The Picky Eater

help picky eaters

These are not picky eaters.

For my daughter’s 2nd birthday, a friend and her four-year-old daughter came to the party and stayed the night. Upon arriving for the party, the little girl—I’ll call her Beth—surveyed each of the three pizzas I had ordered and then announced she would eat none of it. “I only eat cheese pizza,” she said. I pointed out that one was, in fact, a cheese pizza. She examined it again, and proclaimed, “I don’t eat THAT kind of cheese pizza.” This routine was more or less repeated at dinner and breakfast the next day. Needless to say, Beth spent a very hungry afternoon and morning at our house.

My parents made their share of mistakes, but one thing they did right was to expect me to eat whatever they set before me. Liver and onions. It did not matter. I could eat it. I could starve. So I ate it. And nowadays, I adore well-cooked liver and onions. We raise our two children the same way. Here’s a perfectly good meal. You may choose to eat it, or you may choose to go to bed hungry. And there have been nights like that. “I’m hungry!” they cried. “I’m always hungry, too, when I don’t eat a good dinner. But there will be a good breakfast in the morning.” Hunger was a consequence of their own choice to refuse the food set before them.

Let’s face it. I have seen parents act like short-order cooks, rushing around the kitchen trying to find something their kid will eat. “I don’t want that,” the kid says, and the negotiations begin. At that point, the child is firmly and completely in charge of the parent. What an amazing power! And with what caprice do they wield it. “I’ll only eat that if you cut it into diamond shapes.” A picky eater—and a power struggle—is born.

Of course, not everyone likes all foods. “I am not fond of that,” we teach our children to say, if they are asked directly about something they don’t like. There will be things in life that we are not fond of, but picky eaters are, quite simply, a privileged first-world problem.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those privileged first-worlders. What would you like for dinner? Wow, you get a choice. In some parts of the world, it might be gruel yesterday, gruel today, and gruel tomorrow. But you get a CHOICE. You can go to the grocery store and buy whatever appeals to you, if you have the cash. You can go out to a restaurant and sample cuisine from around the world.

Unless you’re poor, in which case you have to make your food stamps carry you until the end of the month. You have to buy the cheapest foods you can find, which will be heavily subsidized junk carbohydrates, most likely. Salad? You wish. And if you put on any extra weight eating that stuff, well, folks can judge you all the more harshly over their surf ‘n turf.

I freely admit that I am bothered by seeing food wasted. I freely admit that I can’t stand to put good food in front of someone only to have it spurned. No doubt, I was starving in more than a few previous lives, and it just hurts my heart, particularly when so many people are hungry. According to Feeding America, 20% or more of the child population in 37 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. were “food insecure” in 2011, which is a fancy way of saying “frequently hungry.” That’s one in five kids. Given that one in five of my children’s classmates are probably hungry on any given day, it’s hard for me to have sympathy for picky eaters. There are starving kids in China… Yeah, and here at home, too.

During a visit to my mother’s home state, my uncle and his family had us over to their house for a lovely dinner. They had worked very hard to make it a nice evening. Everything was wonderful. After the meal, my aunt brought out a newly baked cake and set it on the table, at which point my mother began, “Oh, we don’t eat stuff like that. Sugar’s really bad for you…” And she went on and on. I looked at my aunt’s face. I looked at my uncle’s face. I wanted to crawl under the table and die. Oh my God, Mom, I thought, why can’t you just eat the damn cake?

Food isn’t just nourishment for your body, although that matters a lot. Food is a social contract. It is a sacrifice (literally, when meat is involved). It is a bonding. If someone puts a plate in front of you, treat whatever is on it with gratitude and respect. Eat what you can, and be as polite as you can. If you’re dining with the Maasai, you’ll probably be served raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood. Go with it. Or don’t, but you might not be as welcome if you go down that path. Food offered says, “We share ourselves with you.” Food spurned says, “I don’t want to be part of you. I reject you.”

I certainly know that I am one of these privileged picky eaters. I have my own preferred diet. It’s fairly low-carb, high-veg, unprocessed, with a reasonable dose of meats and fats. This is how I prefer to eat. Luckily, I am able to do that. Vegans, vegetarians, raw foodies, paleos, and any other dietary adherents are, too. And if you can, go for it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But be aware. Be flexible. If I’m a guest, or if I’m hungry because shit happens and the food supply is broken, then I’m going to eat (and share) whatever I can. Because that’s life. The reed that bends with the wind does not break.

My daughter was naturally more picky as a toddler than her brother is. But over time, our expectations have not changed. There’s your dinner. Eat it or don’t. And she has gotten very good at trying new things. I’m proud of her. She is also a gracious guest. She knows not to insult anything set before her, and if, after trying something, she genuinely does not like it, then she can avoid it without comment. However, the list of things she doesn’t like shrinks each year, and she’s discovering that she likes more and more. She’s lucky to have the choice.

If you happen to be a picky eater, be grateful that you have such problems. Somewhere, people are so hungry they’d gladly eat mud if it would do them any good. Somewhere, a mother is watching her child starve to death before her eyes. How I would love to set a plate in front of them. And really, there’s no excuse not to.

If you’d like to know more about hunger and how you can help, check out A Place at the Table.

I’ll leave you with the patron saint of all picky eaters, Sally Albright.

I Don’t Own Anything

let go possessions

A graveyard for previously “owned” stuff

Can you truly own anything? You can’t take it with you…

Our modern economy is based on the illusion of ownership. You can “own” clothing, artwork, electronics, a car, a house, the land itself. Or so we say. Or so we more or less mutually agree. Of course, the reality is that the bank still owns my house and my car, and if I don’t pay them for it, they will take them away. I suppose I “own” my clothing, furnishings, various appliances, and the food in my refrigerator. But even these things come from the earth, and one day they will return to the earth in some circuitous fashion. The shirt I wear today may have a number of “owners” before it takes another form.

I’ve written a lot about freedom lately, and it seems to me that you cannot own anything and be free. That is the reason, presumably, that so many of the most famous mystics and spiritualists owned practically nothing. For them, it was a simple shift in consciousness. Their needs were met, and they didn’t require anything else to fill them. There was no void inside to fill. They had found their own, divine internal well. What did they need with “stuff?”

Of course, I am writing this on a computer that I “own,” I have more than one set of clothes, I pay a mortgage, I drive a car, and I have furnishings that I’m fond of. I don’t have a problem with this, because I believe that Spirit is infinitely abundant, that I deserve to be infinitely abundant, and that it’s perfectly okay for me to be comfortable. Given that, how can I be free if possess all of this?

A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.
~ George Carlin

Possession, ownership, this is all a mindset. Very wealthy people can afford to have their basic needs met, and then some. No doubt, some wealthy people live extremely lavish lifestyles. There is nothing inherently wrong with living well, but again, the mindset is what matters. If you own several estates filled with stuff, you have to manage it all. More often, it probably manages you. There can be a certain paranoia to owning lots of stuff, and the majority of our laws are written for the purpose of protecting one person’s stuff from other people. The more stuff you have, the more likely you are to fear that someone, somewhere, is going to take it away from you. And that is a prison of sorts.Hoarding is an extreme expression of possession and ownership. Hoarders become so emotionally attached to their stuff that they can’t allow any of it to leave them, including their trash. They literally become imprisoned by their stuff, stacked to the ceiling around them. Sometimes, their stuff kills them when a fire starts, and help cannot get to them through their wall of stuff. There’s a lesson there.

No one can possess the land, yet we have created the illusion of land ownership. How can anyone own the land? The land belongs to all life. It belongs to Earth herself. It is no one’s to own. How can anyone own the oil or the minerals? No one can, yet, amazingly, we have allowed that illusion to persist. And we have created a dependence upon these things that is worse than any drug. Indeed, this addiction, if untreated, will kill life as we know it. Addicts are not free…So, what’s a person to do? Have no possessions? Asceticism is attractive, in its way, but all too often it becomes an excuse for self-punishment, and that’s not helpful.

The key, I believe, is in your mindset. Shift your thinking over. Recognize that ownership is an illusion, that property is an illusion. Be abundant and have what you need, even what you like, and be happy—but know in your heart that you are simply borrowing these things. Treat them as sacred gifts. Be thankful for all of them, and enjoy them. But lose your attachment to them. Know that they may break or leave you eventually. If this happens, let them go, with your blessing. If something leaves you, it’s simply making room for something else.

It is also certainly helpful to simplify your stuff. If your garage is so full of stuff that you can’t park your car in it, then it’s time to let something go. If you haven’t used something in three years, let it go. If you don’t absolutely love it, then let it go. Reducing how much stuff you have is actually quite freeing. “Stuff” can literally weigh you down.

Unfortunately, our economic system has become dependent on us having lots of “stuff,” and the drumbeat to buy, buy, buy is steady and consistent. And you will certainly still need things. Anyone with kids certainly will need to do their share of shopping. But you can be conscious while you do it. You can be aware. You can ask yourself questions like, “But do I really need this? Do I really even like this?”

I really like the Story of Stuff Project, which is helping to educate people about where your stuff is coming from and how it affects the planet. I like anything that helps you make informed decisions, so if you feel so inclined, check them out. But the most important thing is to shift your thinking, just that little bit. The rest will take care of itself.

Namaste.

“Where Do I Fit In?”

why do we need belong

Crow Tribe
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What you think about yourself is much more important than what others think of you.
~ Marcus Annaeus Seneca

It is accepted wisdom that the road to happiness requires us to follow our hearts and our own conscience without regard to the opinions of others. Yet, we are human, and we want to be accepted, at least somewhere. We want to find our tribe. We want to belong, to fit in. We want to find our human family, which may or may not include our blood family.

It is much harder today to figure out where we, as individuals, fit in, because our society has not allowed everyone to do so. There are entire groups of people who have been disenfranchised because they do not fit into the ideal box that our economy requires:  to be a “good worker.” And as jobs continue to be replaced by technology, more people are feeling left behind. Where do I fit in? What do I have to offer?

All human beings have a purpose and something to offer, though you may not be able to put a dollar sign on it. We must get beyond this thinking of economic value. In our tribal past, every member had something to contribute. The young contributed joy and the promise of the future. The older generations helped care for the young and used their collective wisdom to benefit the tribe. The disabled contributed as well, often in a more sacred and spiritual way. They were recognized as special. This also includes the mentally ill, whom we now stick in an institution (but only after they present a danger), or allow to wander homeless and self-medicating with illegal street drugs, or authorities end up killing them when a misunderstanding or situation escalates, which happens far too frequently.

We label people instead of including them, and the schizophrenic of today was probably the shaman or seer of the past. Many say they are “crazy,” but they are just psychic in a different way. In other societies, these people would have been trained to use their gifts in a healthy way; now we stigmatize them and prefer not to have contact with them. Given the number of tragedies that occur each year for the mentally ill, what is certain is that our current mindset about them is not helping them.

But you don’t have to be old, young, physically or mentally challenged, or otherwise different to feel like you’re out of place. I suspect most average people feel that way most of the time. Consider what our society asks us to conform to:  work hard, earn a good living, work harder, take two weeks off a year, get a mortgage, pay your bills, shop til you drop, have a family that you spend a relatively small number of hours with, retire—maybe?, and die. It’s interesting that we think of more tribal cultures as primitive, yet they have far more time for family, art, and culture than the modern person in an industrialized nation.

We have lost our sense of connection with one another in the modern age. We no longer think in tribal terms; we think in terms of ourselves as an individual. But no man (or woman) is an island, and it’s no wonder we can’t figure out where we fit.

This dilemma is impacting our young men the most. Most mass murders are committed by disconnected young, white men who don’t know where they fit in and have given up caring. The despair that these men must feel in their souls is probably not unlike the feelings of Mary Shelley’s monster in Frankenstein:

Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.

Why do young people join gangs, even when they must know how incredibly destructive that path is? Because for the first time in their lives, they have a sense of belonging, of fitting in somewhere. We can do a better job of creating alternatives.

It’s good and healthy not to worry about the opinions of others, but we all need our Core of Care, our tribe, in order to feel safe and loved. Spiritual growth is a private, individual journey, but it isn’t really possible in a vacuum. We all need our supporters and helpers, our catalysts in growth, in order to achieve any of this. We need connection. We need to feel connected. Isolation leads to a sense of having no purpose, of having no value. It leads to despair, and despair leads to desperation.

We can indeed reclaim our tribe. We can indeed include everyone and not judge them by some perceived economic value. We can build our communities beyond the nuclear family model, which just isn’t sufficient. Get to know your neighbors. See the value in every single human being, no matter how valueless they may feel. While you may not want every person to sit at your table, there is a table for everyone out there somewhere. And you might be surprised who ends up being seated at yours. Many have entertained angels unaware, or, perhaps, you are the angel today.

You Are Free

freedom personal choicePeople in the “West” talk an awful lot about freedom. The U.S.A. probably talks about it the most (it’s a handy thing to go to war for), but 99.99% of all this talk is just lip service. As I discussed in another article (“Fearsome Freedom”), we say all the right things but don’t really mean any of it. If we did, there would be no exceptions to freedom. But we make a lot of exceptions to it, on both sides of the political spectrum. The details vary with your point of view. And by and large, people are afraid of real freedom. Because real freedom means exceptional personal responsibility.

Now, I’m not talking about freedom in Ayn-Randian terms, wherein every man or woman is for himself. Humans are not made to live alone, and the cult of the individual can be more appropriately termed the Cult of the Ego. The problem with the Cult of the Ego is the belief that we are in control, and boy, we are NOT in control. There but for the grace of God goes anybody, so if someone’s in a bad place, compassion goes a lot further than judgment.

Humans are tribal. Humans are social. We can’t just get by living as nuclear families side by side other nuclear families without ever interacting with them. It just doesn’t work. It makes us lonely, depressed, and anxious. It means we don’t have help when we need it, and sooner or later, we ALL need it. So freedom doesn’t mean, “I’ve got mine, so you figure it out for yourself.”

What freedom does mean is that no one is above you. No one is below you, either. You are me, and I am you, and if we fail to acknowledge that, then we aren’t free—we’re afraid. And every chain and every cage in the world is based on fear. Our media wouldn’t go to so much trouble to cultivate fear otherwise. Because if you believe there’s something to be afraid of, then you will give away your freedom to anyone or anything that can claim to “save” you from it.

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
~Steve Biko

The irony, of course, is that you are always free, right now. You can simply choose to behave freely. You can simply take your freedom. No one can ever control your mind, your heart, or your spirit without your consent. No matter what is happening in the world at any moment, you are a Divine Creator, and freedom is a part of who you are. It is a birthright that cannot be revoked, though you may give this power away.

Freedom also means being responsible for your choices, including the choice to give away your freedom. There are always consequences for our choices. Some may be “good” and some may be “bad” depending on your perspective, but every choice defines the way your life is going to look. It doesn’t really matter if someone else doesn’t like your choices. They don’t really get a say in it, do they? They also won’t bear the fruit of your choices, either, though they may be affected by them.

There is great power in choices, and no one has the right to narrow or define which choices are available to you. In the great wide Universe, there are infinite possibilities. There are also infinite paths, and some of them may be painful. So take care with your choices. Take care with your thoughts. The more at peace you are, the more likely you are to make happier choices for yourself (which doesn’t mean that “bad” things will cease to happen to you; challenges will still come).

Undoubtedly, it is the fear of the outcome of our own choices that leads us to give up our freedom. It is so much easier to be a victim, and to blame someone else for screwing up our lives. But this, too, is a choice, and I have never known a happy victim. But I have known some happy, powerful Creators.

Every spiritual master who has walked this earth was completely free in themselves. Some were tortured, exiled, and killed. After all, our physical bodies are not necessarily free from harm. Yet, these masters were free. Their spirits, their minds, their hearts were free. They understood that they were not just a body. They understood that the people who abused them were part of them. They had love and compassion for those beings who were in so much pain that they felt the need to inflict pain on others. But they stood in their power, and a number of them changed the world. They also knew that this was available to everyone. You are a spiritual master. You are a miracle worker—if you acknowledge that power and your own freedom to be yourself.

In our world today, it is easy to see the greed and corruption that are polluting our societies and our planet. But even in the midst of all this turmoil, you can be free. By choosing freedom, by choosing to follow your heart and your Spirit, you will help to transform the world. Greed and corruption exist because people are out of integrity with who they really are. To change the world, you must be in integrity with who you are. If you’ve been living according to other people’s definition of “integrity,” then you must decide what this means for yourself. Everyone is different. Your purpose belongs to you alone.

Be who you are, be what gives Joy to your Spirit. It may not look the way society expects, or demands. It may not look the way you expected it would. This is perfectly okay. Social constructs are just that:  constructs. They are not true. They are not real. They do not even matter. We can change them whenever we want to, for any reason we want to. If something isn’t working for you, that’s your cue to change.

Nothing is hopeless. We can heal ourselves and this planet in an instant if we decide to. It’s like what John and Yoko said:  “War is over. If you want it.” Conflict is over; pollution is over; corruption is over; inequity is over; the illusion of lack is over; misery is over. If you want it. You are free to choose.