The British health and beauty expert Leslie Kenton (Kopan ’76) once jokingly told author Vicki Mackenzie (The Boy Lama, Reborn in the West) that she would be a lot more successful if she wrote a book about meditation techniques that taught people how to lose weight off their thighs than all this stuff about reincarnation. And of course she is right.
Your columnist has just come back from a health check-up with a doctor who made me stand on the scales for the first time in about five years and revealed that in that time I have added twenty kilos of flesh to my naturally light frame. “It would be good,” he said slowly and plainly, “if you very slowly lost some of that. You are an intelligent woman, I don’t have to tell you how.”
Well, girls and boys, as a magazine-loving baby-boomer fed the fake mantra that slim is holy, let me tell you that this will not be the first diet I have entered on, but it will be the first time I’ve done it for my health – and for my mind. In the past it was always for vanity – so I could wear those pants, fling myself around in high heels, cause men to get a steam-up about me, performing (that is, competing) with the ladies who lunch (but NEVER get fat!).
Five years ago I was whippet slim. Now I meet old acquaintances and the women smile and are silent and the men say, “Gosh, you’ve put some on, haven’t you.” I figure the rejoinder is “Gosh, you’ve got old, haven’t you,” but restrain myself just in time and duly bow my head in well-earned shame. Fat people do not get respect in Western society.
For whatever reasons – and I can probably come up with a dozen – I have spent the past five years using food as a form of instant satisfaction. I have begun to observe in my mania that I eat quickly, that often my swallowing mechanism is not even up to the volume of material being directed at it, “like the dog eats meat.” Sometimes I choke and stuff and work my throat like a Strasbourg goose at the daily force-feed. Do not shudder – I am not the only person with strong animal habits in my mind. But let’s stick to food or we’ll never get anywhere. I have never been bulimic and am not attracted to the condition. (If I were, I wouldn’t be fat.)
Eating, sex, alcohol, drugs are all about instant satisfaction. But the joke is, of course, they don’t bring any satisfaction at all – you only end up hungry for more.
At the other end of the scale is satisfaction that takes a real long time to come around – like witnessing that there are no hungry people in the world, that the planet is clean and green under a blue sky, that a the children of the world are studying Universal Education and the United Nations have handed over all their offices to impeccable teachers of the Dharma. You have to wait a long time for things like that.
There are several stories about Lama Yeshe and students with eating problems. One Western girl in India refused to eat for a long time and was very thin and ascetic. She was full of pure disgust for her plump businessman father who turned up in town one day and had a wonderful lunch with Lama. Lama turned to the girl and said, “You should to practice to become like your father, he is a good man. Eat!” She was very surprised.
On the other hand Lama roundly criticized some students who got too fat and set several specific diets and exercise routines. He had a total understanding of food, was a magnificent cook and a hearty eater. Many old students will never forget his American passion for cheesecake. He served food to his students like an Italian mama, always offering more.
Anyone who saw Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche eating together saw the warm, effusive, hospitable and plump Lama Yeshe serving up second helpings while Rinpoche sat sparrow-boned and bowed over his food, praying. “Eat, Zopa, eat!” Lama would say.
So now it is up to me to unravel my fearful greed for food. I have to go back to the lam-rim and consider the nature of this hungry body. I know all the stuff about think of food like shit, and think of how many creatures died to bring it to you (especially if it’s vegetarian), but I keep forgetting every time I see a plate of cakes.
I think of Rinpoche offering his food for so long sometimes on shorter airline flights hostesses have finished clearing for landing and he hasn’t even started eating. Apparently he hands over his fully blessed untouched plate with great pleasure.
Then there’s Precepts, when you only eat at lunch time. Whoever got fat on Precepts? Only on those days is eating finally special for me and those long free afternoons and evenings like a holiday. That’s real satisfaction.