Monthly Archives: August 2012

Hungering to Express Ourselves

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Food can be a reliable friend when we seek to comfort and nourish ourselves. But when we repeatedly eat types and quantities of food that leave us feeling miserable, food becomes a weapon that we use against ourselves in an agonizing cycle of self-sabotage and, ironically, self-denial.

Because often it’s not that pint of ice cream or piece of cake that we really want. It’s more fulfilling work, deeper relationships, a break from care taking, a nap, a massage, a walk in the woods or the chance to paint, write, sing, dance or whatever it is that truly fills us up inside.

I know this because I’m a recovering food addict and a teacher of creative recovery and expressive living. My workshops are based on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. A recovering addict herself, Cameron writes about how people use food and other drugs of choice to numb the anxiety that arises when we fear pursuing our passions…and the depression that aches when we abandon them.

My own compulsive eating and bulimia surfaced in high school amid the usual challenges of adolescence and some additional family stress. I would eat myself into a state of numbness whenever emotional pain threatened to overwhelm me, no matter how many times it made me feel utterly worse. On top of all my other issues, I rejected myself for not fitting into a suburban culture that didn’t reflect who I was: an original thinker with the soul of an artist.

When I moved on to attend college in Philadelphia, I began to thrive in an urban, multicultural environment. But it was a junior year abroad that really turned my eating disorder around. In London, I was too busy consuming life to hole up in my dorm room with binge foods. I spent the year gleefully reinvented myself, surrounded by theater geeks, musicians, writers and world travelers who affirmed me. At the end of that year I returned home effortlessly slimmer and, more importantly, self-expressed. I wasn’t cured of emotional eating, but I was well on the road to recovery.

Fifteen years later I took a course on The Artist’s Way to pull myself out of a personal and professional rut. The class helped me to resurrect creative pursuits and explore new passions. It also led me to quit my job and move to a yoga center, where I soaked up spiritual teachings and connected with kindred spirits who mirrored my playful and soulful sides. Ultimately, I became what I am today: a coach, writer and teacher of personal transformation who also dabbles in music and lives by design.

Me, singing some Duke Ellington on a Boston stage

Me, singing some Ellington on a Boston stage in 2006

Doing work that I love, indulging my creativity and sensuality, and practicing good self-care feel more delicious than a date with my old boyfriends Ben and Jerry. Not that I never touch the stuff, because occasional treats are part of self-care, as one of my students admitted when asked about the relationship between food and creativity in her life.

“After my daughter Rowan was born, I was inspired to sketch a rowan tree and write a blurb about its mythical meaning,” she reports. “Instead of letting the idea wither under a pile of dirty dishes, I bought a sketchpad and did it. So while I still go for the (homemade) chocolate chip cookie at night, these little touchstones with creativity keep the work/motherhood tedium at bay and prevent me from indulging in nasty foodstuffs during the day.”

Another former student recounts how a collage assignment during The Artist’s Way course woke up her real hunger. “I must have spent hours on my collage, choosing and rearranging the pictures,” she recalls. “I realized that I was starved for creativity. In recent years I’d stopped singing and performing and I’d steadily gained weight. When I finally had the chance to do something creative again, I ate it up.”

As this talented actress and singer began to make time for auditions and voice lessons again, her interest in compulsive eating waned. She also began treating herself to flowers and artist dates (an exercise that invites your inner artist/child on a pleasurable adventure), eventually creating and starring in a one-woman show. “Because I was focusing on other things I was less inclined to eat mindlessly in front of the TV all night,” she says.

The next time you find yourself reaching for food when you are not physically hungry, ask yourself, “What do I really, really, really want to be doing right now?” You may need to journal a bit to uncover your real desires, or call a friend who’s a great listener and helps you speak your truth.

Once you’ve identified the thing that your heart longs to do, whether it’s a yummy piece of self-care or a delicious creative pursuit, go for it—with great appetite and pleasure.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

Could You Just Listen?

I lead workshops based on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity to help people recover and express their passions and talents. We don’t usually make art in the course, but we do spend a lot of time listening to each other as we explore what gets in the way of living our dreams and what to do about it.

In the first session I offer a handout called “Could You Just Listen?” to set the tone for our interactions. It begins, “When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.”

Sound harsh? If so perhaps you, like me, have dispensed unsolicited advice and tried to talk people out of their feelings more than once. The author of this passage (who remains anonymous) goes on to say, “When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.”

Hmmmm…I had to roll that one around my brain a few times. After all, it’s hard to listen to someone who’s struggling and not want to help, right?

But listening is helping, as the author explains, because, “…when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. When that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.”

Conclusion? Good listening is witnessing, with added support.

Author and theology professor David Augsburger even says that, “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” I know that some of the most healing moments in my life have been spent with people who sat quietly beside me, opening their hearts to receive what mine had to say. Positive psychology researchers even report that people who feel listened to may enjoy better physical health.

Eager to be a better listener, I once joined a book group to study The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, by speech/language pathologist Rebecca Shafir. We met every few weeks to discuss the obstacles to listening, which include: our judgments about a speaker, our impatient desire to interrupt with our own input, speakers who monopolize conversations and, of course, our incessant internal chatter. Sometimes, even when we appear to be intently listening (maintaining eye contact, nodding our head), we may actually be composing our to-do list, formulating our reply, or thinking about anything but what the speaker is saying.

I fully admit that I can be an impatient listener. I don’t want people to waste my time or talk circles around a subject. “Cut to the chase,” I’m often thinking (and, unfortunately, sometimes saying out loud or indicating with my body language). In those instances, Shafir might tell me to imagine that the speaker is a fascinating movie character, holding my interest. I’ve tried that, with mixed results.

On the other hand, when someone is sharing deep truths and heartfelt emotion with me, I’m hooked through the final credits.

Today I’m keenly aware of how often most of us are talking at each other rather than with each other. I’ve started to use the phrase “Just let me finish…” with interrupters and I’ve stopped greeting people with “How are you?” if I don’t have time to hear the answer. Likewise, I rarely respond to that same question if I sense that there’s no room for an authentic reply.

Ironically, I’ve actually gotten so used to people not listening that I sometimes feel uncomfortable when they do. In Shafir’s book she quotes people who say that they even feel guilty when someone offers them their full attention. I find that kind of…sad.

It seems that modern attention spans have shrunk in proportion to the number of hand-held electronic devices out there. Who has time to listen when there are Tweets to read and updates to post and so many things clamoring for our attention?

And yet, as mentioned, deep listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone, and one of the most blessed gifts we can receive.  It’s an opportunity for greater intimacy and connection, and aren’t we all hungering for that?

Next time someone is speaking to you, try to put down your phone, turn away from the screen, sit still and get quiet enough inside to really listen. And then, find someone who can listen to you. You may notice that you feel better afterwards, and maybe even lighter. As Canadian psychologist and change consultant Paddy Ducklow writes, “My life is cluttered, as is probably yours. When I am listened to, my life becomes somehow less cluttered.”

Sounds good to me.