Have you ever stood before an open refrigerator feeling you need something but not knowing quite what? Then you zero in on that leftover chocolate cake and eat the whole thing only to still feel dissatisfied only now you feel guilty and sick to your stomach as well.
Psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, Sasha T. Loring, author of Eating with Fierce Kindness: A Mindful and Compassionate Guide to Losing Weight, gives this as an example of “the wanting mind,” a state of fundamental dissatisfaction that leads to cravings.
Cravings can be caused by different things, such as allergies, lack of sleep, and nutritional deficiencies. But, as Loring observes, there is also something in our nature that leads to cravings. And once it gets a toehold a craving is difficult to tame.
However, she gives three steps for gaining release craving’s grip:
1. Examine the Wanting Mind. If you can identify and name the “wanting mind”—that sense of being fundamentally unfulfilled even when basic, ordinary needs have been taken care of—when it occurs, you are that much closer to freeing yourself of its dictates. Closer to simply letting it arise, feeling it, breathing with it, accepting it, and then letting it go without having to act upon it.
2. Loosening the Fixation. In a fixation, attention becomes narrowed and rigidly focused on one thing—either something we’re strongly attracted to or repelled by. With an attraction, Loring says, “a very compelling momentum is created to get the objection of fixation.” This includes thoughts about the object of desire and even physical sensations (like feeling there is a hole that needs to be filled). Fixation also includes a tendency to focus on the desirable aspects of what we want while ignoring its undesirable aspects and negative future consequences. Noticing that your attention has been “captured” enables you to potentially pull it back and re-focus it on something with a neutral charge, like your breathing.
3. Making Offerings. This is a way of shifting attention away from a fixation by shifting the focus of your attention from “me” to “other.” Loring gives an example: While shopping you see a cashmere sweater you feel you “must” have. Instead of yielding to the impulse to buy it, you make an offering by wishing “that all beings have the warmth and comfort of the cashmere sweater” you crave. She suggests actually opening your hand in a gesture of offering it to them. This initiates a mental shift from a narrow self-focus to a more connected and empathic part of the brain. Loring says that “Most people feel happier when released from the ‘I want’ state of mind into the more openhearted feelings arising from kindness and generosity.”
So if you find yourself craving chocolate cake, take a moment to pause. Notice how you’re feeling. Recognize that you’ve allowed your attention to be captured to anesthetize yourself from feeling something you don’t want to feel. Bring your attention back to the present and hold what you’re feeling with compassion. You could even place a comforting hand on your chest. Then make an offering saying something like: “May everyone have the food they need, the happiness they seek, and may they attain relief from the suffering of a dissatisfied mind.”