Some Thoughts on Desire

Is desire bad? Some religious and spiritual teachings seem to say it’s how individuals and communities get themselves into trouble.

But even some religious leaders have said we need desire. Desire is part of who we are as humans. It is part of our motivation to do the good that we do, as well as the bad.

As a deeply, wildly, intensely passionate person, I think about this a lot. And the way I see it, things boil down this way:

Extreme, mindless desire can derail a life, a family, a community, a nation, a hemisphere, a world. Extreme, mindless, unmitigated desire creates a Bernie Madoff, a mortgage crisis, a Holocaust.

These are the low desires. The venal, me-first-everybody-out-of-my-way-I’m-coming-through desires. You see it not just in global issues but in the rude, careless, dismissive ways people treat one another on the road, in stores, at work, even at home.

Low desire can manifest, too, in self-destructive urges like addiction. The addict who cares more about her next binge or score or hit than anyone or anything, she’s succumbing to low desire.  Cravings, those gut-punching, mind-bending thoughts that you have to have it (whatever it is) right now or you’ll die are extreme, physical manifestations of this low desire.

But there is also high desire. It is characterized by the passion to help others, live with integrity, do the right thing, share privilege, use no more resources than you need, and work for the greater good. It is also, not only in my experience and observation, but in the science of developmental psychology, characterized by the born-in passion to connect with a source of power and guidance bigger, grander and more mysterious that a solo individual.

We all have both kinds of desires in us. We all have seeds of war and seeds of peace. Which will we water?

When we feel into and channel our higher desires, starting with the yearning to listen to and heed the inner guidance, lovely things happen. Following my higher yearning helped me to be a good enough mom, though I had a lot of early mis-training to overcoming. It has helped me write words of healing and hope over the years, including my recent book The Hungry Ghost, about how I healed from binge-eating and how others can too.

And it helps me now, as I ask the Universe to show me, just for today, what can I do to increase the peace? How can I help myself and then others transform irritation, pain and trauma for the greater good?

These, I hope you’ll agree, are desires to be fed and shared. When we pool our desires good things happen. Babies are born and nurtured. Crops are sowed, reaped and brought to market. Broken families reunite. Illness and injury heal. Friends discuss misunderstandings and clear the air. Enemies make eye contact, shake hands and lay down their arms.

High desires, well nurtured and mindfully directed, enable us to walk through this day, doing as little harm as humanly possible and, maybe, doing a little good.

The Fire This Time

Fire heals and nourishes. Fire lights and shows the way. And fire destroys.

Three years ago this month, I lost four beloved friends in an hellacious house fire.

It was my next door neighbors, friends for over 30 years. The sole survivor lived with us a month, having escaped with absolutely nothing. No clothes, no money, no ID. And no family.

The losses weigh heavily. It was my neighborhood’s 9/11. We rallied, we grieved. We sorted through the facts and our feelings. We shared memories and cried together.

It was months before I could so much as light a candle. And just last summer when I burned damp wood in the back yard, two neighbors came running because the smell so reminded them.

But light four candles I do, for these friends:

Sheri. My age. She took care of my babies while I worked, and was the kind of auntie every child needs, loving, firm, generous, always forgiving. And funny! That girl could turn a phrase and see the light side. She also harbored deep pain, and did her best to face it, but the going was tough.

Deidre. Sheri’s daughter. I wrote a letter to support Deidre’s adoption, so I felt like her auntie. In the long summer nights when Deidre and my boys were little, she and Sheri would come over and sit in my yard. The children would play, running back and forth between the two yards. Sheri and I chatted and watched the night fall and the kids wind down. As the kids got older, the families spent less time together, and most connections were yard-talks. But that special kind of neighbor love was there. In the coming years, Deidre had a hard path to walk. Gifted and troubled, she was starting to make her way.

Denise. Sheri’s sister, who lived with Sheri and the rest of the family. A gentle, quiet woman, she had moved in only recently. She was most known in our neighborhood for how often she rambled with the family dog, Sammy, and for her shy, sweet “hellos.” Every day she’d go up to the local deli for a chicken sandwich and tea. The day after the fire, the deli sent us a tray of sandwiches, with a note. Sammy also perished in the fire, a fact not often remembered but significant just the same. Poor little guy. I will add a candle for his happy little dog-soul.

Anthony. Deidre’s boyfriend. I never met him directly but I embrace him in my heart as much as all the others. Sheri had encouraged his and Deidre’s relationship and his presence in the household as a possible healing influence on Deidre. I love him for that, and because he was the age of my own sons, who knew him slightly and whom I love more than life itself.

Losses like these, thank goodness, don’t happen in most American lives. I actually took each of my young adult sons aside some days later to say that in my 60 years I’d never been through anything remotely like this and while I couldn’t promise, it was unlikely they would ever again go through something so horrifying.

But losses are as common and inevitable as breathing in, breathing out. I don’t like to indulge self-pity, but I do believe in the honesty of the facts, and the facts are these: You don’t get to be 63 years old without taking a few body blows.

The choice then is to rise again, or to lie there in the ashes. Sometimes I do have to stay down awhile. But never for long.

Humans are way more resilient than we think. People don’t fall apart. We reassemble ourselves. And we don’t do it alone.

There’s a new house next door now, brand, spanking new. A sweet, beautiful young couple lives there, with their little dog, Louie. Life goes on. Life wants to win. And love always wins.

We remember. We grieve. And we rejoice. Rest in peace, dear friends. You are alive and well in our hearts.

Many of my thoughts on love and life are in my new book The Hungry Ghost: How I Ditched 100  Pounds and Came Fully Alive which is about far more than food and weight. 

Feed Your Hunger! My New Book!

Hungry-PrintI’m so excited to announce the publication of my self-help book based on my recovery from food addiction, which includes a 100-pound weight loss. I’ve boiled the experience down into digestible (!) bits for everyone to use.

When I started my journey of recovery, I had no idea  it would take me on a deeply spiritual path and give me the joy of working with others who struggle with binge-eating and being hijacked again and again by sweet, fatty, salty, wheaty, over-processed foods.

Available from Amazon. See what you think, and stay connected for upcoming workshops, groups and talks.


Fire that God!

Who is the God of your misunderstanding? That’s the question for today. But first: Let’s not get stuck on the God word, okay? I mean the higher power you turn to, whether Howard—as in, “…Howard be thy name,” as Ann Lamott suggests, or Harvey, as my friend Marlyn assserts, or My Adoring All as another friend says. Just anyone who’s not our own little ego and will.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend I’ll call Joanne and she told me how she’d moved off the cruel and punishing God of her upbringing (that included a teacher nun who swung a big hard text book into side of Joanne’s head so hard that it broke her ear drum). She told the story of how she moved from trying to work with a God who thought she deserved that treatment, who would think her sinful and evil at 7 years old, into the powerful, loving God she knows today, the one who helps, guides and heals her in all areas of her life.

It was at a retreat, she said. The leader asked everyone to think of all the higher powers they’d had in their lives—parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, dentists, older siblings and the like. Together, they made a list.

Next, the group made a list of the negative qualities of those higher powers. I wasn’t at the retreat, so I did my own list: hypercritical; negative; controlling; intrusive; relentless; cruel; unsympathetic; wildly impatient; opaque; uncommunicative; explosive; violent.

Those were the qualities my poor little psyche learned to attribute to all higher powers, including the one who created me, who is supposed to guide my life and heal my wounds. No wonder I have been on constant conflict with this HP!

Then, the retreat leader, says Joanne, held up his hand in a stop-traffic gesture and said, “Fire that God of your misunderstanding!”

And, he suggested, create a new, loving one of your choosing. Mine has these attributes: always available; unconditionally loving; totally kind; totally strong; not one little bit cruel; totally patient; pure love; excellent, kind teacher; always respectful; wiser than I know; beautiful beyond measure.

Well, I sure can work with that.

How about you? What are the qualities you require in a higher power? (Go ahead! Make a list! Do it right here and now if you want!)

Will you dare to claim them? Let’s do it together, shall we?

7 Ways to Love Yourself Up

Hug myself? Chant “I love you, Gay” over and over, out loud? Ewwww!

That was my first reaction many years ago when I was told I needed to love myself.

Now I’m understanding that whatever I do and whoever I am starts with self-care. Not the icky, self-centered, it’s-all-about-me stuff. Rather, the kind that says, as Max Ehrmann does in Desiderata, “I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the starts, and I have a right to be here.” The kind that says I am to be maintained, if not like a princess, then like a worthy human with a lot of normal human needs.

So here’s my list of whats to love yourself, particularly in this season of high expectation and excess.

1. Eat healthy. Some of us can splurge on food and drink and reel ourselves in the next day and some of us can’t (I can’t). Know who you are and live that truth. If a bite of a means a flat-out binge, don’t pick up that first cookie. Hurts when you do that? Don’t do that. Easy to say, harder to do. But totally worthwhile, to be a little uncomfortable for a few seconds instead of miserable for hours or days.

2. Move the bod. Stretch. Walk. Go to the gym. Stop thinking of exercise as torture, which I did for many years. I may not like the movement, but I adore the de-stressing, stamina-building, health-sustaining results of getting out of my head and into the rest of me.

3. Keep order. Clutter around me creates clutter in my mind. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I just know that a certain amount of clarity in my home helps me feel calm. (Just so you know, I am really, really bad at this. I just do the best I can.)

4. Pamper the bod. Get a haircut. Use nice lotions liberally. Brush your hair because it feels good, not because you’re rushing out the door and don’t want to scare people. Get a massage. Seriously. A massage isn’t a luxury. It’s smart health care. A great investment in your sanity, productivity and joy.

5. Talk nicely to yourself. Replace the mean, what-did-you-do-now inner monologue with sweet words you’d say to a tiny tot wailing cuz she just skinned her knee. As in, “Yes, it’s sad that you burned dinner. But it’s okay. You’re not in trouble. You are loving and lovable just the same.”

6. Connect to others. Healthy people. Supportive people. Non-toxic people. Call, write, text. Ask how they are. Tell them how you are. Say what you need. Get no for an answer, ask someone else. Help others, but only as your inner guide instructs.

7. Take quiet time every day. Prayer and meditation are the foundation for how a calm mind and soothed spirit. They also empower me to be my best self.


Don’t Ask Why. Ask How

It’s a miracle to me that my father-in-law, Irving (Ed) Edelman, whom I never met, could paint such a lovely picture. How’d he do that?

I was angry again, at God. I don’t understand suffering. I really don’t. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh shocked me recently by saying he’s grateful for life’s pain because it creates compassion.

I do know that a broken heart is an open heart. And an open heart is a caring heart. And a caring heart creates connection and all kinds of growth and healing, seen and unseen.

And I do understand that railing at God about suffering isn’t particularly useful, though it does seem to be common, if you take a look at spiritual memoirs, and/or, bring up the topic with friends.

I do not believe God gives us suffering to teach us. That is just too mean. I do believe suffering comes when people use their free will to move away from God’s grace. I do know that God helps us learn from whatever happens to us, whether from other people’s mistakes and evils, or the mysterious vagaries of weather, chance, happenstance, and freaky inexplicable stuff like hurricanes, car accidents and cancer.

My friend Lori says her preferred method of compassion creation is unconditional love. This I could deal with.

Do you suppose that if we increased the unconditional love in our lives and in the world, there’s be less suffering?

Well, there you go.

A new friend this week, hearing me fuss about the pain and suffering thing—which includes pissiness about how this happily ever after thing wasn’t quite working out the way I expected—made this suggestion: Don’t ask God why. Ask how.

Okay, okay. I surrender. (Again.) I give up. (Again.) As it says in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. Any time I am disturbed is because I am finding something unacceptable, and I can find no peace until I accept things as they are.

My assignment, and I’m choosing to accept it: I’m looking for the hows. How to increase the peace. How miracles are being made all around me. How I’m better off tapping into the sources of love than focusing on what’s not feeling so good or doesn’t make sense. Most of all, how to receive and express the love that exists in me and in you, always solid as a rock, light as air, bright as a candle flame, fluid and flowing like water.


16 Ways to Feel Good NOW!

Today is all we have. Let’s make it a good one!

Self care is not selfish. It’s impossible to be who we’re supposed to be in the world if we aren’t who we’re supposed to be to ourselves. When I first learned this lesson, I had to make a list of possible ways of self-nurture because in the crunch, everything went right out of my head. I’ve had so many conversations this week where we ended up talking about baseline self-care that I decided to share my list. When I’m feeling lower than whale poop, like nobody likes me, everybody hates me and I might as well eat worms, I know I need a dose of self-mothering. Some nice things to do:

• Slather on sweet-scented lotions or oils

• Light a scented candle

• Go to the library, wander through the stacks and take out whatever speaks you—a whole pile of novels, memoirs, travelogues. Don’t forget the section of movies, music and books on tape

• Pick up new do-dads for your hair, a new hairbrush, a different conditioner while you’re food shopping

• Send thank you notes to people who’ve done something nice for you. Send one to yourself in the mail

• Pet your dog or cat

• Get your hair cut just the way you like it

• Schedule a massage. Too pricey? Start saving up. Make a jar and put a few bucks in whenever you can

• Drink a cup of hot herbal tea

• Go through your photo albums

• Call a trusted, nurturing, supportive friend

• Go to and listen to a guided imagery.

• Have a nice nap

• Take a walk in a nearby nature site—or around your back yard

• Tend your houseplants

• Color, in a coloring book or on a blank piece of paper. Don’t forget to breathe in that eau de Crayola!

Recovering from Recovery

Just a butterfly among the leaves. Photo by Ed Edelman.

Who doesn’t want to be a better person? I sure do. From the time I was small—and this was no doubt influenced by the Puritan culture of upstate NY where I grew up—I strove every day in every way to be better and better.

This is okay, but only up to a point. That point being, where the message and motive becomes, “I’m not good enough. And that’s why I have to get better.”

Years ago I read a wonderful book: Stop Improving Yourself and Start Living. Love it! It was one of the earliest things I’ve read that talked about just letting yourself be.

We can get addicted to self-improvement. Self-improvement is great. If we’ve got problems, we need to overcome them. We all require diversity to live. It’s a need of the human mind. It’s fun to explore new ways of learning and being.

But only up to a point. That point being, when we keep trying the next right thing, falling for shiny object syndrome, hoping some person, program, book or seminar will be the thing that fixes our broken little selves, once and for all.

Here’s why we need to slow down sometimes: We are not broken. God don’t make no junk, as the poster says. We are beautiful creatures striving for health, peace and harmony. We all also seem to be dealt a fair amount of pain. I don’t know why it should be so. But there it is. As Pema Chodron says in The Places That Scare You, we have to sit still and be with the hurt, neither running away from it nor acting out from it.

Just letting ourselves be, in other words.

Sometimes it’s okay to close the self-help book, skip the recovery meeting, say no to yet another compelling offer of a perfect-your-life workshop, and just let ourselves be.

Go through our day, in other words, not looking for more tools to perfect ourselves, but using the tools we have. And using them gently, lovingly, kindly, thoughtfully.

Maybe even going outside for a bit and just being a big ole bump on a log.


Put Yourself Into Intensive Care

I love my picnic breakfasts, with my oatmeal, decaf, books and notebooks in my jungly backyard.

If you are wounded, you need extreme self-care. If you are hurting, you need radical self love. We are all wounded. We are all hurting. If you are in crisis, this is not hot news. If you are not in crisis, you probably still most likely have dark times, moments, relationships, pockets in your soul. Frustrations, disappointments—they’re always there. It’s the human condition. “Be kind to everyone you meet,” said the philosopher Maimonides, “for he is fighting a great battle.”

Extreme self-care. Radical self-love. If there’s anything I know to be true, these principles say it. I’m not talking about greed, or escapism, or profound self-indulgence. I’m not talking about hurting others to help myself.

I am ever more dedicated to what my friend Betty calls, “putting myself into intensive care.”

Grace is a gift that must be claimed. What if my friends and family gave me a birthday party and I didn’t show up? Silly me! My gift to myself—and to the people in my life—is attention to health, soul and sanity. If I am not centered and clear inside myself, in my soul and spirit, what I give to the world is suspect. This I know. I do not what to put out a polluted product. I can’t let my little light shine if I don’t feed its fire, can I?

I’m finding at this time in my life I show up to the party by giving myself abundant time to connect with my inner higher self: In the mornings, prayer, meditation, reading inspiring literature, scribbling in my journal and reflection. During the day, brief moments to stop and breathe, conscious effort to mindfulness, music, movement in the form of walking, cycling or Qigong. But even when I had three little kids and a full time job in NYC, I grabbed what moments I could. On the train. In the bathroom! With the kids—I’d put on some rhythmic music and we’d all dance our pants off.

All to cut through the suffering and embrace life on life’s terms and be well-equipped to live an abundant, generous life.

Intensive care. That’s the ticket! Are you ready to ride?

Where’s My Money???

This handy, dandy art work is the result of my million years of living, working and trying to understand how money gets made ethically, number one, and how to get behind what I know and love to do in and for the world, number two.

Whew! With thanks to my business coach, Melody Stevens I have come to believe that the best place to work from is in the spot where heart meets market. And that, said Ms. Mel as we both roared with laughter right there in the Manalapan, NJ Starbucks, is reality!

I don’t have to sell out. I have to buy in…to my own work, my own calling, my own strengths, my own abilities.

Okay! As my friend Traci Bild  would say, “I am my own lottery ticket!”

Meaning, my life is my own, as I choose to make it. With the help of my higher power, always and forever, one day at a time.

Any questions?