My nephew (a new addition to our family) is absolutely adorable and full of charm. The other day I was video chatting with him (and my sister) while he was eating his dinner. My sister couldn’t get the food to him fast enough. I was surprised that he was enjoying spinach, broccoli and salmon. There’s not a lot this little guy doesn’t like to eat. Thinking back to my own childhood, boy was I a picky eater compared to him. I could not handle anything with a ‘funny’ texture, including eggs and most meat (to this day, I still can’t.)
My video chat with my nephew during dinner time got me thinking about a much larger dilemma than my picky eating habits as a child. When life serves us a diet that is unpalatable we are quick to push the plate away. Our ‘food’ dislikes are actually unwanted emotions and experiences such as discontentment, sadness and loneliness. These can be brought on by loss, disappointment, failure and disagreements.
Just like I avoided eggs and most meat as a child (and adult), I’ve also pushed away many unwanted emotions and experiences. I did this by covering up reality with motivational mantras like, “Don’t give up! Stay positive! Do what’s right!” With such an unbalanced diet of motivational mantras, I neglected to notice any deficiency. The unbalanced diet, while tasty, caused an upset stomach. Unlike a child, I could no longer close my lips and shake my head, “No!” I had to acknowledge every platitude I had collected over the years: “Strong successful people persist! Don’t show weakness! Pray the roadblocks away!” All these taught me the art of resistance.
Acknowledging every platitude was no easy task for me. It felt like betrayal. It felt like I was losing my sense of self. I wanted to be strong, successful – someone who overcomes difficulty (not someone who is defeated by it) – but believing these motivational mantras taught me the art of resistance. I believed that if I just kept pushing through the unwanted emotions and experiences I’ll survive and even succeed. This stubborn belief, rooted in motivational, religious and cultural messages had me ignoring my most primal instincts. If only I were to listen to my body and have the courage to act, boy would I have saved myself much distress. The knots in my stomach, the tense muscles, the racing heart, the sleepless nights and jitters were all flags that my life was not okay. My body was serving me up a dish of reality. These were all signs that I needed to make changes. I needed to explore the difficult stuff (the type of stuff they never put on a motivational poster). Like food moving through my digestive system, I had to move through complex emotions and recall experiences without the ‘strong motivational mantra me.’ Instead I had to admit imperfection and feel vulnerable. I had to allow myself the space to go inward and explore what was really going on. I had to have the courage to acknowledge my primal instincts as cues to listen and respond to, not to be drowned out by motivational mantras.
For years fear has kept me from accepting reality. Accepting reality felt like defeat. Today, I see ‘the unpalatable’ as part of a balanced diet – it is neither good nor bad. It is just food.
Life will not always serve us a desirable diet, and when it serves us undesirable food, if we shut our mouths and shake our heads, “NO!” it does not go away. It takes courage to accept reality for what it is: heart break, disappointment, grief, a feeling of failure and so on. When we feel safe to explore the difficult stuff we experience relief, courage and you may even say ‘wholeness.’