Washing the Windows of your Mind’s Eye: Reversing Unhealthy and Destructive Habits with Mindfulness | Mindfulness Rewrites

Monday, March 7, 2016

Washing the Windows of your Mind’s Eye: Reversing Unhealthy and Destructive Habits with Mindfulness

Washing the Windows of your Mind’s Eye: Insight From A Room With a View      by Dr. Linda Miles

Do you struggle with addiction? 

Do you feel overwhelmed by destructive habits? 

Do you wish that you could make healthier decisions?

In his internationally acclaimed novel A Room With a View, author E. M. Forster reveals this important outlook on identity through his heroine Lucy: that “home” is a place we carry within us, and that it is we who create the world around us through our own eyes:

We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm—yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.

It appears, then, that not only is home a place you carry within you, but that your issues and joys and ordeals are also things you carry in your inner world and magnify in your mind’s eye. Carl Jung defined our “shadow” as a long bag filled with unconscious issues that we drag behind us, causing harm and suffering to self and others until they are faced.

Bill W., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), consulted Dr. Jung for help with his out-of-control drinking before starting that organization. Through the work of Dr. Jung, Bill W. began to learn the power of facing his inner shadow by admitting, “I am an alcoholic.” AA emphasizes shining a light on the inner shadow with compassionate, non-judgmental awareness. Healing from addiction incorporates facing the ways you have harmed others, choosing a place where you won’t do very much harm, and standing for all you are worth, facing the light.

The shadow contains many kinds of addictions. I was on the road to a life-long food addiction until I faced the powerful forces in my shadow.

While context changes a situation, it is ultimately up to us to decide how we interpret and use this context. My own Scottish ancestors, for instance, survived the infamous Potato Famine. After living through the famine, they carried with them an appreciation and craving for foods that they had been deprived of during those difficult days. They’d allowed the famine to significantly affect their outlook on food, and they passed down this mentality to later generations. Their descendants were farmers who also experienced droughts and pests that endangered their food supplies; they could relate very strongly to that old mentality.

As a child—with a child’s malleable mind—I was fed these stories of hunger and was taught the value of food. Leaving food on a plate was sacrilege. Foods that my ancestors used to dream about—fried foods, vegetables prepared with bacon grease, and sweet tea loaded with syrupy sugar—were “precious,” not “unhealthy,” so, the more the better. My ancestors’ perceptions were handed down to me, and I stuck with those old beliefs even though they didn’t make sense in the new context. In my context, where food was plentiful and I had the privilege of choosing my meals and being educated about healthy nourishment, my body couldn’t burn off extra calories and instead stored them as excess fat.

My prevailing subconscious thoughts were that those unhealthy foods were valuable and demanded appreciation. It was challenging for me to become conscious of the misaligned messages that I’d received about food. To be healthy, however, I realized that I had to learn to realign my perspective and make healthier choices.

I began to incorporate the AND approach in my attitude towards food:
  • Awareness: I first had to become aware of the unhealthy messages I was receiving about food. If I maintained the mindset of my starving ancestors (“eat as much as possible while and whenever you can—because you’ll very rarely get this chance—and eat fatty foods to sustain yourself for longer”), I would be killing myself instead of saving myself. Instead of putting some meat on my bones, I’d be at risk for obesity, heart disease, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar spikes, acne, insulin resistance, and a heap of other life-threatening problems.
  • Notice. I had to notice how I felt in these situations. When I ate or over-ate unhealthy foods, I noted how my body negatively reacted. When I began to follow a more healthy diet and regimen, I was energized and began to pay close attention to what my body was telling me.
  • Decide. The third and final step of the process is about consciously deciding to develop different habits. You understand the need and thus you decide to change. Each day unravels as a series of choices to incorporate healthier habits and behaviors that will eventually streamline into a new and better lifestyle. 

When you are grappling with an addiction or a destructive behavior, just remember to take a step back and explore the issue. Note—without judgement—what is really going on and where this mentality is coming from. Figure out why this lifestyle harms instead of helps you, and seek out a better alternative. Discover what the best solution is and work towards that. Decide to make those new habits a new lifestyle. Remember that you are in charge of your life's direction.

Ask yourself:
  • What do I believe about this habit/behavior? What is my mentality? 
  • When did I first learn this? Who taught me? What was the backstory? 
  • How does their story align with mine? How do the contexts differ? Is this something that doesn’t align or make sense anymore?
  • How could I rewrite this story/mentality to benefit me? What habits would I change? What changes would come of this? 

Incorporate these changes and notice the difference. How does the new behavior make you feel? Does it make sense? You should be able to see the purpose and potential of this. Will this help? I promise that it will. Immensely.

It helped me transform my outlook and my habits—and thus my life. I realized what translated as “survival” for my ancestors didn’t equate to “survival” for me. (In fact, it meant the opposite!) Like Lucy in A Room With a View, I realized that I’d have to pick up the pen and write out my own destiny—or else others would write it for me. I learned what “survival” and “health” and “well-being” meant for me, personally, and then that’s what I pursued. My new habits became a lifestyle.

By keeping me healthy, my body thanks me for those choices.

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