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Longing For Love

By Sumitra Burton.  

While looking back over my life recently to see what kind of “credentials” I had gathered along the way, I recognized a core thread that has permeated my experience from the very beginning: a passionate longing for love.  Somehow I had never been aware of it in quite this way before.

As a little girl, I was deeply moved by a picture in our church’s entryway of Jesus in his long robe with children around his feet.  Jesus was looking at the children with deep love.  I can feel now the sense of longing that arose in my heart to experience that kind of love in my life.

Early on I somehow got the idea that pleasing others was the best way to find the love I so dearly wanted.  I tried to make them happy, so that they would love me.  My mother once said to me that I was selfish, which struck me deeply as I took this to mean that “I” was selfish, rather than simply my behavior in that moment.  The desire to not be selfish translated in my young mind to mean that my own personal needs and desires must be subdued in deference to others.

I married very young (19) and was excited to feel loved by my young husband and the support of a dream that we would somehow live happily ever after, loving each other unconditionally (those were the vows we took when we married – through sickness and health, joy and sorrow, etc. – right?).

It wasn’t long, though, before this dream started falling apart as I often experienced a lack of love in our relationship.  We were both so young, and my husband had had a traumatic childhood and needed lots of support.  Neither of us had the skills to communicate our feelings and work through the difficulties that arose.  Over the years we had four children together, were separated many times, and actually married and divorced twice.

By the time of the second divorce, I was totally devastated – confused, grieving and alone.  I had tried so hard to love him, and had failed, and my longing for love (still very strong) seemed to have reached a dead end.  The harder I tried, the worse things became.  I had given my all, and it wasn’t good enough.  Something was deeply wrong, and I was convinced there was something deeply wrong with meI must be unlovable!

I stayed alone for the next 30 years after the second divorce, practiced yoga and meditation as best I could while being a single mother, eventually living and working in an ashram retreat center for many years.  I found a sense of peace while I would sit to meditate, but in my daily life there was still much confusion and even desperation as I tried to make others happy so that I would feel loved in return.

One day I remember so clearly, a spiritual teacher remarked, “We have to love everyone, including ourselves.” I was shocked to hear the part about “including ourselves.”  Of course, this made perfect sense, and why had it taken so long for me to realize this?

From that moment I began wondering what it would mean to love myself – and very gradually began to explore how to do this. There wasn’t much support in those days for this kind of endeavor. I found myself eventually gravitating towards a philosophy of relaxing more into who I already am, rather than the old paradigm of disciplining myself to become a better person.  I began to have glimpses of being okay as I was.

When I finally discovered the Living Inquiries and the tools of resting and inquiry, the old beliefs of “unlovable” and “not good enough” arose dramatically to be explored, and slowly began to unwind.  It’s been a dynamic process over the past seven years of working to unravel these old beliefs and learning to relax into my natural sense of being-ness.  A main component of this quest has been the gradual shift from looking outside myself to looking inside for the love that I long for.

While there is a sense that the inquiry process will always be needed (no end in sight!), there is also a deepening awareness that innately I am okay and lovable.  Any time I notice I am looking for love outside, I recognize the old feelings of unworthiness creeping in.  Deep inside there’s a growing understanding that not only am I lovable, but that I am actually Love Itself. No separation.

This morning I am taking time to simply allow the longing to be felt.  The intensity of the longing is immense, filling my whole inner torso like a vacuum in a cavern.  It feels like I will be engulfed by it if I allow it to be fully felt.  Go ahead, I say.  Let me be consumed by that longing!  As I sit with the sensations, an image of a gate appears.  And as it opens, Love is Here.  Love is calling me Home.

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

Emotional Eating ~ Addressing Trauma with Unconditional Love & Baby Steps

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

I sat in my chair after eating a decent-sized meal, and suddenly an intense urge arose to have “something more.” Even though I was aware that my stomach was feeling comfortably full, there was this strong craving to keep eating. My belly clenched like a wet towel being wrung. Immediately I got up, went to the kitchen and grabbed that something more, brought it back to my chair and continued eating. This is an old, old story of my emotional eating.

Once again I had given in, and given up, to my addicted behavior. Once again, there was a simultaneous sense of comfort and an uneasiness about staying stuck in this old, addictive behavior (and perhaps increasingly damaging my body).

What if I didn’t immediately get something to eat when the craving arose? What horrendous impending danger was about to descend on me if I didn’t have something more to eat? What if I could stop (when the craving arose), take a few moments to notice the craving (thoughts, sensations), allow them to be felt and heard, and wait to see what might happen? Would I … explode, disappear, crumble into despair, die … what?

Food had become my fake best friend. It had felt like I could accomplish anything as long as I had food to manage my feelings and give me solace. I had given up on using willpower to force myself into compliant dieting, since this strategy had failed numerous times over the decades.

As I have worked with the Living Inquiries over the past few years, I have gradually adopted a commitment to treating myself with loving-kindness, and to use willingness rather than willpower to address my food cravings. My greatest fear was that, in giving up on disciplining myself, my weight would increase exponentially until I weighed 400 pounds. And yet there seemed to be no other path to take.

Following the guidance of the Kiloby Addiction Recovery program, I looked at the traumas experienced in my earlier years, allowed them to be triggered and the thoughts and sensations to be experienced rather than avoided or shoved into hiding. I had misunderstood “love” early on to mean always giving in to others’ desires and putting my own needs aside. This misunderstanding led in my 20s to a disastrous marriage that ended with 4 children and 2 nasty divorces (same husband). I was devastated and alone, seemed to have nothing left of myself, and I descended into a dark psychological hole.

As these old traumatic stories were allowed to come up and be experienced, with tenderness and curiosity, they gradually began to lose their grip, and the new paradigm of loving-kindness (unconditional love) began to strengthen. A few weeks ago I was surprised to realize a readiness and willingness to take a baby step towards addressing my emotional eating.

I decided to try a commitment to not eating after 8pm at night. This was partially due to my oldest son’s success in losing 50 pounds simply by not eating after dinner. I wasn’t going quite that far (to stopping right after dinner), but was curious to see if not eating a few hours before sleep would allow the excess weight to start dropping away. I was also having a lot of trouble with insomnia and wanted to see if going to bed with a less full belly would help with my sleep.

I gradually decided that this was a baby step I’d be willing to try – to stop and inquire when I noticed an urge/ craving to continue eating. I decided to try, and to not shame myself if I failed.

In the past few weeks I’ve had pretty good success with taking this step: not eating after 8pm in the evening. The words I’m learning to use to soothe myself go something like this, “Okay, my darling, [yes, I’m learning to talk to myself like that!), you are wanting to eat when you’re not hungry. What is it you really want?” And then to take time to listen for answers and to feel the sensations that seem to be stuck to the words, all with a sense of tenderness and curiosity.

The first night that I stopped when this urge arose, I noticed an intense contraction in my belly and a sense of fear and anger (panic) that my urge was being blocked. Instead of getting something to eat, I sat still and allowed the belly tightness to be felt. Soon the belly muscles began to ease, though a sense of urgency still remained in the heart area. As I allowed that to be felt, and softened to a sense of curiosity and tenderness holding the sensation, the feeling of urgency gradually came to rest as well.

I became aware of uneasiness around this transitional time in the evening – an uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty – as well as a desire for connection. As I stayed still with all of it, I settled into a sense of connection within myself – no need to find it outside in food or company or anything else.

I noticed the need to have something interesting to do at this transitional time in my evening, something I could focus on besides the craving for food. I got up and washed the dishes and then got involved in a creative art project. Several more times throughout the evening an urge to eat something arose, and a similar process ensued – noticing the urge, allowing it to be felt (with compassion), and waiting for it to pass.

As time has progressed since that first night, it’s become easier (most nights at least) to hold to this baby-step commitment. I remind myself that it’s for my own health and well-being to keep this commitment. My sleep has greatly improved, much more than I would have guessed, now that the main part of digestion has finished before I go to bed. It feels more like being pulled “towards the light” rather than pushing against the darkness – coming home to myself. And even during the daytime now, there’s been a softening at times around the need for eating more when I’m not hungry.

It’s a tender moment in my life which takes a bit more focus or mindfulness than usual, and so far I’ve been willing and able to allow for that. I’m extremely grateful for this commitment to unconditional love – for myself!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

Armed With Food

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

The words “armed with food….” flashed through my awareness while I was swimming a few days ago. I was astonished to hear these words (and immediately feel the connection in my belly).

When I sat later with my notebook, so I could write things down, and looked for the end of that sentence, I heard, Armed with food … I can face my life, can feel safely supported (I don’t need other people, money, or other things to support me). I’m then self-supporting/ self-sufficient; well, as long as I have food! But actually then I’m “food-supported,” “food-sustained.”

Continuing with the inquiry, I asked, “So how does food support me in terms of creating safety?” The answer arose: Food supports me by giving me a sense of assurance (the full belly sensation).

So I sat with the sensation in my belly and asked, “Is that sensation assurance?” Yes, it feels like the full belly sensation is actually assurance.

Next I asked, “Is there a danger or threat in not having a full belly?” Yes, I’m starving for assurance!”

This last response took me back to my failed marriage, years ago. There I found a sense of No matter what I do, I’m going to lose my marriage, and I have no assurance that anything else will work either. I had tried every possible way I could imagine to save my marriage and it still failed. A happy marriage and family were the most important things to me in early adulthood. I sensed that there was something deeply deficient in me.

Feeling into this “deficient me,” it became clear that I wanted desperately to have confidence, to be “armed with assurance” that I could be okay in every situation life would bring, that I would be able to handle whatever would come my way. I wanted a firm identity that was confident and capable and knew for certain that she would be fine.

As I allowed this desperate wanting to be felt, I was reminded of a sense of stillness deep down inside myself, and spent some time resting in that deep stillness. Lo and behold, the whole sense of “me” seemed to dissolve there, in that stillness, along with the need for assurance.

I realized this stillness to be my true nature, in a way, and that it was my only experience so far in life that offered a real sense of assurance. Such irony, I almost laughed – finding assurance mandates that I let go of “me” altogether!

I felt invited to keep exploring this sense of stillness, and see if I really needed to be armed with food, or anything else besides that inner stillness.