10 years ago today I had weight loss surgery. It has been quite a journey. Food issues are still a demon I work with, as a lay person by becoming an exercise nut, the practice, and then constraints of monasticism have been a help in that. However if I’m in a bad enough environment or mental state, even those constraints can break.
Food, especially in my first 26 years, was(is?) a friend, a coping mechanism, a quick jolt of pleasure to drown out suffering. You don’t get to 373lbs because you didn’t eat less and move more. If someone is 100+lbs overweight there is a mental health component there, I guarantee it.
I never really did drugs or drank much outside of college, never felt the need as I already had my coping mechanisms, food and video games, and movies to a lesser extent.
The Buddha tells in Salla sutta(simile of the arrow) that regular people know of no escape from unpleasant/painful experiences, other then to seek sensual pleasures. The first time I read that sutta I saw myself reflected back, the Buddha was calling out the root of the problem, that because of my ignorance and delusion, the only escape I know is one that simply just compounds my suffering, it does not end it.
Both the practice, and my therapist, Dr. Mack, share a part in helping me in a major breakthrough that lead to my weight loss surgery.
I’ve always been an independent self help type, always striving to be the strong one others rely on, with no need to ask for help from others. I had tried for years to exercise and work the weight off, with the typical yo-yo weight journey most of us know, even at 300+lbs I had a trainer(Karen Meakem) and tried(you can see gym me in one of the pics).
I viewed the surgery as a cheat, an easy way out, and never wanted to consider it, but deep down there was a part of me that knew I could not do this without help, and that is what Dr. Mack told me one day, what if I saw the surgery not as a cheat, or an easy way out, but as help.
And indeed it was. The surgery is not magic, it is not permanent(what is?!:P), and a full 1/3 of people who have the surgery return to their former weight.
Because I lost so much weight so fast, and became an exercise/endurance event nut(GRT!), people were inspired to also have the surgery, and I always told them, the surgery just changes your body, not your mind. If you don’t work on the root of the issues that got you to 300lbs, you will go back there.
To return to the concept of accepting help. This was a changing point for me and over the 10 years since I’ve learned to accept help when offered and needed. Becoming a monastic has been an even greater training in this.
I went from an independent wilderness survivalist type mindset, to putting on robes and becoming totally and utterly dependent on others, like being a baby all over again. If it were not for the help and generosity of others, how could I be a monastic? how could I eat? wear clothes? have shelter? medicine?
So these days I have a more balanced view. I still do not feel its good for a person to be totally useless and helpless, but that balances with the wisdom to understand when I really need help and can’t do it on my own. Hard won wisdom I’m still developing.
I’ve come far in the practice, developed a lot of wisdom(and still barely have any!), a lot of self metta and karuna. I’ve dropped a lot of my more coarse unskillful qualities, but I still make the joke today that I feel like by the time I totally conquer my food issues, I’ll be awakened lol… although I hope it doesn’t take that long.
Bhante! So beautifully said!! Where are you staying now? I hope all is well. I’m going to join in on a dhamapalooza night soon. My daily practice is hanging on by a thread but I know I’m better off than I’d never had any practice! It’s hard not to be able to go to any retreats or monastery visits. But that’s no excuse! 😊
Thanks, Bhante. Good to know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been meditating; often leading groups, for 35 years. Conquered cigarettes long ago but still struggle sometimes with a heavy alcohol habit. I had hoped the yoga/ Buddhism/ mindfulness would “cure” me but dammit – still more work to do!! Taking refuge in the Triple Gem helps. And my “Emergency Medical Service” (EMS) = Exercise, Meditate, Smile. Love your photos of the handsome Jersey guy / reverent monastic. Stay well & warm, everyone!! ~Ann Marina
good to hear from you Ann, keep up the good work, its all we can do 🙂
Thank you for sharing your struggles with us it is very inspiring how you overcame them- and still do!
I myself struggled with my weight for years until I went the opposite way and stopped eating and instead determined myself to finding a spiritual path. That’s how i found buddhism- after comparing different religions and practices for about 9 months. After finding the teachings of the Buddha i quickly realised that starving myself wasn’t the correct way. Moderation is the true way but I still find it difficult and frequently obsess over calories etc.
Mindfulness and meditation help massively and reminding oneself to just be kind to whatever im dealing with are the daily aim for me.
I hope you are well Bhante all the best
Thank you for sharing your journey. “Habitual coping mechanisms” resonated with me when you introduced the term to me during one of your Dhamma talks at the Bhavana Society. Just to say that the roots of these tendencies run deep is an understatement. Not until one puts sustained effort into unrooting these tendencies does one realize how deep and persistent they really are. You are an inspiration to your fellow travelers along the path by demonstrating that we can indeed unroot the ignorance that lies behind these tendencies through dedicated practice. Being the first Western Theravada monk that I had the opportunity to became acquainted with, you have not only helped me to better understand the Dhamma, but you have also been a guiding light on my own journey.
With deep respect and loving-kindness,
Good hearing from you my friend. I’m glad to be of service, keep up the good work.