I’ve read that Indians catch monkeys by placing a peanut (called “monkey nut” in India) in a bottle. The monkey plunges its slender paw into the bottle, grasps the peanut, tries to withdraw its clenched paw clasping the nut, but cannot. He thrashes around; the noise alerts the homeowner, who captures him, as a pet, as a performing monkey, or simply kills him to stop relentless thefts from fruit trees. The thing is: all the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the peanut. If he could do that, he could have the whole world…but not the peanut. It’s as easy…and momentarily difficult…as that.
It’s a metaphor for how letting go of the things that consume too much of our time, energy, emotion, and attention, that have us thrashing around like a flustered, bewildered, infuriated monkey…is easier than we think, though, of course, costly.
I’ve been on a journey over the last few months of quitting habits I have had for years. For instance, I had 2 tablets of Nightol (an herbal concoction) to sleep for about ten years. Then I read that while it helps you drift off more rapidly, it affects the REM sleep in which the dreaming necessary for mental, emotional and spiritual health occurs, and in which memory consolidation and creative problem-solving occurs. In which emotions are processed, often resolved, and catharsis occurs. The REM sleep vital to mental health. So I decided to cut all sleeping aids cold turkey. It was hard for a few days, but now I use a meditation and deep breathing tape to help me drift off, and it works just as well, in fact better, and, my sleep is indeed deeper and more refreshing, as I had hoped.
Similarly, I had used the herb St. John’s Wort, maximum dose, as a mood uplifter for the same ten years. On learning that it affected the depth of sleep, as well as precious REM sleep, I went off it on the first day of holiday in Dubrovnik this Easter, when the sights and stimulation and adventure were enough to distract me from needing the herbal “high.” I missed it for a week or two, but that’s it.
I used to be addicted to chocolate, then cut it down to a bar a week, then to a little Green and Blacks bar a day, 85 calories, which could become two bars. But then, since my present goal is 1200 calories a day, mainly from vegetables, that little bar didn’t bring the most blessing to my body, and kept me dependent on the crutch of sugar, and chocolate, and calories to boost my brain chemistry and mood. So, with the encouragement of a health coach, I cut chocolate, just like that, and used a meditation app when I craved chocolate, and now after several weeks, by the grace of God, I no longer crave it.
Quitting chocolate was followed by quitting sugar. Keeping food charts revealed all the little treats of cookies, cheese cake, ice cream, biscuits, desserts, cake, dried fruit I had been consuming in a course of a week, so I resolved to quit buying them and two months later I hardly ever crave them. (I do have them on social occasions, but just a little because they now adversely affect my emotions and brain), Again, I tried movement, a run, or tidying my room, or guided meditation and deep breathing to snap my brain out of the restlessness of craving sweet things.
The biggest shift, which changed the whole way I eat, was cutting out carbs. Bread, rice, potatoes, noodles, pasta–sayonara. All gone. Bye-bye crisps, and crackers on cheese, and sandwiches, and garlic bread and baked potatoes. This is not necessary for everyone, of course, but the extra weight I was carrying led to sciatica (now 95% gone). Cutting carbs necessarily led to having to eat in a new way… a little fish or meat at each meal, nuts at some, and lots of vegetables and fruit. Basically, Atkins or Keto. It’s time-consuming for us… finding new recipes, and counting those darn calories, but I have lost 19 pounds over the last months, simply by cutting the things that were not a blessing to my body. (I have more to lose, by the way, but am 42 pounds down from where I was six years ago).
The hardest, the hardest thing to cut was caffeine. Dr Fuhrman, who wrote the best book on diet I know Eat to Live, says “More than a cup of coffee can interfere with your health, and your weight loss goals,” and Lisa, my health coach strongly recommended it. I was rarely without a cup of tea near my reading chair and had several cups of cappuccino or coffee a day… how many exactly became clear when I started keeping food charts. It’s almost two months since I reduced that to two cups a day, occasionally lapsing into three, and I am still struggling with that, though less than I used to. But I can still concentrate and read and write, though more slowly and less pleasurably than when caffeine made concentration razor-sharp. But without the caffeine-aided focus and speed, the artificial mountain top, there is less of a descent into the valley of sleepiness, grogginess and lost focus, which leads one craving another cup, and another. The caffeine-induced vicious circle. It is taking me a while to get used to two or three cups of either coffee or tea rather than chain-drinking tea, but God-willing, I will ultimately become a happy peppermint-tea fuelled girl.
Sometimes we define ourselves by things we do… I need carbs, I am addicted to chocolate, I have a sweet tooth, I need… I am… but if these self-definitions, these evil stories, these vicious narratives do not serve us, we must change them. It takes time and effort to write a new story on paper as in life, but we can always begin. It’s murder for a week or so when it comes to sugar or chocolate or carbs, longer when it comes to caffeine, but then we are out of the cave of powerlessness and helplessness, and into the light.
The creative Bob Goff quits something every Thursday. He quit Bible studies, concluding that he had enough knowledge already to follow Christ, and he now actually needed to DO something, and instead has a Bible Doing with a couple of friends, discussing how they can practice what they just learnt. He quit all Boards of which he was a member of… and so on. Quitting dead-weight things is a good habit. This is what I’ve quit over the last few month… herbal sleeping pills, herbal mood uplifts, caffeine, chocolate, sugary treats, bread, noodles, pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes, crisps.
I am still quitting one thing a week. For instance, I am limiting my internet use with the help of the web-blockers, Cold Turkey and Freedom, cutting either the entire web for four hours at a time, or just the social media and news. I am also decluttering a little. This has begun to release time for more life-giving things, reading, writing, learning German, gardening, yoga, and a bit of running. Like Bob Goff, I plan to quit one thing, big or small, each week, and as time shows up, add new practices and habits, big or small, that are nourishing and life-giving. Wish me luck!!
P.S. Of course there has been an element of the chairos time, and the grace of God involved. If breaking free from bad habits were as easy as just stopping it, I would have done so long ago; we all would have. And perhaps, it is. (Though watch this)
But there is also, as the Bible says, an enemy of our souls, and dark forces who adore sin and bondage. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying.” Ephesians 6 10-18
There is hope for the battle in Jesus, who takes our hands as we walk on the waters of what we once considered impossible. All things are possible if we hold the hand of Jesus, and for just thirty seconds take one step in the right direction. And then, take a deep breath, and still holding onto to the hand of Jesus, take another thirty-second step into the light, towards Jesus, and health, and wholeness, and happiness.
A couple of favourite and related books I’d like to recommend
Matthew Walker’s brilliant book on better sleep: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
(affiliate links 🙂