The following Summary of Geneen's first live call was written by Robyn Bloom, a student in the Online Course who created exceptional Summaries of Geneen’s work regularly. Please note that while you may read it here on your private Student blog, you may not copy it or share it with others.
Summary Notes by Robyn Bloom
Introduction and Welcome by Cheryl Robinson, Moderator
Bring yourself to this moment and prepare for your time on our retreat.
Put yourself in a quiet place where you can enjoy the call. Give yourself the gift of this time, so situate yourself somewhere where you will be uninterrupted and really present.
Geneen will share some personal history and her background. Then she’ll take us on a short meditation exercise. Then Geneen will introduce tonight’s topic. After Geneen’s Presentation, we will have some question and answers that have been submitted by our participants in advance. And then we will conclude with some action steps – some “Practices” to take into this week.
Introduction and Welcome by Geneen Roth
Welcome to everyone. I am touched and honored that you have chosen to spend your time here with me. I know there are many other things you could have done with your time, energy and money. And am honored you are here with me.
In your questions I recognize all the pain, longing, hopelessness, joy, and possibility contained in your questions. Food has held so much pain in my experience. I have experienced the depths of despair around food.
I started eating compulsively at a very early age. I started my first diet at age 11. I carried on through my teen years dieting and bingeing and then dieting on every imaginable diet, Atkins, mono diet, Weight Watchers, made-up diets, Grape Nuts diet, prune. If I get my food thing together I could get my life together. If I could eliminate my suffering around the food “thing” the rest would be better. A lot of pressure…
I did the Master Cleanse under the guise of making myself healthier. I starved myself for a couple of weeks lost some weight and then jogged 4 miles a day. I became 82 lbs and anorexic. Then I could not stand it any more. I started bingeing. I doubled my life in 4 months and became suicidal.
I could no longer participate in life anymore. Then it occurred to me, after I read Fat is a Feminist issue, I decided to stop dieting before I killed myself. I wanted to try something I had never done before. I decided to trust myself. To trust myself to stop eating when I had enough. There was another possibility with food that I had never imagined. If I listened to myself and trusted myself, I realized already had the answers. I stopped trying to fix myself. I gained weight in the start then started losing weight then leveled off.
I tell you my story, because I want you to know, that no matter how crazy or desperate you feel, I know for certain, for fact, that it is absolutely possible to work through this relationship with food. I know this, like I know there is an earth and there is a sky. I know it is possible. I know food can become a source of nourishment not a source of desperation.
Let’s start our Mediation:
Find yourself a comfortable position for you to arrive in to your body. I know your mind might be racing, wondering and hoping that your particular question will be answered, tonight. The best way to listen to these retreat sessions is to come home to yourself, to your body, to be present. It is very hard to believe especially if you are feeling discomfort or pain. By being relaxed, you can come home to yourself.
Start by taking some breaths.
I start every retreat session this way. I like to start by doing an orientating, grounding, and centering exercise.
You can do this anywhere, anytime.
Imagine: the ground is supporting you. You do not have to ask, control or manipulate. The earth is here. It is supporting you. It is not falling down or crumbling. Feel that support.
Notice what we have, not what we don’t have. You have support without even asking for it.
Notice the places your body is touching the ground.
We eat from our minds - not our body - when we eat compulsively.
This body has schlepped me around my entire life. My legs have been my faithful servants and I have heaped on them judgment. Feel these legs, feel these arms.
Come into your body and then notice your breath. Your breath has been breathing you. Now notice the movement in your body that the breath brings. Your breath pooches out your belly, a place where you have been judging yourself.
Come into the present moment.
Your body is a piece of the universe that you have been given. It is the place where we experience everything. Our anguish about compulsive eating comes from the neck down.
Look at yourself from the inside. Without judgment.
How do you feel? Are you having any judgments?
Are you asking yourself, when does the real call begin?
Notice what comes up and let it be ok.
Come into this body you have.
Basic Principles About the Work for This Class
Principles: Dropping the struggle, ending the war.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Diets don’t work.
They don’t teach you to trust yourself because they are based on shame, and self-loathing. Diets say that if you trusted your hunger you would devour the universe. You must control your hunger because it cannot be trusted. Diets tell us that who I am is not ok, and I must be monitored, imprisoned, and controlled.
PRINCIPLE TWO: No one changes because they loathe, shame and despise themselves.
And, deprivation does not lead to becoming a happy loving person. How we work with our relationship with food shapes who we are and who we will become.
PRINCIPLE THREE: We always turn to food for exquisitely good reasons.
You turn to food because you believe it is the best you can do and that food is saving your life. Or, it is the kindest thing you can do, given the choices you have. Drop the lens of self-hatred, because we always do what we do for the best possible reasons.
Principle Four: Pain is Part of Life
Pain is part of life. No one is immune to pain. Discomfort and some degree of pain are absolutely built in to life. It is not possible to live a life clear of pain. It is so good to know that because food cannot take the pain away.
Food is the doorway to the life you want most.
The relationship with food itself is the doorway, an opening to the life you most want. Everything we believe about life, love, goodness, abundance, deprivation can be known through our relationship with food. “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.” Sherri Huber
If you could extract all the pain you have around food, you would still find another way to express your feelings about abundance, or lack of abundance, self-worth or lack of self-worth. If you believe you are not worthy, if you believe you should not get what you want, those feelings will come out in your relationship with food. The belief that I am not allowed to have joy, that joy is for other people, then you will continue to take the pleasure of eating away by eating by while driving, reading, standing up, etc..
We choose to see in the world what we believe! So, our relationship with food allows us to see our beliefs.
We can continue to follow instructions that we were given 10 or 20 years ago or we can rewrite our own instructions. Even if nothing bad happened to you as a child, we all got a set of instructions that were not exactly in tune with our deepest self. Because, not even the best parent in the world can know the true magnificence that is YOU. Only you can know yourself in your skin, but you. Nobody knows what is best for you, but YOU. What we were told was different from what we saw and deducted. There might be the belief that I don’t deserve love. If I don’t hide my heart I will be shattered.
Ending the war, dropping the struggle and using our relationship with food as the doorway is possible if we are interested in learning from the struggle. Food can become the way we can know ourselves better.
The language of food:
Braille feels like a lot of bumps if you do not know Braille. You would not understand anything about the characters. Unless we are interested and curious about the fabulous language that the struggle represents we are just struggling.
YOUR relationship with food, the thing you are so desperate about is, when you are curious about it, can you lead you to the center of your very own life.
We are talking about a shift in perspective. When you can understand the language of your relationship with food rather than a curse, it becomes what allows you to come home to yourself. What you eat, when you eat, where you eat are clues as a way to come home to yourself.
Cheryl, As our stand in student, Does that make sense?
Cheryl Richardson: I jotted down a few questions. No one knows what is best for you but you? But if I had chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how can that be?
Geneen Roth: We don’t gain weight and eat compulsively because we listen to ourselves; we eat because we are not listening. You are feeling numb and turn to food to alleviate emotions.
Eating compulsively is changing the channel when you do not want to listen to what is on your channel. Turning to food is bolting.
Take the steps to ask yourself what is really going on. No situation is unworkable. All of you already know that.
You have all lived through astonishing pain. We have already lived through the worst. We protect ourselves from losses that have already happened. Food protects us from an old hurt that already happened. Then we are living in reverse. We medicate and change the channel when we do not want to listen because we do not want to tolerate or simply do not want to feel whatever it is we are feeling.
There is a meta-question that everyone needs to ask himself or herself: “How do you want to live your life? “Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life” Mary Oliver
Ask yourself, “Am I breathing just a little and calling it a life? Do I want to take up the space I have been given in this life? Do I want to keep gaining and losing the same weight?”
Ask yourself, “How do I want to live?
This journey with food is going to bring up a lot of questions.
Maybe you won’t know what to do with yourself. You signed up for the retreat because you know it is possible to live a life you have not lived into yet. The longing is knocking at your door.
The discomfort you feel is not the whole story. There is the longing for the life you are not quite living.
There has to have been some degree of willingness to ask yourself, “How do I want to live? How do I want my days defined? Do I want to learn to be kind to myself?”
It requires some willingness to tolerate discomfort. Change requires you do something unfamiliar. Anything new requires some degree of discomfort. But remember, you are already uncomfortable! I am not asking you to be uncomfortable. The discomfort is incredibly familiar. But because it is familiar it is safe.
Ask yourself, “What is it that you really want from your life?” This is the doorway. But remember, there will be moments of discomfort as you learn.
Stopping when you are full, being ok with hunger. “It takes great effort to be effortless.” And, there will be moments when it is easier to eat.
Question from Chery Richardson: What kinds of answers do you get when you ask that question on retreat?
Geneen Roth answers:
“I want to be aware of the life that I have been given.”
“I want to find out what I love most and do that.”
“I want to spend more time with children.”
“I want to do work that I love.”
“I want to appreciate myself.”
Who would you be if you were not diminishing yourself. Take the time to actually let yourself take in what you already have.
Question and Answer Session
Question from Donna:
What if I read the books, do the retreat, do the work and not get it? Or what if I relapse at a later time?
Geneen Roth: What if I am the one that doesn’t get it? This is what I know: What you pay attention to grows, what you put your attention to changes.
How you spend your days is how you spend your life. If you put your attention on knowing yourself it cannot help but change you. In 30 years of doing this I have not seen it not work when you pay attention to it. There is the belief “ I’m going to be the one that is left out.” Is it a belief that threads itself through many areas of a life?
Question from Carol:
I have read all the books and I find myself thinking it makes sense. But then, I go back into a self-hate place when I cannot do it.
Geneern Roth: It takes great practice. I am going to give you action steps and practices that I am going to ask you to do each week.
People often ask me if I binge now, Geneen. What do you do, what do you eat for breakfast. Food is not a problem for me and that for me is a miracle. Because I realized there are certain guidelines to follow and that I needed to make a commitment to myself to the best of my ability to follow them.
When I needed to sit down and write my most recent book I found myself resisting. I posted a sign at my desk: “Ass in chair”. Every morning I would drag my feet and realized all my friends are doing fun things and I could not join. Do I do it or not do it? Do I follow through or not?
The guidelines will inform. Once you inform and take on a practice then you do it to the very best of your ability. No hard and fast rules because then you will rebel. But there is something in you that will show up with yourself. I committed to three hours for my writing. That was my commitment.
Eating when I was hungry was the start. Being willing to be uncomfortable. Recognize there will be times that I will not be comfortable.
Do not make yourself wrong when you don’t follow the guidelines. Rather, notice what it is when it does not happen. Oh, I’m eating when I’m not hungry. The experience and thought of hunger will have entered into your consciousness. Insight by itself does not lead to change. Action leads to change.
Question from Helen:
I had many insights as I began reading. It made sense. But I found myself eating cake to get sweetness into life. Shortly after reading your book I left my marriage of 26 years. And now I am 50 lbs heavier and still eating cake to bring sweetness into my life.
Geneen Roth: Insight alone does not lead to change.
We are acting out what we believe. It is our actions that make a difference. If you want sweetness in your life and you are eating cake to get it then there must be a part of you that believes that you do not have sweetness in your life. What is so not sweet about your life? Inquire and notice how you feel.
Justine Toms, New Dimensions Radio. Justine grew up in a family with a lot of kids and there was never enough and a feeling of emptiness that she needed to take more and more and more. “I eat because I still feel empty. The food just doesn’t do it.” I said to her, “(nstead of trying to fill the emptiness let’s see if it is as bad as you think. If you are still after all these years trying to fill the sweetness with cake, it means the cake is not sweetening. What is not sweet? What is the lack of sweetness about? Is it really what you think it is?
Most of us believe a lot of scary stores. It’s not that what has happened is not scary or awful, it is the stories we tell ourselves about those stories that is truly awful.
Boredom. Unworthiness. What would those feelings be like if you were not using food to sweeten (distract)? We don’t even know what it is we are trying to fill up. Maybe emptiness might just feel like space. Loneliness might just feel alone. The bottom line is, we do not know until we start examining it. We feel emptiness in our body. We feel the glimmer of a feeling and then we run with it.
If I let myself feel it, I have to keep myself together! But all we have had is the glimmering about the sensation of the feeling and then we run with it. I have never met anyone that has died or fallen apart by feeling a feeling.
Caveat: If there is a trauma or violence around a particular feeling you might want to get yourself some help around that. But most of us just run so quick from our feelings that we are not even sure what they are.
Cheryl Richardson: So you are saying that if Helen could put some space between the thought and the cake then she can begin to understand the inquiry process?
Geneen Roth: It begins by not eating when you are not hungry. It begins in that very moment when you think food is the very best thing on earth.
There are many other things that can satisfy your hunger besides food. Ask yourself when you want to eat, when you are not hungry. Maybe I want to be with someone and I am alone.
You can do this once a day. Change happens bit by bit, in little baby steps that you know you can do. If it feels like I am saying something that you feel you cannot do, then don’t do it. If it feels like too much, try every other day.
I am confused about how spirituality, psychology and food come together.
I am defining spirituality in the way that we know that something is possible beyond the physical world of bodies.
There is something that each of us longs for and that each of us has experienced, thousands of times when we are taken out of ourselves. The conceptual thought of the mind stops and suddenly something else is here. Something else is shimmering right in front of us right now.
Mothers know this when their child is born. There is wonder, awe, something that stops the mind.
We feel it at different times in our life when we are confronted with majesty. Something comes out of us that we did not know was there. Moments when what we did not think was possible happens. The love we feel when someone we love is in pain or grieving. We experience it at a beautiful space and our mind stops and we feel the sense of something that is here beyond my old familiar self. And that something is what I am calling spirituality. It is a sense of more possibility.
The world beyond appearances is available us every single day. We function in this world but we are aware of so much more than we have been focusing on. What else is here? I can take a moment to notice the wind and sky. When I notice it I am aware that there is more than my little myself doing.
THIS WEEK’S PRACTICES:
YOUR PRACTICE FOR YOURSELF:
Unwinding your relationship with food is also about noticing what we already have.
I like to call this “Be Astonished” practice.
Everyday notice what you already have. Not just what you don't have or what is wrong. Notice what is already here. Notice the abundance of what is already here. Noticing what we believe that is keeping us from being our full selves and keeping ourselves from being our full selves. Ways we notice how we already are what we need to be.
What is keeping ourselves from the life we really want and what we already have. What would all the people who died today give to be here one more time, to taste, smell a scent, touch a loved one? We have that.
For every day you wake up, notice what you already have.
And the other thing is the first “eating guideline.”
YOUR PRACTICE RELATED TO FOOD AND EATING:
“EAT WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY”
Eat when you are hungry.
Everyone gets hungry. Maybe it has been a very long time that you have eaten when you are hungry. But we need to feel hunger to live.
The way to tell when you are hungry is by checking into your body. The aim of this guideline is to eat ONLY when you are hungry.
Before you eat, check-in with your body and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 is “I’m stuffed.” 1 is “I’m starving.” 5 is neutral. Note where you are on the scale.
And, remember, “mouth hunger” is not indicative of “body hunger.” Check in with yourself. Is your stomach growling? Does your stomach feel empty? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 and see what happens.
RECAP: This weeks Practices:
1) Be astonished at what you already have.
2) Eat only when you are hungry.
And, acknowledge yourself for having the courage to show up and for using your relationship with food as a doorway to the divine.
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