Bite-by-Bite, a Mindful Remembrance

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Each August, I remember the day—some four years ago, now–that my gnawing hunger and craving for connection closed the door on the way I lived.

Always, my memory of that pre-dawn, August 12th morning feels crystalline yet memory is the mind’s filter, a selective and often soft light on pain past. Still, the remembrance is sharp enough.

Then, my heart was as empty as my stomach. In all ways, I was perfectly hollow, mindless in my approach to decades of autoimmune disease and related health issues.

I had reached the point where no food satisfied my hunger and almost any food would trigger digestive issues. Thinking 0714My weight just continued to climb no matter what I ate or did not eat. Inflammation was systemic.

My doctors—I had a whole group by this time—increased the variety and type of medication for my stomach and thyroid as well as musculoskeletal pain, more tests for my kidneys, and always more blood work as if to make sure both lupus and Sjogren’s remained rampant.

Mindlessly, I lived, not present for any of it. Rather, I looked to the days when remission would return—as it always had for the thirty years previous—then, I would return to life as I knew it.

There was no remission but there was no organ failure, either. What did happen was a dramatic decrease in my systemic inflammation, my digestive issues are no more, and I have maintained a 68 pound weight loss for 30 of the last 48 months with only gentle yoga for exercise. Musculoskeletal issues, in particular mobility, remain a challenge.

Mine is a life few, if any, would want but it is mine—and I am mindful of it—something I never was in the way I once lived.

Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart, and mind—and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without judgment or criticism.

(Mindful Eating, Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., p. 2)

It was the hunger in my stomach that brought me to mindfulness. I had to learn what food my body needed, for each body is unique in its nutritional needs. No two are the same. I had to sort through the food that would satisfy my hunger and ultimately, open my heart.

Eating mindfully is a bite-by-bite experience. Not all foods are equal in nutrients but being mindful of each bite keeps my focus on whether or not the food is satisfying my hunger. I have found I am much more selective in what and how I eat. Why would I eat food that leaves me not only hungry but craving more?

A Gander 0514Am I eliminating my disease process? No, but I am assisting my body by eating nutrient-dense food rather than adding to its burden with empty calories. And yes, it has taken most of these last four years not only to realize the difference between the two but to find food I love to eat.

Grains, even gluten-free, are not something my body processes efficiently but infrequently, I partake. The same is true for any starch or yeast. Sugar brings on “brain fog” and increases my musculoskeletal pain. Dairy and soy I just avoid.

My being present in eating opened me to my life as it actually is, filled with infinite possibilities unique to me. Mindfulness helps me discover them and experience life in ways I never imagined. Every day is fresh, its own possibility.

In creating a physical, compassionate connection with my body, I opened my heart to life as it comes–I connected–this August 12th, I paused to remember. Thanks, regular readers, for walking with me down this memory lane yet another time.

22 thoughts on “Bite-by-Bite, a Mindful Remembrance

  1. Hi…I saw this posting. I am assuming “mindful eating” means being mindful in not eating animals…there is no judgement in this question…just a desire for an understanding of what “mindful eating” means. The word mindful to me means taking into account the suffering of others and not participating. I think that is what you intend in your article but if you can provide more clarity that would be great. Thx.

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    1. Hello, Kristin!
      I apologize for being so tardy in my response to your thoughtful comment. The short answer to your question is yes. A bit longer answer includes that as one who identifies as “mostly Buddhist,” I do not condone the taking of life. I say mostly Buddhist for I have not yet taken my vows. I appreciate your comment and hope you stop by again.
      Karen

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  2. What a wonderful post to come upon this busy day. I’ve been studying and teaching yoga for many years. Yoga doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it has been a godsend, as well as a source of pure fun, for me.

    Your mindfulness training comes from many sources, it sounds like, but primarily from yourself — which is pretty remarkable. Do you know how rare it is for someone to lose, and keep off 68 pounds? It speaks to the power of your teachers, but also to your own willingness to try, and try again.

    Best wishes as you continue your good work, learning about yourself, nourishing yourself in all senses.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words and best wishes. In many ways, these last years seem the best of all but I am just as hesitant to label the previous 57 as not so great. It truly seems a matter of more aware and not so much. In my previous 57, maintaining the weight loss would have surprised me for then I waited for the world in order to change. Now, I know differently. From a health perspective, maintaining a steady weight has helped me keep a close eye on inflammation. Again, thanks!
      Karen

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  3. Thank you, Karen, for yet another gentle reminder of all this universe has to offer. I love the Bays quote, too. “Mindfulness is awareness without judgement or criticism.” You showed me, in this post and do many others, just how this is done. Thank you.

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    1. Such kind words, Janet. Thank you! Perhaps the greatest appeal of mindfulness, at least for me, is that it is immediate and always possible. In other words, the fact that I breathe brings me to the moment.
      Karen

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  4. Karen, you inspire me with this post. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your triumphs. There are so many of us that deal with similar issues. So glad you’re finding your way back to a better place that gives you measurable health and peace. 🙂

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    1. I know that you, too, know many of these issues. Whenever I write about them, I think of you, Karen, and am always happy to read you on the blogosphere and say hey on other social media. Thanks so much, Karen.
      Karen

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  5. I know that freedom well. For me it was the day I stopped fighting food and my body, after bingeing had become a recurrent, uncontrollable nightmare. I love the gratitude such transformation opens the door to, given the willingness.

    Happy, beautiful anniversary my friend! You’re a true inspiration.

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    1. Yes, the gratitude that comes with transformation is almost beyond words for me, and some days, it is but what a sensation! I remember your “does dirt have calories” post and the above link to a previous post has that link in it. Reading your post gave me the courage to write about my dirt. For that, I will always be grateful but that you and I have become friends is a gift I treasure. Thank you, August, for all that you bring to my life.
      Karen

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  6. It is amazing how useful limitations can be, if they are recognized for what they are, tools for framing life and making it more coherent. A strong post Karen!

    Happy Birthday on the 19th. I look forward to years of your thoughtful posts and many more shared birthday months.

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  7. Great post. I have been working on this same connection for a while… but I feel like an alcoholic when it comes to my daily bottle of Starbucks Frappuccino. How ‘sick’ is it to debate if it is worth the pain to indulge in an ice cream cone, or to battle with the memory of a good old hotdog (on a fer-real hotdog bun) and know it is poison, and think well, I will get over it in 3 or 4 days.
    Sad. But at least some of us KNOW what we are doing to ourselves. Think of the poor souls who haven’t a clue. Thinking of them sometimes gives me the push to ‘do better,’ or do the right thing.
    I try to grow as much of my own food as possible so at least I know what poisons I am NOT ingesting as I use NO chemicals in my garden.
    But mostly, I wonder just what is it I am supposed to be learning from this. Besides not eating coffee ice cream on a waffle cone! sigh.

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    1. Hi, Jan!
      In the mid 1980s, I was introduced to Buddhism and Zen, which stayed with me, although my connection was tangential at best. My love of language drew me to the koan, as I admire such economical use of words. So, when suffering seemed to be all my life, I thought, let’s explore suffering, not realizing it was a way of “backing into” (if you will) Buddhism. All I knew was I had discovered something. In accepting my life, it blossomed.

      I have come to believe each one of us finds our unique middle way. Mostly, it is a matter of being aware of our world. I, too, am concerned about the poison in our food and in our world. I do my best to support local farmers and those brands that are not adding to our polluted environment but again, I just try to be open to life as it is.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      Karen

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  8. I don’t know how this could have been for you but there’s something about it that says to me we have to take it as far as it’ll go and experience the most open acceptance of suffering before mindfulness is effective. I had a similar trauma and discovered the Buddhist 1st Noble Truth. Thanks for posting and Happy August 12th!

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    1. Thanks, Tiramit. For me, it was a matter of going right to the edge and opening my arms to suffering. As the acceptance grew, there was life to explore as the experience that it is rather than what it is not. Acceptance of that first truth gave me life. Always appreciate your words, Tiramit, here and on your blog.
      Karen

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  9. Thank you so much, Karen, for showing how a person with horrific challenges can still live, and accept life, and help others understand “mindfulness”. You are an inspiration.

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    1. You are far too kind, Craig. I am humbled. It is not an exaggeration to say that my life really opened up when I became mindful of it. It still amazes me. Again, thank you, Craig.
      Karen

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  10. I am beginning this process myself so not only is your writing balm for the sous as usual but your words carry practical advice and assistance. When I read your book quote I thought immediately of a friend working on this as well. I look forward to reading it and sharing with her. We are support partners

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    1. The book is wonderful, Angela! In particular, it is practical as it identifies hunger as an experiences of all of our senses. The more mindful I am of my life, the larger it is as it is. Best to you and your friend in the process. Good for you, both!
      Karen

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