Weekend Reading, 8.19.18
August 19, 2018

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

I often read about the power of choosing one’s thoughts, or something along those lines: shifting perspective, flipping the script, quieting negative self-talk, and so on. It sounds so compelling and empowering, yet so elusive. Most of the time, I feel that my thoughts choose me. I often wish—especially when they’re particularly exhausting—that they’d choose someone else.

Once in a while, I’m able to choose different thoughts, or to change a gloomy perspective. The amount of effort that it takes to do this consistently surprises me: it’s so much greater than what I expect, so much more work than my self-help reading prepares me for. Sometimes I don’t succeed at all, and I’m left wondering whether I’m trying to choose new thoughts or bullying myself away from thoughts that, no matter how tedious, are honestly and stubbornly mine.

This tug-of-war has been on my mind a lot in the past week. At many moments when my outlook felt particularly grim or negative, I invited myself to envision things turning out differently, or to resist making any sort of prognosis about how they’d be. Sometimes it worked, albeit through a lot of effort, and I was proud of myself for challenging assumed narratives.

Then this weekend rolled around, and for various reasons it feels impossible to escape my own worrying and nervous mind chatter, to resist chasing after fearful thoughts. Added to it all is the frustration of feeling as though I ought to be able to see things differently, to quiet my mind more efficiently. What’s all of the meditation and mindfulness practice for, if not to make this less of a struggle?

Usually when I’m wrapped in knots like this, the best path forward is a simple self-compassion practice. For me, it starts with doing kind things for my body (generally this takes the form of cooking something I like to eat), and if I’m lucky it can evolve into a gentle acceptance that I am where I am, and I’m doing my best. Sometimes it helps to imagine that I’m treating myself as I would a friend who was having a particularly tumultuous inner day, or even that I’m tending to a younger self or inner child.

This post catches me midway through that process, having just whipped up a tasty lunch that felt self-caring and a post-prandial nap that was equally so. Racing thoughts haven’t quite subsided, but the physical self-care that so often initiates self-soothing is underway, and that’s a good thing.

As I was sitting down to write, I realized that choosing to be self-compassionate is its own form of perspective shift: I may not be able to select different thoughts than the ones I have, but I can resolve to stop dwelling obsessively within my thoughts and to focus on my body, my breath, my whole being.

I also realized that, to whatever extent choosing different thoughts is possible, there’s a reason it’s not easy work. My fallback narratives about the way things are and have to be are informed by really old stuff: old fears, old experiences, old assumptions. They’ve safety of the familiar working in their favor. A new outlook, no matter how ostensibly hopeful or fresh, may actually register as a greater threat than I consciously grasp when I’m thinking about all of this.

These realizations have been helpful. Now I’m feeling more aware of a familiar kind of turmoil, but choosing at least to recognize that the possibility of something different exists, to acknowledge my own efforts toward change, and to detach a little bit from how it all goes. At least for today.

Wishing you self-compassion and small acts of self-acceptance as we enter a new week. And here are the articles and reads that caught my eye in the last seven days.

Recipes

I catch cooked more couscous than I needed this week to serve with the tagine recipe from Power Plates, so I’ve been searching for summery couscous recipes to use the leftovers in. Lindsay’s couscous summer salad is a feast for the eyes, and I love all of the varied fruits and veggies she uses in it.

Sneh’s Mexican bean & mushroom vegan chili will be in my slow-cooker recipe rotation once the DI begins: so hearty and simple.

What better to serve a bowl of vegan chili with than Emilie’s scrumptious jalapeño zucchini cornbread?

I haven’t made a nut-based spread in a while, and Sophie’s beautiful, golden cultured turmeric cashew spread is calling my name.

Finally, I need to find a Labor Day get together to attend specifically so that I can bring a bushel of Jessica’s loaded vegan potato salad with coconut bacon. Delicious!

Reads

1. My idea of mindful eating has evolved over the years, but it’s never resembled anything even remotely distraction free. As someone who lives alone (and even when I didn’t live alone), I like eating in front of the TV or with my Kindle. It’s taken me a long time to admit this without a little bit of guilt, and to furthermore admit that, even though I pay a lot of attention to how my food tastes and smells, I tend to eat pretty quickly and to polish off my plate without asking myself along the way if I might already be satisfied. None of this aligns neatly with the “mindful eating” that’s often written about or presented to me in articles.

I smiled when I read Carrie Dennett’s thoughts on mindful eating for the real world. It’s a nice reminder that mindful eating can and does look different for all of us, and that awareness and distraction can actually coexist.

2. I love NYU Langone’s effort to serve more healthful and sustainable foods to patients.

3. Let’s hear it for a new generation of veggie burgers (and other innovative plant foods)!

4. Plastic pollution in oceans is getting more and more attention in science journalism these days, and I was struck by Erica Cirino’s elegant article on how it’s now traveling up the food chain.

5. There’s nothing I love more than cooking for friends, but I’m all too prone to making apologies for the food I prepare; I qualify that it’s no big deal, apologize that it wasn’t something else, note that I didn’t have time to make something that isn’t on the table (and consequently not being missed by anyone but me).

It’s taken me a while to figure out how much this dampens the mood of a meal. People gather to appreciate what’s there, and they usually love something that’s simple and good. I may be thinking about what my food isn’t, but my friends aren’t.

When I read Emma Laperruque’s thoughts on not apologizing for her food, I nodded my head firmly in agreement. And, especially in the context of how I’m feeling today, I like her words about the value of “fake it till you make it,” so to speak:

That’s the funny thing about white lies: They can be so aspirational. I like to think that the more you act like the person you want to be—less self-deprecating, more self-loving; less frantic, more calm; less judgmental, more empathetic—the more you become that person. And then, eventually, what’s the difference?

What’s the difference, indeed?

Happy Sunday, friends. This week, a favorite new vegan taco recipe, with a go-to, four-ingredient sauce thrown in for good measure.

xo

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    5 Comments
  1. Gena,

    I am looking forward to reading the above articles but particularly the one on mindful eating. When I lived alone I ate in front of the TV. When I used to eat out alone, I always had a book. I normally have a book in front of me at dinnertime (and I am married!). I am not sure it means that I am ignoring my food or my husband. I do tend to eat quickly (and always have) but I think I enjoy my own cooking, am appreciative of what I made and am feeding my husband. I’ll have to consider things.

    I get super twisted up in my own repetitive thoughts all of the time. If I can manage a little perspective while in the midst of things, I remember to simply “be” with my thoughts. Not to get rid of them but to co-exist with them. At the best of times, I am able to turn the thoughts into something else, something that sounds better internally. (I often remind myself that I wouldn’t say such horrible things to a friend so why am I saying them to myself?) Mostly though, I just travel around my day with my own internal dialogue, trying to dampen it down or turn it around. I think I understand just what you are saying. It’s hard to change patterns.

    I always enjoy your posts! Thank you. They are part of my weekend routine:)

  2. Gena, I don’t think it’s really possible to change one’s thoughts and thinking patterns. I know that it is what Cognitive Behaviour Therapists like us to try to do, but I think the truth is, the more we focus on trying to change a thought, the more we actually focus on that very thought … and get caught back in the cycle again. Not to mention, we then get caught in a cycle of hating ourselves for not being able to change our thoughts, as well! I think practising acceptance and compassion is a far more realistic and far wiser practice, ultimately, which is more in line with current ‘mindfulness’ and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques. If we can manage simply to recognise when we are caught in a cycle of frustrating thoughts, and if, in recognising that’s what happening, we can then say to ourselves, ‘Well, here are those troublesome thoughts again,’ we do actually allow the thoughts first to rise but then to fall away again. Don’t you think? Do you see what I mean? No-one is perfect, and we all have difficult thought patterns (yes, even people who, unlike you and me, don’t have a history of an eating disorder behind them!). But if we accept and forgive ourselves and our troublesome thoughts, even at moments when those thoughts really are troubling us a great deal, I think we move a long way towards having a more accepting and forgiving attitude as a whole to ourselves … and, ultimately, to others, too. xo

  3. Dear Genta, I can relate to the struggle you describe here. When I was in my thirties, I had a therapist who suggested something that sounded really counter intuitive to me about my fearful thought patterns. She said that when I started into a worrying self-critical spiral, instead of getting frustrated or mad at myself, to say “thank you” to myself. “Thank you” to that part of myself that was trying to protect me from whatever it was I was afraid of, and was doing it the only way she knew how. Surprisingly, this worked. It started to soften those thought patterns. And then, after thanking, I could gently ask if we could try a different approach. Beyond that though, I think it’s sometimes imperative to just accept I’m in a cycle of frustration, worry, anxiety–which is quite humbling. But I never get that moment of –wait a second–it’s shifted, the heaviness is not so heavy–if I don’t do that. Going with that emotional weather and the thoughts that come with it, even if it’s pouring and I don’t have a raincoat on, so to speak, is not easy to do. I salute your weathering of the storm you’ve been in this weekend. And I’m sending my love. xoxo

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