "trust your gut".
This was problematic for me; it seemed I couldn't even do that right. The outcome was anxious 'listening' to inner sensations, wondering which voice among the clamor was my "True Gut." "Is this it? Is this it?" All the voices had about the same amplitude, and nothing seemed to distinguish itself as the True Voice. As someone who started with a baseline of performance anxiety, the pressure to be able to "find my true voice" merely worsened the sensation of paralysis and fear. I've spent years feeling jerked around by my "Gut". It's prompted me into the wrong lines in grocery stores, premature choices, and reinforcement that Someone Is Trying to Kill Me.
My dear friend and I were talking this afternoon about our troublesome guts when it suddenly came to me. "Trusting Your Gut" is an advanced living skill; it takes some preparation, some "training" to get there. A certain foundation has to be built first, to support that trust.
This week I noticed to what extent fear influences my decisions. I see how fear-based many of my actions are--fear that I won't get my needs met. The tension about getting into the right line in the grocery store (for example) is based on the fear that picking the slow line means I'm not a successful person: if I was successful, surely my Gut would have steered me somewhere else.
The noise of fear has to be calmed before Trusting Your Gut is a reliable course. Calming fear is the stage that must be mastered first.
My Dojo Patron, K, sent me True Love/A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. On page 50 I read,
Buddhist meditation is based on the principle of nonduality. This means that if we are mindfulness, if we are love, we are also ignorance, we are also suffering, and there is no need to suppress anything at all.
When the seed of anger manifests on the level of our conscious mind, our immediate awareness, it is because the seed of anger is in the depths of our consciousness, and then we begin to suffer. Our immediate awareness is something like our living room. The task of the meditator is not to chase away or to suppress the energy of anger that is there but rather to invite another energy that will be able to care for the anger.
You can use the method of mindful breathing to make the seed of this other energy grow inside you. It will then manifest in the form of energy, and this energy will embrace your energy of anger like a mother taking a baby in her arms. Then there is only tenderness, there is no fighting with, or discriminating against, the pain. The purpose of the practice of mindful breathing is to help to give birth to this precious energy called mindfulness and to keep it alive.
pages 50-51 (Thank you, K)
I am reminded that the most basic of skills develops in infancy--the ability to self-soothe. Each time a loving presence responds with comfort the baby learns that suffering can be transformed into love and joy. The Way is being shown to the other side of suffering, as well as the confidence that there is a Way. Trust is another name for this confidence.
This is the calming of fear. And the precursor to trusting your gut, with confidence.