There is an old Ayurvedic principle which is also talked about in Yoga called the gunas. The gunas are qualities that any phenomena can take on, including humans and our crazy, fluctuating states.
Rajas, tamas and sattva comprise the gunas, and they are, respectively, active, passive, and radiant. You can say they sound and smell a bit like the Chinese concepts of yang and yin, with yang relating to rajas, yin relating to tamas, and sattva, the radiant principle, reflecting a perfect balance between the two.
When we strike a perfect balance between activity and stillness, it is fucking magic.
We all know what can happen when stillness starts to take over a life and there is too little activity. It’s called the obesity epidemic. Sedentary lives. Without regular activation of our life force, we die.
Instinctually we know this, and so after a while, stagnation becomes spiritually torturous. We develop what’s called depression, a warning signal that the stillness (not growing on any level) has become stagnation, has no equal and opposite counterpart, and that we are moving away from life.
But here is the thing: what happens when we are too active?
According to Chinese medicine (I guess I should have included the old Chinese sages in the title too), excessive yang eventually turns into yin.
That means, when you go too extreme in the direction of activity and movement, always doing, eventually the organism has no choice but to collapse. Shut down. Force a break, a pressure release valve if you will.
So we know the feeling of being a high-powered individual ~ when we are forced to pause, to rest,, we don’t like it. We get pissed. We wait, tapping our fingers, until we feel the high-energy voltage come back, because that is who we are used to being and that is who we love to be.
The downtime, the rest, the respite that the organism actually demands, feels like a waste of time, even when it is anything but.
So we are seeing now how both sides of the curve, both qualities pushed to their extremes, cause distress. Warning signs. Unpleasant and sometimes even inwardly warring emotions.
So what do we do?
One of the great paradoxes of life is that we all want to live, we fear death, and yet the marker of life, which is change, is something we also fear.
We find something we like and we want to hold on to it.
We want it to stay forever.
Including me. It’s a constant letting go, because the tendency for the mind is to grip.
Relevant to binge eating, imagine this picture: one day, early on in life, I noticed that when I ate in a certain way, usually a pretty restricted way, I felt wonderful. I had a lot of energy, I felt vibrant, alive, and had plenty of inspiration and motivation for all the other (non-survival) tasks of life, such as finding a mate (debatably linked with survival), expressing myself creatively, getting good at something, etc.
Then imagine that I wanted to maintain that state so much (the attachment, aversion to change described above) that I became obsessive. I started to think a lot about whether I was on my food plan or off my food plan, what foods I was going to eat that day or the next, what foods I should or should not have eaten, etc. You get the picture.
Well, at one fine point, my soul would undermine the whole thing, knowing and perceiving that I was going completely out of balance.
And how would that undermining take place?
In the form of a binge, perhaps.
Too much control gets balanced by loss of control. And if you happen to be the kind of person who enjoys feeling in control, then those moments of binging are psycho-emotional anathema.
But they are necessary.
Until we learn to truly understand, integrate and live by the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, at least the part of it where we learn to find that “just right” spot, then we will swing from one extreme to the other, never understanding the wisdom of the middle road.
Binge eating as I understand it is an addiction to extremes.
And I understand, the middle road is just not sexy. It sounds boring. And we always have the choice to continue swinging between extremes. In a world of free will, that will always be your prerogative.
The Middle Way on a Deeper Level
At the core, I think we are always being asked, nay, invited, to let go of our obsessions and find sanity. A perfect body that would look great on the cover of a shiny magazine isn’t worth a crazy mind ~ and neither is a reckless, careless life of eating and doing whatever we want, worth the health detriments that recklessness causes. Sanity is the middle way, and life is always trying to teach us that.
On the surface, the middle way might look like not freaking out when you have a food that is off your food plan, yet staying conscious and watching for the part of the mind that wants to say, “oh, you had a piece of chocolate, now let’s clean off the dessert buffet.”
It’s an all-or-nothing mindset that we’re looking to heal.
I’m reminded of my recent podcast, “Eat What You Want When You Want It” with April Lyons.
In fact, allowing yourself a food that your body is asking for might make it feel, once again, that you aren’t in a death plot against it, on a mission to shut down its deepest desires and silence them completely.
That trust could be useful in a balanced, healthy life. Don’t ya think?
On a deeper level, though, the middle way is a constant awareness of the moment. It’s actually the opposite of automatic living.
There is nothing wrong with creating healthy habits that you can default to, in fact, this is something I teach and is very much a part of my coaching.
Without a framework, a structure, many of us feel unstable and unsafe, thrown by all the daily uncertainties of life. We do need certainty.
And yet, automatic living is not living, and we know that.
We still want to be human beings, we still want spontaneity, and we need to know that if we do give in to a craving, that there is a built in safety net that will redirect us back to the course of balance and the middle way, as long as we aren’t trying to destroy ourselves.
And so, the teaching is again the art of mindfulness.
In whatever we do, let’s put aside the judgement and get curious. Let’s regard our problems as the silk with which our dreams are woven, for without them, we would be missing the main ingredient to becoming who we are.
Let’s remember that binge eating will not kill us. That there will come a day when naturally, we won’t want to binge. We will have other things on our minds, other desires and hungers.
And let’s remember, always, that our vision leads the way. Have a vision for your life and know that, whatever you do, whichever path you walk, if you hold that vision in your heart, you will find yourself moving toward it.