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Donna and the big dog

Donna is a medium sized Alsatian-cross. I take her for a walk every day. Most days we walk on a trail in the mountain close to our home. The trail starts with a jeep track of about 500m, which opens up into a clearing. A while ago, Donna and I were walking up the track, and as we came to where we could get a view of the clearing, we saw a woman and a dog on the other side. The dog was ENORMOUS, and had fixed its gaze firmly on Donna. It came raging towards her, snarling. For about half a second, Donna sat next to me observing the rapidly approaching monster, then she did the only sensible thing she could think of: she put her tail between her legs and bolted. The big dog chased her all the way back to the road before giving up. After a chat to the owner of the dog, I walked home and found Donna waiting for me in front of our gate.

Later that same week, when Donna and I went for our walk, we came to the clearing, and again saw a woman and a dog in almost the exact same spot. For a second I thought it was the same woman and dog, but when I looked closer, I recognized our neighbour with her ENORMOUS, but completely harmless Great Dane. When I turned to Donna to check if she also saw this, she was already half-way down the road, tail between her legs. I called out to her to come back to me, but she just kept running as fast as she could.

The stress response

If Donna could speak, and I could ask her why she ran, even when I called her back, I suspect she would say that she had not heard me. That all she could remember was seeing the dangerous dog, and then, somehow, arriving home. Donna was reacting instinctively to a perceived threat- she did what she felt she needed to do to protect herself. In her state of panic, she was not able to listen to me- all she could do was run.

Donna’s behaviour reminded me of what I sometimes hear from clients when they tell me about an episode of bingeing:

“X happened, and the next thing I knew I was sitting at the kitchen table with an empty ice-cream container in front of me”

“I completely lost control, I don’t know what came over me”

The episode with Donna made me wish for a pause button on her- a way for me to freeze the frame, give her some time to calm down and assess the situation accurately, and then react more appropriately. I realise that I won’t ever find that button on my dog- she is all animal, all instinct. I am far more hopeful about humans though! There are some remarkably effective methods to slow down, calm and soothe ourselves in the midst of a troubling situation. If compulsive eaters can learn this, it will take them a long way toward developing a healthierrelationship with food.

For the compulsive eater, food is not the problem. The problem is too much stress, and not enough skill to manage it.

How to interrupt the stress response

I have discovered the location of my pause button. It is located on my face, right in the middle, above my mouth, below my eyes: my nose. It doesn’t work when I push it like a button, but it does work when I deliberately turn my attention to the passage of air through it, following it into my body.

Thich Nhat Hanh explains “when a storm comes, it stays for some time, and then it goes. An emotion is like that too- it comes and stays for a while, and then it goes. An emotion is only an emotion. We are much, much more than an emotion. We don’t die because of an emotion. So when you notice that an emotion is beginning to come up, it is important that you put yourself in a stable position. Focus your attention on your belly. Your head is like the top of a tree in a storm. I would not stay there. Bring your attention down to the trunk of the three, where there is stability.

Breathing in and breathing out deeply, be aware of the rise and fall of the abdomen. Stick to your breathing the way that someone in the ocean would stick to a life vest. After some time, the emotion will pass.”

What focus on the breath does, is it slows us down and allows time to respond. Eating is a problem when it happens in a detached, out-of-control, unaware, compulsive way.

Slowing yourself down by focusing on breathing can help you to know what you are feeling and discover what it is that you need. If it is food, eat, but do it deliberately in a focused fashion.


Sound Bite

“There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united. When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece. When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible Thich Nhat Hanh



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Annebelle Schreuders
Annebelle Schreuders
03 de fev. de 2022

Maya! Tich Nhat Hanh‘s book, the ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is exactly what I was telling you about last night. And look you had already written a piece about it! Brilliant! x

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