Sing a Song of Borborygmi

When Buddhism came to Ancient China from India, one of the local motifs that got absorbed was the Hungry Ghost. These ghosts appears into Japanese Buddhist lore as well. The Hungry Ghost is a creature with an enormous stomach but a long skinny neck and a narrow throat, that can never be satisfied. The story was effective because hunger was something that everyone knew. It was a type of suffering so familiar that it could refer all types of suffering by analogy. The trouble is, in the United States, hunger no longer has this same effect.

I am not belittling the hunger we have do have in this country. Hunger can affect 1 in 6 of us(1), but Americans are the world's largest consumers(2) We are 5% of the world's population and consume more than 20% of the world's resources. Setting aside that untenable imbalance, to still have people who are hungry in this country is a moral outrage. Sadly, to most Americans, the problem is the opposite of hunger.

Most Americans barely feel the sensation of hunger. We eat so much, so often, that it is amazing we still have a word for 'hunger.' At the first twinge of hunger – more an emotion than a physical sensation – Americans simply reach for something, anything, to stuff into their mouths. The ubiquity of food, mostly bad, fast food, makes it nearly impossible for most of us to experience actual hunger. Diabetes, heart disease and cancer are simply the logical result of the way we live and eat.

The leading causes of death for Americans are below. At least half of the top ten are diseases of affluence. We are killing ourselves with lifestyle choices. The rest of the world strives to live like us, to be as successful as we are. What a cruel joke we're playing. Not only is it unsustainable for 5% of the population to consume 20+% of the resources, it is unhealthy too. The U.S. is not a shining city on the hill, it's actually a brand new nursing facility up there for treating our diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We are killing ourselves, convinced we're happy, while the emaciated faces of the developing world watch.

When I started to change my diet in the last month or so, there were times before I got used to the new routine that I felt hungry. No pain or serious hunger, but a pull. Though it felt like an outside force, it was all me. Suddenly I had only thoughts of food, any food, that I could stuff in my face. Luckily, I had new rules. I couldn't eat just anything. That is when I decided that feeling hungry was a good thing. I am not starving. Never in my life have I been skinny or even looked hungry. I decided to be proud of feeling hungry. I was managing to consume less of the world's precious resources all while making myself a bit healthier.

There were nights I counted the fast food franchises as I drove home from work, fighting the steering wheel to keep from turning in. My stomach was growling, nagging at me, but I drove on. There is nearly nothing I can eat at a fast food joint anymore anyhow. Once I got home, I had to keep myself from emptying the pantry. It is possible to eat too much even of the good stuff. Nevertheless, not only was I proud of the new way I was eating, I was proud to feel a little hungry. It wasn't, however, real hunger.

Americans eat almost twice the protein they need. Not only do we eat way more food than we need, Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food EVERY DAY.(3) It is in our interest to change our consumption habits. This is not a political statement. It is, first and foremost, about our health. But secondly, if the developing world catches up to our level of mindless consumption how are we going to get to 500% of the resources. Of course, we can only ever have 100% of the planetary resource pie to go around. Nevertheless, when the other 95% of the world starts getting their 20%, we will need the 500%. That's several more planets than we have. How's that going to work?

So far, I have left alone the entire fairness argument. Is it fair, just because we managed be one of the first to the first world, that we have so much while others do not. Can you blame some in the third world who view us with disdain? Historically, Americans are great champions of fairness. How did we miss this one? Could we ever reach the point where we are willing to decrease our lifestyle in order to spread the wealth, and the peace(!) around the world? Imagine if we helped countries develop and compete economically rather than dropping bombs on them. Would we have less enemies in the Middle East? Undoubtedly.

30,000 people died from hunger in the world today. 30,000 more will die tomorrow. We Americans will never know the dizziness of real hunger. We won't know the distended bellies, nor the long term health problems if we manage to survive. Most of us will never know the ache of going to bed hungry, not knowing when or where the next meal is likely to come. One simple way to change our attitudes, and effect some change, is to be proud of our stomachs growling. Rather than the plaintive howl of the hungry ghost, sing the song of borborygmi. Go a little longer between snacks. Don't immediately reach for something, but get a little hungry. Drive passed the franchises, get all the way home and cook something healthy – from scratch. Be proud to reduce your consumption just a little. Be that much healthier. Leave some for the rest of the world.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death, U.S.

  • Heart disease: 599,413
  • Cancer: 567,628
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
  • Alzheimer's disease: 79,003
  • Diabetes: 68,705
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909 link}http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm(4)
Image lifted from here.


Freedom in Discipline

I've written before about the need to slow down, to breathe, to be there, where you are, just open to this moment. Amazing things can happen on ordinary days when you leave yourself open to that possibility.

Pictured here is my "Four Pepper Stuffed Pepper;" a meal I created for my new vegan path [with Jicama and homemade Salsa Verde on a slice of Mom-grown Cherokee Purple tomato]. I got started watching a fascinating movie called “Forks Over Knives.”  Then, at the end of July, through the Center for Good Health(CfGH), I started working with a Wellness Coach, also the presenter at the seminar where I saw the movie. The coach helped me immensely just by the simple human trick of listening while I committed to this new path, and helping me keep track, in subsequent sessions, if I was actually doing what I set out to do. Alas, for any of you, Coach is soon to be moving on to a new gig. She will be missed. However, I understand she will still do consulting and coaching on the side.

This morning, I had my last coaching meeting of these first three. As we spoke about my progress and how I was going to maintain this new regimen, I offered that it seemed easy. It was just enough discipline to make some choices easier, and other choices just not necessary. At work, I often travel the floors of the hospital. There is the excellent cafeteria, the vending machines and the ubiquitous carry-ins. There is never want for snacky stuff, rich food, pizza, burgers, chips, etc. These temptations don't get to me like they once did. I don't feel tempted to cheat or bend my rules. Whether it's chips and salsa, rice crispy treats, donuts, cake, or whatever, I can walk by without a flinch and think: “Meh, not on my list.” I don't feel deprived, I am just not interested. This little bit of extra discipline has actually made my life easier rather than harder.

I expressed that though veganism is not a religious necessity of my Buddhist practice, it is religiously comfortable. It seems like a more compassionate choice, even a more sharing choice, though I don't proselytize in this way. Coach Sara proposed that this "freedom in discipline" about food choices was rather like Buddhism in general - freedom within the discipline of a practice. BAM! What a surprising, and unexpected, teaching! A rich understanding out of the blue. Right there, 8:30 am, I was blessed with a nutritional supplement for my Buddhism. Talk about food for the . . . um . . . buddha-nature.

If we aren't open to being taught, especially in an unexpected way, or at an unexpected venue, we can never learn.
Image: mine
Salsa Verde: Mom-made from her own-grown tomatillos and own-grown peppers.
Cherokee Purple: from Mom's burgeoning Little Shop of Horrors super garden.