a couple of years ago

A misuse of power

When I was in college, I undertook a misguided fast. I started by only consuming water for a few days – perhaps three days – I don’t remember exactly. After that, I drank only freshly-pressed juices for what I believe must have been considerably more than a month.

I had already been surviving on primarily raw vegetables and fruit – with occasional cooked beans – for a year. So I was thin to start. But I grew considerably thinner during my fast.

My heart rate slowed to under 40 beats per minute.

I was exhausted by the smallest effort. I would have to pause between flights of stairs in order to regain enough strength to ascend another flight. My apartment was up two flights, and sometimes I had to pause a few times on the way up.

I was cold all the time. I was nervous. I was depressed.

Basically, I felt terrible.

If you’d asked anybody else – even a complete stranger who’d never seen me before – they would have diagnosed the problem right away…I was starving.

Once I finally got a little bit of sense back in me a month or two later, I recall walking past a building and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked to see what looked like a walking skeleton staring back at me.

Because until that moment, I had no clue why I was feeling so awful.

I kept reading more books that told me about how filthy I was on the inside, how many dangerous toxins I had accumulated in my handful of years on Earth. How I needed to fast even more to purge myself of all those toxins.

I thought I had toxins in me that were causing my problems. It honestly had not occurred to me that I was responsible for bad choices that were directly producing my symptoms – that I was starving myself.

Even after I saw that reflection of the walking skeleton in the window and even after I started seeing a counselor for help with an eating disorder, I still didn’t fully believe that I was causing the problems with my choices. I still believed my mind and its distorted reality.

Given all that, you might think that once I finally gave up on that approach and I started eating adequate amounts of food and felt better that I would have seen through the delusion of my stories. At least the stories having to do with toxins and “curing” myself with food restriction.

But I didn’t. Not even close. I continued to eat in highly disordered ways, often returning to starving myself, for over another decade.

When I got sick with Lyme disease, I doubled down on my restrictive eating disorder. Because it gave me an excuse. I was afraid, and when afraid, I fell back on my old stories.

I had no idea that I was doing it.

I say that I had no idea that I was doing it. And that’s not completely true. What would be true is this: Out of habit, I completely ignored the wisdom that is always available that has nothing to do with conditioned thinking and reactivity. I identified as the conditioned thinking and reactivity, and therefore, as that identity, I was ignorant.

I could go on to cite dozens of other examples in which I behaved in similarly deluded fashion. How those bad and deluded choices harmed me and often other people.

But here’s the point: I didn’t understand what I was doing in any of those cases. I was so identified with my stories of me as a victim – I had deluded myself so greatly – that I didn’t understand that I was responsible. And that I was abdicating my responsibility.

I was misusing my one true power.

That one true power came out in all kinds of sideways and perverted ways. Suicidal ideation. Resentment. Vengefulness. Manipulation. Restriction. Abstention. Isolation. Compulsive research.

Because I wasn’t owning that one true power. I wasn’t telling the truth about it.

What is that one true power? It’s the power to recognize what the true order of things is. It is the power to discern between what is false and what is true.

And how do I do that? Just look relentlessly. Allow it all to flow as it does, and see that the person I thought I was never had any other power. I never had the power to stop it or control it or manipulate it. That as all merely delusion.

The truth stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be propped up by story.

I don’t need to tell a story to make it so. I just need to stop telling a story long enough to recognize it.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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