Wednesday, November 3, 2010

241.2 (On "Mindful Eating"...)

Yep.  241.2.  That feels really good.  Yeah, that bit is a bit obvious.  Of course it does.  I was stuck at 245-ish for so long that admittedly I was getting rather discouraged.  I'll talk about discouragement in a bit.  But I wanted to start with progress.

I've taken a step-back from blogging here for a few reasons.  Firstly, it was beginning to feel a bit, I dunno... stale?  Not much progress to report on, so "keep on keepin' on" was the mantra, and the practice, so what's there to say on it?  Secondly though, it was starting to feel a bit obsessive, especially in light of the above.  It was making itself feel like "You must talk about food. You must talk about food. You must talk about food..." and frankly, it was getting a bit tiring.  One of the things I've liked about switching to a low-carb diet was that food making was becoming simpler, and as a result, I didn't have to think about food as much.  I was really liking that.  And I still do.  What follows is an amalgamation of cut-n-pastes from recent SOTW posts, and some other thoughts.

This past weekend, I attended my teacher, Chozen Bays-roshi's Mindful Eating retreat at Great Vow Zen Monastery.  The retreat was a gift to me by my friend Bansho, but it was a bit extra significant for a few reasons.  I've dropped over fifty pounds this year, and I really wanted to attend this retreat.  He's been following my progress, and had purchased this retreat with the intent of making it a scholarship.  I suddenly couldn't come up with the finances to attend, and it all fell neatly into place.  Also, it is the beginning of our observance of ango.  More on that, and its relation to teh foodz in a bit.

The retreat was wonderful, powerful, fun, challenging, helpful, painful, funny, healthful, healing, humbling and paradigm-changing, to say the least.  I had quite a bit of apprehension during the run-up, mostly over carbs.  There are plenty of carbohydrates at the monastery.  Don't get me wrong: it's a totally reasonable amount of balanced, mostly-complex carbs.  I mean, my monastic friends living there work very hard, and typically eat one meal a day in a very simple fashion, and need to power themselves with something.  They're not on a diet to lose excess weight or body fat in some more expedient fashion like I am, so any weight-loss is a byproduct of a truly healthy life-style.

But me?  I am very carb-restricted.  I have been eating mostly protein, and animal-derived protein at that.  Seeing that the monastery is critter non grata, what was going to happen to me and my diet while there?  I'd actually had my first carbo-phobo dream a few nights before.  I dreamed that I was sitting down to a dinner of unknown providence, and it wound up being a hamburger.  That in and of itself wasn't so bad.  The issue was that it was served three-slab-of-bun "Big Mac" style.  I dreamed I removed the bun(s) and scraped off the toppings.  Then when I awoke, I found myself looking back at the dream, and being upset that in eating the mere toppings, I'd consumed ketchup. -sigh-  Yeah, no anxiety there.  I knew immediately that this was a psychic manifestation of my anxiety over the whole issue, and sort-of laughed it off.

I rode up to the retreat with my close friend SS.  She's been tinkering with low-carb as well, and we both decided even before leaving that we were simply going to have to roll with it.  Being freaked out by carbs while there was going to do nothing good for the experience, and frankly, would be dishonoring the entire intent and purpose of the retreat.  On the good side of things, though, was the experience of doing this together.  We're old friends who've gotten to grow close again after a number of years orbiting in different and distant circles.  Now that she practices with our sangha, we get to see each-other near weekly, which is awesomesauce.  That we're both major foodies with life-long weight issues just made it all the more poignant.  It was a great ride up to the monastery on a stunningly lovely early autumn afternoon.  This was starting off well.

We got to the monastery and checked in.  My sensei, Hogen, heard my voice and popped out to check.  "Andy, that is you. Good, good..."  He never smiles all that demonstratively, but his face belied him, and it warmed me.  After the general necessities were taken care of, we settled into our dorm spaces.

Dinner was the first major challenge.  Salad, beet soup and bread.  BEET SOUP?  BREAD?  I could feel the anxiety surge up inside me.  I was aware of it.  I acknowledged it.  I worked on letting it go.  But there was a practical issue that needed to be answered: that beet soup--due to its carb content--may very well give me a major glycemic whammy, and after my health issues at my last retreat two years or so ago, I really didn't want to start suffering from major blood-sugar issues.  That, and not having eaten bread for literally months, and I felt that the wisest thing to do was make a conscientious choice about things.  So I decided to forgo the soup in favor of the consumption of bread.  The soup was likely to be a faster and more powerful carb blast being that it was essentially a carb-loaded liquid; at least the bread was a multi-grain whole-wheat, so it would be slower in to my system.  I made sure to take extra salad.

And yeah, the bread was pretty damned orgasmic.  I took my first bite, and chewed for what seemed like forever, not in a Road to Wellville/Fletcherization type way, but in a deep relishing of something so insanely wonderful.  Made by hand by friends, this bread was quite possibly the best bite of bread I've had since I first started baking bread by hand myself.  It honestly ranked up there with my first true and proper French baguette.  It was for all the world like a massive Wheat-Thin, but better.  I decide right then and there to toss the anxiety for good for the weekend, and just see what would happen.  I was pretty sure that if I did, in fact, put on a pound or two, I wouldn't breach 250.  It was a worthwhile experiment in allowing carbs back in, and there was no more perfect a place to run this experiment than in this vessel of safety that is the SS GVZM.  Right then and there, I decided to just let it go, and be down with the full experience.  Yeah, and have two more pieces of bread.

I slept like shat that night, though.  Always hard the first night.  I was a late arrival, which had the benefit of me being in the second men's dorm, so I was able to pick a bed in an area of the Equanimity dorm that had no other people in it, but I picked a bed against the exterior wall, and froze my ass off all night.  I might have managed two hours' sleep total, but seeing as the day was going to be light on effort, I knew I'd be okay.

We sat zazen, did morning service, then had our first ōryōki meal that morning.  It's one of my favorite breakfasts there: 10-grain hot cereal from Bob's Red Mill with brown sugar and peanut butter.  I just went with it, and felt renewed.

The rest of the retreat was group work with my other teacher, Jan Chozen Bays roshi.  I'm not really going to prattle on about that part of it, because she did it all here.  There was a lot of pain and emotion dealt with, and it was all very insightful.  I slept like I was dead Saturday night.  Sunday, I woke up at about 4:30am very well rested.  I got up and dressed in the dark so as not to disturb my dorm-mates, then went to sit outside in the crisp, cold darkness of the early morning.  The rain had stopped, and it was beautifully clear with a crescent moon dancing in and out of UV-blue clouds.  I sat zazen out in the cold, and thought for a moment about what commitment to make for this ango.

An ango (安居), for those who don't know, is a period of more intensive practice in a zen sangha or monastery.  My sangha observes one every autumn.  For us, it's traditional to make an ango vow or commitment; some extra practice like bowing, chanting, memorizing a sutra, daily- or extra zazen, etc. This year, I was having a hard time coming up with something that resonated with me.  Last year I committed to sit every time my sangha was at the dharma center (of 32 opportunities, I missed four.  Jes' sayin'...).  This year, I was thinking of trying to memorize the Shosai Myokichijo Dharani, which always renders me dumb and mum.  I may still.  I'll be chanting it daily for six days in about two weeks.  Regardless, I mulled, I sat, I went inside to the zendo and sat alone until the morning wake-up bell at 5:50am rang through the monastery.

At the main Sunday service, we had a sagaki ceremony to invite all the hungry ghosts here to be with us, take what they needed, and leave peacefully.  It was lovely, fun, and signifigant.  I'll post more on that later.  SS and I drove home after lunch, and swung into Fubonn market to see if we couldn't come up with some cheap ōryōki rigs.  I found some all-plastic bowls that nested into each-other nicely.  She dropped me off, and I chilled at home.

Then, when making dinner for myself Monday night and setting out my new bowls, I knew what my ango practice would be.  Mindful eating.  Duh!  I will eat at least one formal ōryōki meal a day this way throughout all of ango.  I'll be interested to see what that does for the weight-loss.

More later, my hungry little gakis...

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