I sat down today with three small bowls. In them hummus, sugar snap peas, and ruffled plain potato chips. Truth be told, I’d been craving chips for a few days and the peas were a compromise and a bid to hit my daily fruit and veg goals. Which is to say, the peas were not the star of the show.
I took a couple bites, and then I remembered that I’m trying to eat without distraction. So I turned off the podcast I’d been listening to as I put groceries away and prepared my snack and the funniest thing happened: the potato chips lost all their appeal.
When you’re watching TV or engaged in a conversation, potato chips are unputdownably good–literally. They were designed that way. Crunchy and salty, they demand to be shoved in one after they other. And because they all but disintegrate before you swallow them, there’s incentive to keep eating–they haven’t actually sated you at all. They are truly marvels of (malevolent) engineering.
But the same qualities that are delightful when only 30% of you is paying attention are deeply disappointing when 100% of you is. One or two good crunches disintegrating into a tiny pile of potato mush is just kind of depressing. Sugar snap peas, on the other hand, while a nice substitute to snack on while distracted are a revelation when eaten with 100% focus. Sweet and crunchy and juicy, they feel vibrant. They call the sun and wind to mind. And they inevitably call to mind the people who planted, cultivated, grew, and harvested them.
This isn’t some paeon to intuitive eating as a magical diet we pretend isn’t a diet. In fact, I don’t really want to talk about food at all here. I want to talk about mindfulness and systems of power.
Mindfulness is, of course, buzzy as all hell, and has been for the past 10 or so years. You’ve got CEOs singing the praises of meditation and companies bringing in mindfulness meditation as if they care about the wellness of their staff and aren’t just trying to eke out more units of productivity. And you’ve got a million different diets passed off as mindful eating. Mindfulness has, one could argue, jumped the shark.
But I’m not interested in mindfulness as a philosophy or as a capitalistic tool or as an organizing system. Rather, I’m interested in the ways that the racist, sexist, capitalistic status quo both requires–and engineers–a lack of mindfulness.
When I say mindfulness, I’m not talking about meditation or retreats or pale wood and white walls. I mean simply the act of being here now in your animal body.
And I think that if we were to be consistently here now in our animal bodies, capitalism could not survive. As a “knowledge worker,” the toll taken on my body is far less than for most working people in the world, but I am still expected to ignore my body’s need for rest, for balance, for food if it interferes with a meeting or a deadline, to pee if I’m in a meeting, to stop before the sun goes down in the winter. As a barista and a server and a hairdresser, the toll was far higher–standing in essentially one spot for 8-10 hours a day. Having set times I could eat. Relying on others to ensure I could pee. Ignoring the revulsion and frisson of fear that comes with sexual harassment from men old enough to be my father. Shoving down the irritation as some wealthy tourist screams at me for not reading her mind and making it non-fat when she didn’t specify non-fat. Ignoring the roiling pain in my neck and shoulders from 8 hours of repetitive motions. Pretending my hands weren’t raw and peeling from caustic chemicals.
Similarly, the patriarchy both demands and causes women to not be here now in our animal bodies. Whether it’s grinning and bearing it while a customer makes lewd comments, or folding up inside yourself when the guy at the bus stop flashes you, or dissociating when something more violent happens, for many women, to survive in this world is to not be here now in our animal bodies. And lest you escape those terrors–or find a way to come back to your body after them–diet culture will do a number on you. We’re inculcated since birth that hunger is something to be feared and controlled. We’re taught to–consciously or not–count the calories, grams of sugar, grams of fat, relative moral worth of each bite that we take and each bite we refuse. We’re taught to internalize a cruel and judgmental gaze, so that we hear society’s messages in our own voice.
I can’t speak to intersections and experiences that aren’t my own, but I think it is a common thread that exploitation and oppression chase us out of our bodies. Because it is not possible to withstand the onslaught of terror, pain, and indignity and be fully present to do it.
And so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as we see more income inequality, as we see power being further consolidated at the top, we are inundated with more ways to escape our bodies. Not just foods engineered to be eaten compulsively while distracted, but the rush of Black Friday shopping, endlessly scrolling Facebook, comparing our post-partum bodies to the fitness influencers on Instagram, going down rabbit-holes on Youtube fed by the endless algorithm. Constantly refreshing. Constantly consuming.
The world is not just designed to push us out of our animal bodies, but requires it.
And so I think that one path to liberation is to consistently come back to our animal bodies. This is, of course, easier said than done, and we do what we need to survive in the moment. But if we can resist the pull of all the things that chase us out of our bodies, if we can refuse to normalize an existence where we ignore our bodies’ needs, and if we can stop giving time, money, and attention to those forces that require our metaphorical absence, we can start building lives and communities that–even if only incrementally–allow us to be here now.
I’m planning to write more frequently than once every two years, but I wonder if the days of blogs are gone, as everyone and their neighbour has moved to a newsletter. If anyone is still reading blogs–and specifically this formerly defunct blog–let me know if you’d be interested in a (somewhere between weekly and monthly) newsletter or prefer the blog.