Sapience: to Taste is to Know!  Did you know that the word "sapiens" in Homo Sapiens stems from Latin verb sapere which means "to taste, to be wise, to know"?  Yes: to taste is to know!  Some say: we are what we eat.  I say: we are how we eat.  

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Entries in De-Programming (2)


Math of Self-Change

Ever thought about how many precedents of change it takes to change a habit?  Indeed, how many precedents did it take you to quit the last habit you quit and to develop the last habit you developed?  Something to ponder, huh?  Well, here's a bit of somewhat arbitrary math of self-change for your to ponder ...

The hand-to-mouth eating motion is just as automated as our bipedal loco-motion.  It’s, pardon my Spanish, loco to think that merely reading about mindful eating will do you any good.  It won’t, not without an experiential journey to accompany your insights.  After all, to walk, it's not just enough to have wings of intention, but you also have to have fairly well-conditioned hamstrings and a path of change long enough to get you to your destination.

Consider this: you have invested literally a lifetime into mindless eating.  It's gonna take you a few clicks to override your mindless eating reflex with a habit of mindful eating.  It's a marathon not a Blitzkrieg, a process of deciding to be mindful, time and again, not a one-time decision to stop being mindless.

The goal is simple: to set one mindful eating precedent at each meal.  Most of us eat at least 3 times a day.  If you have a mindful eating exercise to try at each meal, that’s about 1,000 mindful eating precedents (just rounding up 365 days worth of 3 mindful eating precedents per day).  Imagine how far a 1,000 precedents of change will get you!

To date, I have finished three self-help books, one page at a time.  Not that it's any big deal -- just grist for the mill to make the point below.  Eating the Moment -- on overcoming overeating one meal at a time; Present Perfect -- on overcoming perfectionism one self-evaluation at a time; and The Lotus Effect -- on overcoming an identity crisis one self-description at a time.  I am working on my fourth: Smoke Break -- on overcoming smoking one craving at a time.  You see the pattern?

Each book is an experiential curriculum, each book featuring well over 100 exercises, meditations, practices, and activities.  Eating the Moment – in particular –  features 141 mindful practices, with each “mindful practice” having alternate forms, which allows a reader (interested in systematic, methodical, non-impulsive change) to have a practice/exercise to try at each and every meal.

Why am I sharing all this math, these writing notes of a self-help author?  To highlight the importance of experiential homework.  Both as a writer, reader, clinician and a do-it-yourself self-changer myself, I cannot emphasize enough the absolute necessity of experiential homework.  Sure, epiphanies happen.  Sure, people do, now and then, have a 180-degree  turnaround on a dime.  But that’s rare.  More often than not, change is built 1 precedent at a time.

So, here’s the  staging itinerary of this change journey, if you are working on mindful eating (and not just mindlessly reading about it):

Phase 1: Informational  Awareness: “I know about mindful eating.  I tried it…” -- learn about the nuts and bolts of mindful eating, about its endless nuances and subtleties.

Phase 2: Experiential Awareness: “I experienced mindful eating, saw that it is useful, and I am trying to integrate it into my eating life…” -- shop the approach, try it for size, pilot mindful eating for a bit to see if it makes any difference for you and if it does, commit to turning it into second nature.  In other words, build a new reflex: a reflex of mindfulness, of presence whenever you open your mouth to eat.

Phase 3: Habitual Application: “I developed a habit of mindful eating -- whenever I eat, instead of tuning out, I tune it to eating & to myself!” -- ride the new habit to sunset.

Anything short of this is cheating yourself, and why would you do that?

Habits aren’t changed, they are built, just like the proverbial Rome, over many, many days.  How many?  My guess: about a year worth of days, about a 1,000 precedents of change per habit.  Is this a random number?  Yes.  What’s my basis for it?  An ancient saying that you’ve heard a million times: a road of a 1000 miles begins with 1 step. Time to take it:


Mindful Eating Tracker


Pavlovian Sleight-of-Words

As a preface, let me note in advance, that this reading does not conform to most expectations. It will seem at times tangential and pointless but, I assure you, it builds a network of semantic associations that is designed to serve as a supportive net of words. Mind is only as healthy as the words that support it.

Mind, just like stomach, is subject to conditioning and programming. Ivan Pavlov, the first psychologist to be awarded a Nobel prize for the theory of Classical Conditioning in 1904, understood that the mind (just like body) imprints onto environmental stimuli like an orphan duckling and that the environment always works to enslave the mind in return. Pavlov, a Russian who knew his Slavic history, understood the stimulus-response dynamics of slavery. Let us break for a bit of etymological safari to clarify the sentence above.

Slave (n). circa 1290, "person who is the property of another," from O.Fr. esclave, from M.L. Sclavus "slave" (cf. It. schiavo, Fr. esclave, Sp. esclavo), originally "Slav," so called because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

(continue the mind-flow)

Pavlov, a Slav-descendant of slaves, whose scientific career spanned from pre-Soviet Russia into the era of Stalinist purges, did not allow himself to be turned into a propaganda dog of cultural conditioning. Instead he openly barked on the fast-growing sequoia of Stalinist dictatorship. While treasured by Lenin, Pavlov was only being tolerated by Lenin's successor, Stalin, but he refused to be conditioned and to have his mind enslaved. Pavlov, ever a free-mind responsible for his own de-programming and re-programming, wrote appeal-letters to no one less than Stalin, in what would have been construed, by the standards of that time, as nothing less than a daring tone. He knew how not to be a robot. Let us break for another bit of etymological safari to clarify the sentence above.

Robot (n). 1923, from Eng. translation of 1920 play "R.U.R." ("Rossum's Universal Robots"), by Karel Capek (1890-1938), from Czech robotnik "slave," from robota "forced labor, drudgery," from robotiti "to work, drudge," from an Old Czech source akin to Old Church Slavonic rabota "servitude," from rabu "slave."

(continue mind-flow)

The Soviets (just like Nazis) knew how to build a reflex. We did send up a couple of well-trained Pavlov-dogs into space - no small feat! We knew how to tow a party-line, but, as descendants of slaves, we also knew how to rebel against mind-numbing. The tradition of Soviet dissidence counts among its fallen hundreds of thousands of minds that dared not to be conditioned. During the Gulag days of the USSR, minds that refused to become robots became slaves in the Gulag. In the post-Gulag days, minds that refused to be conditioned turned off the TV and had heated debates about what's what in the privacy of Russian kitchens. Which brings me full-circle back to Pavlov's classical conditioning. But, as you guessed, let us break for yet another bit of etymological safari.

Paul (n.). masc. proper name, from L. Paulum (nom. Paulus), literally "small" (see paucity). Cf. O.Fr. Pol, It. Paolo, Sp. Pablo, Rus. Pavel

(continue mind-flow)

Pavlov, semantically a son of "small," "is a pillar of modern psychology and his contribution to this discipline is, probably larger than the contribution of any other person with the exception of Freud" (as Rubin Ardila noted in American Psychologsit in1969). I, just another English-speaking Russian with a name "Pavel," born in 1969, the year of American moon-landing, am positioned to make a much smaller difference, but one that, I believe, might be of personal interest to you. As you have noticed from the arguably strange format of this writing, there is a certain kind of circularity to it: I tell you something, I get your mind-flow going making new associations between familiar words that, hopefully, lead to, not exactly epiphanies, but minor yet possibly useful insights. And then bam! We pause for some silly etymological safari and look into the history of words. We break the mind-flow, awaken a bit, and then continue the mind-flow. What's happening here is designed to parallel the process of de-conditioning/re-conditioning that just might come in handy with the problem of overeating. That's right, my dear reader, I am still writing about mindless eating and how to make it mindful. You see, mindless eating is a classic conditioned reflex: for example, if you eat in front of TV, then after a while, TV and eating become associated with each other, so that when you turn on the TV, you automatically turn on your appetite and vice versa, when you sit down to eat, you turn on your appetite for TV. The result is - you guessed it - mindless programming and conditioning of the mind to go blank when you open your mouth. Let us break for one final etymology safari before we summarize all this tangential sleight-of-words into practical advice.

Television (n). formed in English or borrowed from Fr. télévision, from tele- + vision. The word "tele" stems from Greek tele- which means "far, far off." The word "vision" stems from videre "to see," from Proto-Indo-European base weid- which means "to know, to see" (e.g. Sankrit veda "I know").

(continue mind-flow)

As you see, the word "television" basically means "seeing what is not here," i.e. not seeing and not knowing what is here and now right in front of you. The Soviet way of de-programming from cultural programming was to come home, boil a few potatoes, warm up yesterday's cutlets and/or borsch, to maybe pour yourself a shot-glass of vodka or, for minors, a glass mug of kvas, and to talk about the Orwellian nonsense that is happening outside the family's kitchen, about where to find a pair of American denim jeans that fade on knees so as to not remain on slave-knees of Soviet propaganda. I'm stereotyping my own people, of course, but I don't think they are that ego-frail to mind. In a nutshell, the Soviets kept themselves awake... over eating... by turning off the official TV and tuning in to each other and their own selves. The American way, unfortunately, is in just the opposite direction: the land of the free has been enslaved by TV, by watching what is not here and by mindlessly ignoring what is in front of one's own nose. American mind, for decades, is being programmed to be an eating zombie. Americans aren't to blame: after all it was another Russian scientist, Boris Rosing, who invented the cathode ray tube in 1907 and gave the world a slave-driver in each living room.

So, here's my small, name-proportionate, attempt at waking up the sleeping/overeating beauty of America: make a small change, kill the TV-eating reflex. How? For starters, eat in the kitchen, not in the living room. Reclaim your eating moments one meal a time: small changes, you know, add up to new reflexes.

Break the pattern to restore your mind-flow. Program the following noun for yourself:

Self (n). - a slave to eating or a master of eating?

Make a choice of what to serve yourself: a sense of self-presence or another portion of mindlessness. Break out of your associative chains! Is it doable? Heck, you guys put a man on the moon...


Mindful Eating Tracker
(workshops in PA, MD, NJ, VA in April-May 2010)


Ruben Ardila, Nobel Prizes for Psychologists, American Psychologists, 1969, 24, pp. 604-605