Tigers in the Mind

No matter how developed you are in any other area of your life, no matter what you say you believe, no matter how sophisticated or enlightened you think you are, how you eat tells all.


But think of it this way: the desire to eat when you are not hungry reveals what you truly believe about life here on earth – your panoply of beliefs about feeling, suffering, receiving, nourishing, abundance, resting, having enough. And once you know what you believe, you can begin to question if it is true.

In the moment that you reach for potato chips to avoid what you feel, you are effectively saying, “I have no choice but to numb myself. Some things can’t be felt, understood or worked through.” You are saying, “There is no possibility of change so I might as well eat.” You are saying, “Goodness exists for everyone but me so I might as well eat.” You are saying, “I am fundamentally flawed so I might as well eat.” Or, “Food is the only true pleasure in life so I might as well eat.”

When you first begin questioning your core beliefs, you don’t try to fix or change or improve them. You take a breath, then you take another. You notice sensations in your body, if there is tingling or pulsing or warmth or coolness. You notice what you feel, and even if you have always called this feeling “sadness,” you are curious about it as if there is no word associated with it, no label describing it, as if it is the first time you have ever encountered it. Is it a lump of blue burned ashes in your chest? Does it feel like a hole in your heart? When you notice it, does it open or change?

This kind of questioning provides a bridge between who you take yourself to be and who you actually are. Between what you tell yourself based on stories from your past and what you sense based on your direct experience now. It allows you to distinguish between outdated familiar patterns and the current, living truth.


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The path from obsession to feelings to presence is not about healing our “wounded children” or feeling every bit of rage or grief we never felt so that we can be successful, thin, and happy. We are not trying to put ourselves together. We are taking who we think we are apart. We feel the feelings not so that we can blame our parents for not saying, “Oh darling,” not so that we can hit pillows and express our anger to everyone we’ve never confronted, but because unmet feelings obscure our ability to know ourselves. As long as we take ourselves to be the child who was hurt by an unconscious parent, we will never grow up. We will never know who we actually are. We will keep looking for the parent who never showed up and forget to see the one who is looking is no longer a child.

Catherine Ingram tells a story in her book Passionate Presenceabout a young friend of hers who said, “Pretend you are surrounded by a thousand hungry tigers. What would you do?” Catherine said, “Wow, I don’t know what I would do. What would you do?” Her young friend said, “I’d stop pretending!”

Most of us are so enthralled with the scary tigers in our minds — our stories of loneliness, rejection, grief — that we don’t realize they are in the past. They can’t hurt us anymore. When we realize that the stories we are haunted by are simply that — stories — we can be with what we actually feel directly, now, in our bodies. Tingling, pulsing, pressure, weightiness, heaviness, big black ball of concrete in the chest. And by being in immediate contact with what we feel, we see the link between feelings and what is beyond them. We see that we are so much more than any particular feeling, that, for example, when sadness is explored it may turn into a lush meadow of peace. Or that when we allow ourselves to feel the full heat of anger without expressing it, a mountain of strength and courage is revealed.

Excerpt from: Geneen Roth, “Tigers in the Mind,” Chapter 7, Women Food and God.

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One response to “Tigers in the Mind

  1. Oh Geneen this is all so so so good. Your emails and last call about the food guidelines around eating sitting down without distractions and with the intention of eating in front of others really resonated with me. I read “Women Food and God” years ago, did your online program and bought your last book “This Messy Magnificent Life” (haven’t read it yet), but haven’t fully committed to the work. Wow, after all these years of slowly getting to know myself better, I’m starting to “get” what you mean about how you eat is how you live — it’s right there on my plate or while eating standing in the kitchen or eating on the couch or eating in secret — so much wisdom to learn in those moments. I especially like how you suggest that we can’t completely know ourselves (or more importantly transform) until we PAY ATTENTION. And we can only pay attention when we’re eating without distraction and not hiding!!!!! Thank you for your continued support, sharing your heartfelt personal experiences and wisdom in this area that has robbed so many of us from experiencing self love and joy of being alive! XXOO

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