During lockdown, I was finally able to overcome a long battle with nicotine addiction (22 years) and this has now motivated me to bring to an end another of my sorry relationships, the one I have with food. I don’t mean going on a hunger strike or dying of starvation but instead ending the emotional connection and volatile attachment I have with food. I am hoping to replace it with a more spiritually aligned one that is based on sustenance rather than comfort and indulgence. The food bug is nothing like the nicotine addiction that I have got over but certainly something I want to address as conquering it is clearly another form of detachment that will help me become more enlightened as I continue on my spiritual journey as a practising Sikh.
ਨਿਝਰ ਧਾਰ ਚੁਐ ਅਤਿ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਇਹ ਰਸ ਮਨੂਆ ਰਾਤੋ ਰੇ ॥ ਕਹਿ ਕਬੀਰ ਸਗਲੇ ਮਦ ਛੂਛੇ ਇਹੈ ਮਹਾ ਰਸੁ ਸਾਚੋ ਰੇ ॥: The pure stream (of the Naam) constantly trickles forth, and my mind is intoxicated by this sublime elixir. Says Kabeer, all other intoxicants are hollow (empty…); this is the only true elixir || 4||1|| (sggs 969).
Nicotine had got the best of me in the past and although I was always aware of the damage it was doing I could not summon up the will to give it up and was very dependent on the substance. My mind and body were weak and through this addiction I would convince myself that I could not cope without it so as soon as I would withdraw I would start getting restless and anxious and my inner voice would cry out for it. I had smoked cigarettes since my late teens and only moved to e-cigarettes 6 or so years ago but was always an impulsive and excessive smoker throughout that time. This recent victory over nicotine addiction is no random occurrence and I am being honest in saying that I cannot believe how easy it actually was.
I had approached this addiction purely from a spiritual perspective as I was feeling more self aware due to spending so much time studying, reciting and reflecting on the religious scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Holy Book). I clearly knew that smoking contradicted everything that my forefathers had preached and also had the self realisation that I cannot practise detachment from materialism if I am addicted to worldly substances even worse, toxins and poisons. I started to think so much about giving up and how I would attempt it… Would I need nicotine replacement? Shall I just cut down? What if I get really bad anxiety? In the end… I just put my faith in God and went cold turkey! I picked up all of my electric cigarette paraphernalia put it in a bucket and poured cold water over it. I expected there to be some pain from the withdrawal symptoms and certainly the urges wouldn’t just go away but in all honesty they did and I have felt great. The voices that use to call out in my mind that it was time for a cigarette have gone completely silent and I feel divorced for good. Spirituality cured me and it is with this same attitude I now wish to challenge my relationship with food.
My Relationship With Food
As a boy, I grew up in a council estate and spent most my childhood and teen years working in our family-run supermarket. We were surrounded with junk food, fizzy drinks and needless to say because of the nature of this non-standard family life which was centred around work and generally all this bad stuff…the temptations would get the better of me on most days. Food became a reward and a substiute for missing out on others things, a little like compensation. I worked in the shop at the expense of playing with friends or going on holidays and the compensation was always food (junk food!). It was not a healthy lifestyle and one I am glad my children do not have to experience. I was definitely obese as a child and lived on sugary foods and fizzy drinks.
As I have grown older, there have been many times when I have got really down and piled on weight through emotional eating. In those times, I was clearly not thinking straight and believe I must have had a low level of self realisation. Overall, it has been a topsy turvy relationship and definitely a stressful one. I look at my immediate family and can see they are all impulsive eaters too and go to food for emotional support when they are down and also go to food to celebrate when they are feeling food. I am now addressing these traits and attempting to remedy them as I am more mindful so have been able to observe this negative behaviour in myself. The aim is to divorce out from food and start again and then re-unite with a spiritually guided mind.
Spirituality and Food
The teachings of my Guru are very clear in that anything we attach to in the material world is temporary and thus brings only short lived joy or sorrow. Also, a message which is very apparent in the teachings is that any kind of greed or excessive behaviour pulls us away from our higher self and God. It is only when you stop looking outwardly and feeding your senses in the hope that they bring you peace, contentment and happiness that you start to win the battle of self control. When your mind points inwards for self-realisation then you get control of your body and can witness and experience the true divine bliss of the soul. Once you have tasted that experience there is nothing in the world that can compete. My psychological attachment to food is one that will go (God willing) and I plan to replace it with one which is based only on sustenance not on indulgence. I wanted to consciously eat every bite with appreciation and keep humility, contentment and modesty in my mind and I believe that if I can do this then it will change my body and eating habits entirely.
Ultimately, we are travellers on this planet and here only for a short time… If we learn to appreciate that life is sacred then act humbly we will only consume as much as needed and always be aware that we are one part of many parts (humanity) that also need to be fed.
- ਜਿਹਵਾ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਸਾਦਿ ਲੋੁਭਾਨਾ ॥ ਪਸੂ ਭਏ ਨਹੀ ਮਿਟੈ ਨੀਸਾਨਾ ॥੬॥: Jihavaa indree saad luobhaanaa. Pasoo bhaye nahee mitai neesaanaa ||6||: (That person who is) lured by the tastes of the sense organs – the tongue etc. – is an animal; this sign (of his animal-consciousness) cannot be erased || 6|| (sggs 903).
- ਖਾਤ ਪੀਤ ਅਨੇਕ ਬਿੰਜਨ ਜੈਸੇ ਭਾਰ ਬਾਹਕ ਖੋਤ ॥: Khaat peet anek binjan jaise bhaar baahak khot: (By forgeting the Lord’s Name) One who eats and drinks countless delicacies is like a donkey, a beast of burden (sggs 1121).
- ਅਵਰਿ ਸਾਦ ਚਖਿ ਸਗਲੇ ਦੇਖੇ ਮਨ ਹਰਿ ਰਸੁ ਸਭ ਤੇ ਮੀਠਾ ਜੀਉ ॥: Avar saad chakh sagale dekhe mann har ras sabh te meethaa jeeou: I have seen and tasted all other flavors, but to my mind, the Subtle Essence of the Lord is the sweetest of all (sggs 100).