Many years ago, I learned how to fly. I’d jumped before, but had always fallen back. I can remember lying in bed using my preteen physics and philosophy to argue that silly adage: “What goes up must come down.” When I took my first flight I knew I’d finally won the debate. I reached into the clouds, then higher, and higher. Continue reading
Halfway through a sink full of dishes yesterday, I found myself staring into the face of doom. The betrayal was acute. Promises had been made, faith given, trust earned – now lost…forever. Continue reading
The world we wake up to is so often a hazy mix of dreamworld and reality. Fortunately there are ways to prevent the taint of the following three types of dreams from lingering until lunchtime: Continue reading
Click here to catch up on Part 1… So, after tasting universal love I had two options: retreat into bliss and keep surfing my supernova, or use this new platform as permission to seek out compatible abundances to honour my temporal self. This is a crazy world, and keeping our bodies, our little frictions in the flow, alert and alive can be a tedious business. But did I really want to sacrifice my humanity to white, black, or orange robes and hide in ritual? Continue reading
I can barely form this sentence – I want! – my mind has no patience for language – I need! All words have been conscripted in service of a craving and my executive functions are shutting down. Just as frostbitten fingers are first to have their blood siphoned away, this cold Calgary morning has redirected all my neurotransmitters to the same goal – survival. Continue reading
You know you want it… the tastes, the smells, the mouthfeel (oh man, I love that word). Go ahead and indulge. You’re worth it. You’ve earned it. Life is short. Woah… wait a second. Are we talking about sex or salads here? Can the prerequisite platitudes we use to defend anything from hair colouring to having affairs apply equally to vegetables? Life is short – here, have a carrot. Nope. Didn’t think so.
So if life is so short why bother eating healthy? Because it’ll be a hell of a lot shorter if we don’t? Like that argument ever works – not! How about another tempting equation: eat salad = get skinny = get laid? Logical. But just ask the next whiny wisp of a woman how sexy she feels tucking into her sprouts n’ lentils. Now, I can sit here and wax on about supporting one’s optimal system state with a custom care diet that’s high in fiber/nutrients and low in calories/sugar. But why bother when the straight-up skinny is…
Pure unadulterated pleasure.
Forget parched packaged veggies and Subway blasphemies. The key is to go right back to your hunter gatherer roots and get primal about your lunch. The grocery store becomes your ranging territory rather than an overwhelming warehouse. Follow your senses! Hunt for the colours and textures that stand out (most likely to be in season) from the others and get creative. Jumble a load of random deliciousness into your basket – veggies, fresh/dried fruits, cheeses, kippers, etc. And don’t forget about novelty dressing ingredients. Listen to your mood, to the weather, and pay attention to whatever items stimulate and/or excite a reaction or craving.
Chop/roast/mix your foragings and store them in containers (I’ve taken over our office fridge’s bottom drawer) for easy custom salad recipes, made according to the tastes of the day. Basically, you’re trying to create easy access to a sensory orgy of nutrient rich unprocessed foods while giving you a sense of control over your system state without sacrificing novelty, risk, or surprise.
Can a salad set-up sex up your summer? Hell ya! When we invest time and energy into supporting our optimal system state – however counterintuitive the specifics may feel at first – we gain a new sense of ownership and appreciation for our bodies. Rather than feeding a desperate amygdala with sugars and fats, a healthy system gives us space to indulge a far greater range of pleasures – gastronomic and otherwise. An attitude of curiousity and honest indulgence about food (+ all that zinc) keeps our brains alert for other… um… indulgences. And obviously, getting in primo shagging shape is an extra bonus.
You desired. You ate. You were satisfied. Is there anything more exquisitely human? More worthy of celebration? But at the same time… so shackling? Sure, you can go full-on Buddhist and meditate to cognitively cancel out the dualities – been there bought the T-shirt – but enlightenment is an unnervingly unipolar, and surprisingly uncreative state of being. I prefer to grind brilliantly through life – but how do we honour our glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, without becoming their slave?
Your conscious mind is only one small poignancy in your body’s comprehensive system state. Any arguments it puts forth should (ideally) be vetted against the needs of the entire system – wherever you’ve placed your flexible system state boundary. Test your ‘logic’ to see if it supports the three features of a successful system: its ability to adapt, accommodate, and regenerate. But here’s the thing. We project human designed systems into our society as reflections of our own internal biology. But our projections, in the forms of municipal governments, transportation systems, or even current weight loss programs, are invariably filtered through our left brain world of categorization and quantization. We find ourselves craving rules, numbers (BMI, calories), and all the social bell curve bullshit that add up to turn something as gloriously human as satisfaction into a moral issue of right/wrong and good/bad rather than how it supports the system as a whole.
Pragmatic system state theory asks the question: what is the true system cost of being fat? Now, I’ve always been attracted to bigger boys – in so many more ways than one – and I even recently found myself reconceptualizing my own “before picture” into a secretly indulgent celebration. But the hard (or rather soft) truth of the matter is that excessive fat prevents the body’s systems from effectively adapting, accommodating, and regenerating. Everyone’s optimal body set-point is different (due to genetics/hormones/stress) but when you tune into your most intimate biology you really get a sense for what keeps you humming along at your best. Leave your social and rational mind out of this! Your brain is only too eager to bullshit you back to the buffet! I have held tight to the truth for four years. But now, risking the wrath of big-bliss trolls, I feel brave enough to share it with you…
Body Worlds Exhibit Calgary 2010: A middle-aged obese man comes face to face with a plasticized slice of himself. I watch in rapt, almost gleeful, horror, as he is forced to acknowledge his own suffocating internal geography: intestines twisted and squeezed, skin stretched and distorted, liver puckered with yellowed lard… This is not fat as a cuddly blanket, a warm protection, but an invasive, merciless systems takeover by leaching grey/white masses of gelatinous flab. It took me five full blocks of my walk home to come up with a description of the man’s expression… “stern indignance.” I can still see his face.
Strip down and take a good long look in the mirror. Your reflection is the photo-physical manifestation of every decision you’ve ever made, your unique genetic relationship with time and externals, and your current system state. Which is to say… this is you, now. This image is the fullness of your humanity expressed in a single quantization of time. Reject it, and you reject the entirety of your existence. Accept it with unrelenting compassion, and you – maybe for the first time – discover love.
But what use is philosophical intellectualization when your whole body wilts with shame at the mortification of having allowed your dimensions to start sliding off the bell curve of culturally indoctrinated hotness? Actually, you’d be surprised. But you’ve got to get down and dirty if you’re going win over your limbic mascot (your emotional brain) and get your whole system on board for celebrating and loving ‘The Before’.
My hallway mirror and I had been ships in the mist all fall and winter, so it was quite a surprise, come spring, to discover I was a honkin’ 30lbs heavier than my bikini ideal. Philosophy’s fun, sure, but damn it I’m a girl! I hardly recognized my own body; I had become a ‘Before’!! No one else to blame. Sure I’d been dealing with grief, and a winter that dragged me along with it to its bitter slushy end, but I was also digging deep into my humanity in an exploration of… Ya, ya, truth is I lasciviously maxed out my glamours and insatiables in an unrestrained orgy of debauchery, mostly while wearing extremely unrestraining track pants – hence my surprise.
“Oh shit,” I said, looking down, “this is not good, not good at all.”
I happen to be one of those lucky bitches who gets off on broccoli and hiking, so losing weight wasn’t my biggest concern. But I really didn’t want to feel like shit for the next few months while I whittled myself back down to my ideal system state proportions. Solution? Push the boundaries of permission (introduced last post).
I’m not kidding about down and dirty! OK, first up, permission to experience gratuitous joy in sensory context of body, connecting experience of body with ebullient brain state. Homework: new morning routine of dancing naked to fave tunes in celebration of being a woman who peaks her pleasures with total abandon. Hell ya! Next, take fun (strategically flattering!) ‘before’ pic that is a celebration in itself (see pic – pssst missing letter is M). Note: I know I look ironically, infuriatingly skinny in mine – one word people… ANGLES! Rework wardrobe to accept and accentuate new curves to improve aesthetic and social feedback. Done, and done.
But we’ve got to get our primitive brains primed if we want a true visceral change in perspective. I had to somehow seduce Mitch-the-insatiable-itch. Dressed as full-on Christina Hendricks from Mad Men sexy buxom secretary, I “took my new tits out on the town” – objectively ignoring anyone who was ignoring me and replaying any and all ogling to imprint it in my memory. I also made sure to engage in some very strategic boob-centric flirtations – figured hubby wouldn’t mind since it was all in the name of ‘research’ ~wink.
The internet will give you precedent of permission for almost anything. Thus, I discovered ‘gainers’ and the men who love them. Google if you dare! Defining the extremes can help you find your place in between. Nerd that I am, I made notes. I paid close attention to the specific language the women used when talking about their bodies and expressing their fantasies. I also made note of the luxurious, sometimes surprising, ways their men touched/fondled/caressed different areas.
Permission to celebrate ‘The Before’ must come from within, so once again I left my own man on the sidelines so I could take permission into um… er… my own hands. All for brain science! Now, without getting too TMI here, I can only say this: training a new glamour by incorporating the gainer language, visualizations, and tactile techniques into my own experience made for an… um… ‘transformative’ event – the first time, the second, the… But I’m afraid my brain training may have worked a little too well. I’m actually sitting here thrilling in my own cleavage. So why am I still bothering to lose the weight? Find out in an upcoming post!
As children, we sought it outside of ourselves, challenged its boundaries, and submitted our viable worlds to be ordered according to its precedent. What is it? Permission. But we’re not little kids any more. In Blank Canvas Living’s exploration of learning to live with the brain, not for the brain, personalizing our permissions is one of our most powerful cognitive conceptual tools.
What is permission? Permission is a biological event. Let’s think about the brain. Without getting too technical here, permission can be loosely defined as the activation of neural pathways through the release of neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus. OK, now that that’s out of the way…
Permissions build our physical, emotional, moral, and social realities. We learn the boundaries and expectations of our viable worlds through external permissions (verbal, non-verbal) which are internally translated into supporting circuitry. This is a lifelong process, but most concentrated during childhood, before the brain starts pruning back unnecessary conceptual flexibilities. Example: A mother patiently teaches her child that dogs are brown and grass is green while cozying up together over a colouring book. A darling scene, sure, but equally grotesque in its neurological ramifications – the loss of our virginity of perception. Shedding a little tear here… sniffle.
So how is permission a superpower? This is going to blow your mind… ZOOM POW SPLAT! A paralysed woman in a wheelchair in British Colombia scores highest on a national happiness survey. Everyday she wakes up with a brain flooded with neurotransmitters that colour her reality full of hope and possibility. Why? She has permission (remember the biology!). An Oxford philosophy honours student hangs herself after a bad breakup. Why? Her depression gave her neurological permission to live, and ultimately die, in a threatening and hopeless world. When used as a cognitive conceptual tool, permission can offer a glimpse into different realities. And once that door is open, you can step inside.
How to play with your permissions to personalize your viable world:
1- Evaluate your current permissions. This might surprise you. Example: You take a drink after work to relax. Yes, your brain is asking for an external, because that’s where it’s learned the Pavlov progression starts, but did you know you get a dopamine surge even before ingestion? Your brain is, essentially, already giving you full permission to enter a relaxed system state and live in a warm, fuzzy, blameless world. It’s only the mechanism (the glamour) for getting there that’s in question.
2- What world would best suit your genetic self? What permissions would that world give to someone living in it? What permissions would that person give themselves? What permissions would be damaging? Examples: Permission to be accountable to others in order to live in a world where others are accountable to us. Permission to indulge in loving, gentle self-talk in order to live in a world where we have value and safety.
3- Once you define a permission you’d like to adopt for yourself, you’ve got to ask the big question: what is the precedent for this permission? Are there people out there right now living with this permission? Are they successfully achieving their personal goals? Are they mentally healthy and happy? How do their viable worlds differ from my own? Example: Since the paralysed woman in the wheelchair has full permission to be happy, why the hell should your loaded inbox give you permission to be miserable? Seriously, think about it.
So before you light your next cigarette, accept that this is only the mechanism (the current glamour), and that your brain is already giving you permission to leave your desk and take 7 minutes of pure indulgent escape. F*ck the cigarette! Own those 7 minutes of bliss within your own body. Take a breath – clean, pure. Be fully, apologetically, your own permission.
A taste aversion is your brain being an overprotective parent. Sure, it has your best interests in mind, but that’s not much of a consolation when you’re the only one at the party who can’t binge on the olive dip or tequila jello shooters. From an evolutionary perspective, developing an aversion to a food or drink connected with (how do I put a this delicately?) a post-ingestion ‘indelicacy’, makes good biological sense. But sometimes this mechanism overcompensates and we’re left missing out on all the fun.
It was a magical night… The newlywed couple, deeply in love and deeply stoned, gazed dreamily into each other’s bloodshot eyes over a greasy vinyl tablecloth at Ottawa’s Shawarma Palace. Yes, magical, until the foolish bride munchied her way through an entire soup bowl sized slurry of ridiculously potent garlic dipping sauce, plus garlic potatoes and garlicky chicken shawarma! Thus, began the nightmare… CLICK HERE (if you dare). Don’t do drugs, kids – just don’t.
Yes, dear readers, that dear sweet not-so-innocent girl was yours truly. For almost ten years post-trauma I managed to live quite contentedly off the garlic grid. Everything was peachy until the owners of my office building’s downstairs cafe changed and the ventilation system started pumping nauseating garlic fumes directly into my workspace through the overhead vent!
“Really?” I said, looking up at the ceiling – and possibly a little higher to find someone to blame for this cruel twist of fate. “REALLY?!”
No escape, no more excuses. I could either quit my job or somehow trick my brain into loving that little demon bulb again. Because I tell ya, time sure wasn’t doing the trick! And after spending years researching the brain, I knew exactly how to set about it…
The proof is in pudding, or in this case, the garlic chicken n’ sweet potato curry (pictured above) I ate for supper last night… and today’s breakfast… and lunch… CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE
How to overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps:
1- Find the origin story of your taste aversion and accept it with unrelenting compassion. This will give you permission to rationally refute your emotional/sensory bias, which will give you a good start. But like most cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), reconceptualization without more direct communication with your subconscious is a whole lotta pain for oftentimes marginal gain.
2- Observe your reflexive responses and replace them with new body behaviours. I noticed that whenever I was watching the Food Network, and the host would say, “and now add the garlic,” my face – no joke – would seize into textbook disgust. I consciously began anticipating garlic and greeting its stage entrance with a wilful smile. Felt like an idiot, sure, but only until the new reflex became automatic (which happened surprisingly quickly).
3- Visualize, visualize, visualize! This is big one. Start with visualizing (using all your senses!) other people enjoying your food or alcohol taste aversion. Fill the scene with as many positive emotional and sensory associations as possible. I used a warm, happy Italian family having a Sunday supper in a rustic Tuscan kitchen (stereotypes are great here because they come pre-loaded with helpful associations). Project yourself into the scene. Then, when you’re ready, visualize yourself enjoying the food in question on your own terms, in your own setting. Note: practice visualizations in Theta brain wave state for maximum effectiveness, when you’re dozing off or groggily waking up.
4- Practice a kinder, gentler version of exposure therapy. Sure Vogue food writer Jeffery Steingarten was able to fake it till he made it with his taste aversions, but why torture yourself? Develop your new intimacy slowly and strategically. Personalize new recipes and really play with this new ingredient. I chose a particularly non-threatening, dare-I-say ‘cute’ garlic bulb to get me started. Invite the food into a kitchen (and bedroom – wish I was joking) that’s loaded with positive associations, good music, mood, and/or company. Keep your mind and senses in the present moment to prevent memory from hijacking control. And don’t pressure yourself. First dates don’t dictate relationships – I would know!
5- Take your power back and watch your words! I was playing a dangerous game above when I referred to garlic as “that little demon bulb.” Words have incredibly powerful associations, so be careful which words you use when talking about your loosening aversion – especially to yourself. This is going to sound painfully Oprah-esque, but… appreciate where you are in your journey (Ow! it hurts to even type that!). Don’t lie to yourself by saying, “Ooooo I love ______,” when it pops up on the menu, but be honest and take that moment to reflect on your successful experiments and how you’re so proud of yourself for working at taking back your personal power over your taste aversion. Which is to say, take these opportunities to consciously congratulate yourself for learning to work with your brain and not be bullied by it!
Update: Using the above method, I’ve now cured my taste aversion to olives too! Finally, I can take the Mediterranean off my no-fly-zone list – watch out Greece, here comes Cymbria!