One of the best and worst things about aging is that you begin to run out of new-ness, new experiences and new firsts. It’s good that the world feels less raw and foreign and frightening. Job interviews, while they still invoke butterflies, evolve into a manageable flutter. Plane rides still require deep breathing, but I’ve got statistics on my side.
This transition is also sad. Because the flip side of fear is excitement. You trade chance and chasmic possibility for stability. Anything new is really a recycled version of something you’ve done.
Unless you start messing with the sacred stuff. The pillars of your personality, the fundamentals of your foundation. What makes you- you. The things that feel so inherent to your image of yourself that you fear you might implode without them.
What’s left of those things by the time you reach your, ahem, mid to late thirties? What has time and experience not worn away? What have you not probed for solidity?
For me, it was sugar. I honestly believed that I couldn’t go a month without sugar or that I wouldn’t be happy without it. But I was fine. Big picture, small sufferings aside, I limped through February: A month of no sugar, grateful for the abundance of healthy food that I had.
But when I sat down to have my first bit of sugar since January, it didn’t go as I expected. I made a cup of black twig tea and dropped a sleeve of Samoas onto a plate and perched next to the picture window in my living room. The view is of trucks, road and scraggly Siberian Elm trees. But if I angle my chair right, I see more tree and less truck.
I sipped tea and nibbled cookies, trying to find their elusive necessary quality. I wanted to know if the taste of sugar and coconut and chocolate and shortbread breaking in my mouth would send me over the moon and into a black hole of happiness.
The Samoas were really good. But there were no fireworks. I didn’t pass out from happiness and wake up in a puddle of my own drool a few minutes later. What did happen as I watched the snowflakes merry-go-round down is that I tasted every bite. I thought about the contrast between the warm smoky tea and the crunchy melt of the cookies.
After two cookies, I felt done, like I was satisfied. I didn’t stop eating them. Who stops after two cookies? Halfway through the third cookie though, I knew I was done. I heard this unfamiliar voice telling me to quit while I was ahead. So I packed up the rest of the cookies and finished my tea.
This has never happened before in the history of sugar and me. I’ve never been able to approach sugar like a stranger, something with a dubious role in my life. Until last month, I accepted that sugar was a law of nature, like gravity, making my world go around. But walking away from it for a month taught me that life goes on without it. Decent, pleasurable life even.
I needed that space of a month to approach sugar like a stranger and to get that thrill of new-ness from those cookies. But I needed something else to recognize when to walk away. The quiet focus of sitting still with my snack allowed me to know when I was truly done. Had I opened a box of Samoas while checking emails, I might have downed the entire box. That has happened before.
How to have my cake and know when to stop eating it too? Presence. Which brings me to this month’s project, March: A month of conscious eating.