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Body and Mind

I have a sweet tooth. Implicitly usually I am most looking forward to evening time after dinner when I can have dessert. Ice cream. Or cake. Some pie. Or chocolate. If I don’t have it, I feel like a soccer ball deflating. As if the telos for the day has been frustrated. When I skip having dessert for a day or two, I get antsy, easily annoyed, irritable. The usual withdrawal symptoms of any addictions.

I am going to try something for the next month. I will give up sweets. No chocolate. No donuts put out in the kitchen in the office. No after dinner ice cream.

One motivation is to improve my health. With the imminent arrival of my baby girl, I would like to take better care of myself. I even went to the doctor for the first time in many years for a physical, something I have avoided due to an anxiety I seem to have acquired from a childhood trauma of when my father had a heart attack. When I told the doctor of my impending parenthood, she nodded understandingly, indicating that it was common for parents to be to acquire new motivation to be healthier.

Another motivation is spiritual. Since I was in college, I have had, I now see, a very intellectual and abstract sense of philosophy and spirituality. As if these were mainly mental activities – something I strive for with my mind, far removed from how I take care of my body or cultivate habits of life. This was my attitude even when I was writing my PhD on embodied cognition and the essentially bodily nature of human consciousness.

This was of course reenforced by academic philosophy. Many of my colleagues took better care of themselves physically than I did. Running, biking, hiking, going to gym. But naturally all this physical activity was seen as outside the domain of philosophy. A life style choice matter but far removed from the work of thinking about the nature of consciousness or justice.

Certainly philosophy arguments don’t turn on the physical health of the people debating. But is being a reflective person improved by one’s ability to with stand addictions such as eating sweets?

I think so.

Now I am thinking that if I can control my urges and not give into my physical cravings, then it will improve not just my health, but also my ability to think more clearly. That the urges for sweets is like a covering over my eyes which makes me see the world through a kind of haze. No different in principle than if I were addicted to alcohol, drugs or sex.

This is of course an ancient idea: resisting the body, indeed even starving it a little, is a way to heighten one’s higher mental states. I think this is right.

For too long I have thought just with my mind. Now I want to think with my whole being, including my body. To enable that, I have to take better care of my body and take care of how I treat it.

What will my awareness be like if I can resist sweets for a month? I intend to find out.

Stress

Stress is discord between expectation and reality.

By instinct, we respond to stress by trying to change reality. If the world or others don’t confirm to my expectations, then I will make them conform. I will remove the discord by aligning reality with my expectation.

This instinct is pervasive. Deep seated. And often largely unconscious.

It also perpetuates stress. The more I try to make reality conform to my expectations, the more the discord increases. More stress rises.

The other extreme is to try to give up expectations altogether. A forced resignation to reality.

But this too leads to stress. Giving up expectations becomes an expectation, which conflicts with the reality of being unable to give up all expectations.

What then? If I can’t change reality to fit my expectations, nor give up expectations, how to respond to stress?

Be aware of it.

Don’t just act out of it. Nor try to dismiss it or cover it up. Be with it. With the sense of discord. With the tension between what you want and what is happening.

You can’t change reality however you want. Nor can you get rid of expectations by fiat.

If you sit with the discord, a third option arises: reality will slowly transform your expectations, which in turn will slowly work on reality.

If you don’t try to control how expectations and reality coexist, but give them space to exist with each other even in discord, they will slowly make friends with each other.

Expectations then won’t try to impose themselves onto reality. Nor reality try to bully expectations.

Both are equal partners. Stress arises when one is seen as more in control. When one is experienced as the aggressor and the other as the supplicant. Stress is the feeling of war between the two.

Peace is the experience of not taking sides. Not favoring reality or expectations. Seeing both as intertwined and inseparable.

Reality is reality. Vast. Uncontrollable. A wild bull which can’t be harnessed.

As a human, as a cognitive being, expectations are reality. Built into me through millions of years of biology, thousands of years of culture and decades of biography. My expectations are no easier for me to control often than I can control the wind or the lightening. Expectations flow through me like lava through an erupting volcano.

Expectations I can easily control are only surface expectations. The more the stress, the deeper the expectations in play and harder to be aware of them, let alone control.

The deep expectations are no more in my control than reality outside me. The deep expectations are just ultimately part of reality. The more I relate to them as reality, as something I can’t just control through my will, the less the stress.

The tension is really between reality and itself: outer reality and inner reality, both vaster than anything I can easily change. Stress is the identification with one aspect of reality over another.

Stress is like identifying with one wheel of a bicycle and seeing the other wheel as an antagonist. “I want it to move when i move, but how dare it makes me move when it wants to move!”

Leave to outer reality what is outer reality. Leave to deep habit and expectations what is deep habit and expectations. Identify with neither. Don’t get caught in their fights.

Give each space and observe them. Be friendly with both without trying to resolve their dispute. Don’t seek the happiness of an easy resolution. Open yourself to the peace of them working it out slowly over time. Be open to new, unexpected solutions and paths.

Stress is like greed: it’s pain and desire can’t be satisfied. Trying to satisfy it only leads to temporary satiation and ultimately to further craving and deeper pain.

Step outside of stress and just observe it. Don’t side with expectations or with reality.

Stress can’t be fulfilled. Through yelling or force or getting them to do what you want or you being better.

Stress can only be dissolved. Deflated through not identifying with it.

Stress can’t be overcome. It can only be side stepped.

Step to the side and let it pass. Observe it as it passes.

Observe the tangle between expectations and reality the way you would observe two wild animals locked in battle. With caution, with respect. Mindful of them and the space of their battle. And mindful to keep your distance and not be pulled into that space.