As it often does when meeting new people, the subject of my food sensitivities came up last week. I explained that my body doesn't process gluten, dairy, or legumes and isn't privy to nuts either. "The price I pay for eating outside the lines could be migraines, acne, gas, gray hair, lethargy, or decreased immune function, but is usually combination of those symptoms," I said.
"What foods do you miss the most?" a friend asked me.
"I try not to play that game with myself, but I do miss belgian waffles, peanut butter, and ice cream," I said after giving it some thought.
Her question reminded me of a central lesson I've learned since this massive lifestyle change: Stepping away from games that aren’t worth playing. This insight isn't new, but it has become more profound along with my interest in psychology and Buddhism.
If Siddhartha Gautama were alive today he’d be a world-famous psychologist for his teachings on attachments, or our tendency to hold onto life and its gifts. He understood that whatever we value—a new car, loving cat, or natural beauty—threatens to hurt us because all things pass away with time. As Buddha saw it, stepping away from the game of attachments is essential to escaping suffering.
I agree with Jon Haidt that unless you're a monk, breaking all attachments is asking too much, but the lesson remains: Whatever you invest yourself in or identify with is an unfair gamble because not only is your brain wired to feel emotional pain stronger than contentment and pleasure (see #2) but all lovable things are temporary and changing. Our sensitivity to failure/loss/pain is essential to learning and survival, but too many people let this detail run their lives.
When I learned of my food allergies two years ago I had the opportunity to make it into my identity and command pity parties every meal of the day.
I felt pulled into the losing game of denying what was already happening, wishing it would all go away. After more than a few late-night donut binges, I started waking up. Slowly, I began to surrender to my body's brokenness and take ownership for my unexplainable, undiagnosable suffering. I began to refocus and create a story I wanted to tell. I began to bear the weight of my own cross.
Every day people unknowingly engage in losing games: "I don't want to work today. This shouldn't be happening. I won't be at peace until I meet my soul mate."
Next time you're pissed, resentful, or frustrated ask yourself: Am I denying what's already happening? Do I want this impermanent thing to be permanent? What games am I playing with myself?