Dreaming of Cupcakes follows a woman’s yearlong journey to heal a lifelong addiction to food, utilizing the shamanic medicine traditions she was trained in, her inner resources, and her community of support.
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Dreaming of Cupcakes
A Food Addict's Shamanic Journey Into Healing
By Jennifer Engrácio
Balboa PressCopyright © 2017 Jennifer Engrácio
All rights reserved.
West Introduction: Satisfying the Body
"Our bodies link directly to Father Sky. This is just one of the profound lessons emerging from today's cosmology. Science has now demonstrated that our bodies are formed of the 'stuff of stars' ... 60 percent of the atoms of our bodies are hydrogen and helium atoms, which were birthed in the original fireball 13.7 billion years ago. The other 40 percent of our bodies' atoms were birthed in supernova explosions about 5 billion years ago. We are made of ancient stuff ... Consider: we couldn't run, jump, walk, swim, skate, embrace, kiss, wrestle, make love, eat, sing, dance, paint, sleep, write, or think without our body. All we do we do with our body. And that includes pray and communicate with the divine: body and Soul, body and consciousness, go hand in glove. Our bodies also contain the DNA of our ancestors, all of them, so each one is a meeting place for the entire human race."
- Matthew Fox from "The Hidden Spirituality of Men"
Does it change something inside of you when you hear that every cell of your body is made of stars? I hope so. I know how life changing that was for me when I first learned this scientific fact. And it really brought home that I was destroying the only physical container my spirit had available to it in this lifetime. If I am made of light, why am I insisting on behaving as if there were only darkness?
There is a long history in the Western world of denying the pleasures of the body as if they were evil, lustful, and wrong. This is a belief worth scrapping from our minds. Why? Because our bodies contain the innate wisdom of what they need to survive and thrive. When we ignore its messages, we do so at the peril of our health and wellbeing. Coming back to our bodies and to an awareness of what we are sensing, feeling, and needing at any given moment is what brings us into the present moment. If we are truly present in this moment, unless we are in immediate physical danger, there is no stress. There is no past or future in the picture. It is easier to appreciate life and to become conscious of patterns that need to heal when we are present in our bodies.
An addict's body is often very imbalanced chemically and energetically because of abusive and unsustainable addictive patterns that have often spanned unchecked for many years. All addictive behaviour numbs out our ability to feel our bodies, therefore blocking the messages for rest, sex, exercise, healthy food, pleasure, and water that our bodies naturally give us that help us to maintain our overall wellness and vitality. Our bodies do not lie and tend to get louder in the form of disease and illness if we don't take care of them. Our bodies are sacred vessels that carry our spirits through this lifetime. Healing an addiction means having to recover that knowing inside of us that Matthew Fox speaks of in the above quote. Good self-care and body-awareness are cornerstones of any recovery program. Illness and disease are not inevitable outcomes of living-they are signs of imbalances that begin in the spiritual realm as warning whispers and are exacerbated by the choices we make in our lives. If we can make poor choices, we can also learn to make better ones that are in alignment with our spirit knowing.
In North America, many of us are caught up in the rat race of competition, climbing never-ending corporate ladders, and accumulating as much "stuff" as possible as a way of proving our worthiness and status. The thing that we've forgotten is that worthiness is an inside job-it doesn't come from outer markers of what others think of as "success." This way of living is simply not conducive to what our bodies need to build and maintain health and overall wellbeing. It's a breeding ground for addiction and illness. Workaholics spend so many hours at work that they don't receive the down time needed for their bodies to recover from the amount of stress they are under. This addiction is often coupled with cocaine, sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants that keep a person's energy revved high. With this stunning amount of energy loss, it becomes impossible for the body to maintain homeostasis.
The West of the inner medicine wheel is the place of the body and the physical world. In the West, we get a chance to look at our relationship to our physical world. This includes our bodies, how we use and care for them. This also includes our finances, our ability to meet the many needs of living in a physical body, the condition of our homes, the environment, and the communities we live in. In the following chapters, I discuss how I regained balance in the West of the medicine wheel. This includes a commitment I renewed to living from a place of pleasure and body awareness.
In order to consolidate your understanding of this direction from your personal, experiential and embodied perspective, I recommend doing the following ceremonies from "Shamanic Ceremonies for a Changing World" by Marilyn Keffer and Gael Carter. You can find more information on how to purchase a copy by looking at the Recommended Resources section of the Appendix of this book.
Breath of Life Assignment 0-18 The Conservation of Energy Ritual 1-2
"Dissociation is natural ... and happens as a result of a stress response. It's a floating, absent feeling. It can last a long time, especially if you were traumatized as an infant, when you didn't have the option to fight or run away. Checking out would have been the only strategy you had in your earliest days ... When people reach the limits of their terror, their survival brain throws the circuit breaker on their mind, and they check out. They no longer feel sensations in their body. If you check out repeatedly, then over time, you will lose the awareness of how your body feels ... The purpose of the freeze response ... [is] not to change the situation but to help you survive the situation."
-Kim Barthel from "Conversations with a Rattlesnake"
I will always remember my first assignment from my teacher. It seemed simple enough: eat all your meals with your eyes closed. I thought this would be easy and had no idea why she was having me do this exercise. Boy was I dead wrong! The following excerpt is taken from an e-mail I wrote to my teacher, Wolf Woman, in May 2010:
Breakfast: I did my first session of eating in my room by myself with my eyes closed. I discovered that it is hard for me to eat more slowly. It is like the flavours of the food are really hard for me to take in. Like too much information in a way. Flooded with sadness for all the times I missed noticing those flavours in my life and allowing them to nourish my body and spirit. Then coffee with my eyes closed. Immediate comfort and memories of being a kid and drinking coffee in the morning with relatives before school. Good times. Remembering the mix of coffee and milk in my bottle as a toddler. Tears as I write this realizing that connection I've made between coffee and family. I am not sure I completely understand what they are about. The feeling is a mixture of sadness and longing that I can't quite place. Boiled potatoes, salmon, and mixed greens for dinner. Memories flood back of summers in a relative's backyard with cousins exploring the creek and picking watercress. I didn't know I had such connections between food and memories-that they were so linked. They can be a blessing, but often times, they are a curse. Not all those memories were good ones.
It was a real epiphany to me that I didn't notice the flavours of what I was eating. I later discovered through my own experience that sugar numbs out the taste buds when consumed in large quantities, making it more challenging to get the full sensory experience that food can offer. Eating, for me, was an automatic response to stress. It didn't really matter what something tasted like, it was that full feeling that I was after and I ate as fast as I could to get it over with. I was after a feeling of satiation and satisfaction. Needless to say, it was always fleeting. Despite feeling full, I still felt empty inside and this distressed me. I didn't know what that emptiness was and I was too scared at first to go into it to find out.
Social eating was challenging. Indeed, food is everywhere and it is perhaps the most socially accepted addiction out there. Many friends I later shared my struggles with around food tended to minimize it as if everyone has some kind of addiction that they are unwilling to give up (caffeine, sugar, shopping, or watching TV) and that it is not a big deal. Loved ones often unwittingly enabled my addiction by putting food in front of me even if I didn't ask for it or then attempting to shame me into eating food they had "lovingly" prepared for me.
Food, unlike cocaine for instance, is impossible to avoid so I knew that I had to learn how to master all the situations where food was accessible and where I'd likely be experiencing stress: at staff meetings, during family dinners, at parties, and during hard conversations with people I love. It was not easy to stay conscious while eating when I first began this exercise-even when there was no one around. Over time, I was able to notice I'd zoned out and was able to bring myself back in less time. For this first year, results were inconsistent, as you can see below. One day, I'd have an easy time staying present in social situations and then the next day, it felt hopeless. Persistence was a necessary trait for me to develop because I knew I would not get it right every time. Even today, this pattern is still there and that is okay. I use it as information and will question why I checked out instead of beating myself up about it.
Another thing I practiced was not multi-tasking. In a world where multi-tasking is touted as a desirable workplace skill, this was a tough one to overcome. When I was eating, that is all I did. I didn't read a book, surf the Internet, or look at my phone. All my attention was in what I was doing. I learned that multi-tasking is not conducive to developing mindfulness and so I was really conscious around meal times of this tendency. I won't lie; it was excruciatingly painful at first to just sit with food, sensation, and feeling. With practice, it became a source of pleasure and wonder. Just learning to observe was really an education because I got to see what my patterns were. Awareness is the first step to making any transformation, I've found.
May 11, 2010
Starting to notice more changes in my body (i.e. improved posture). My body seems to be going through subtle shifts without my really trying. Voices still there but more faded in the background now. Something is changing. Goddaughter is here staying with me for two days. We had pasta last night for dinner with steamed broccoli thrown in. It was exquisite. Another dinner with family tonight. Connection with food while socializing has gotten better. Even with eyes open, I find I am able to focus and pick out flavours in what I am eating; that is different than before when I'd be so caught up in what was happening that I'd miss that. So that's a victory. Again turned down cake. I was worried that I wouldn't keep up my practices with a relative visiting but it was totally fine.
May 18, 2010
Well, I bought something called Mana "Bread" which is high in fiber and has raisins and carrots in it. And although supposedly "healthy," I noticed that I had the same response to eating it as I had with other baked goods: I was super excited and it soothed me right away. Never noticed before how certain foods just bring my anxiety level down. I looked at the package and it contained sugar too. Shit!
May 24, 2010
Visited with friends and ate dinner with them. As soon as I got there, the friend I've been in conflict with left the table. Kept eating but noticed immediate disconnection with the food and myself. By the time I caught myself, I was totally distracted... getting up and eating while I was walking to the kitchen to clean my plate. I forgave myself for a bunch of stuff including not "feeding" myself when things get hairy around me. And being hard on myself for mistakes made. More victories: still staying away from the baked goods.
All of this zoning out made me begin to wonder why I did it. When did this start? Why did I begin this pattern? What was its purpose? One night at a family dinner, this became clear.
Jun 2, 2010
Woke up this morning guilt-wracked. The other night at a family gathering, I watched an adult hit a toddler and did nothing. It did occur to me to do or say something on his behalf but my intuition told me not to. I knew that I would be of more use to him in the long run if I stayed in good standing with his parents. This whole thing is a paradox that I am having a hard time accepting. I have been in this adult's place. He's doing what he has been taught to discipline his son. I forgave myself. However, my values are just not lining up. If that had been a kid on the street that that happened to, I would probably have interjected somehow. And logically, I know that this is a different circumstance, and yet I feel like I went against my integrity. I don't condone beating people into submission and yet there I was doing nothing. After it happened, he was sitting in his high chair sobbing while his mom was forcing him to eat his food (that is what the power struggle was about in the first place). I went up to him and tried to make eye contact but he was not in his body. I called him back by saying his name and looking into his eyes and holding his hands and communicating with my energy that he was okay-said hello to his spirit. I guess I could see it as a victory that I understood that his choice of taking back his power by choosing not to eat (a pattern he has) was not something I could support. So I reframed this for him after he came back into his body: "You know this food (as opposed to a popsicle which is what he wanted) has magic in it. You know all the things you like doing like sliding and playing on the swings? This kind of food makes your body strong so you can do all those things." Some kind of recognition went off inside him and he started eating. That is something I wouldn't have known unless I had done this work with food addiction so far. I realized this morning as I was trying to eat my breakfast over the tears that it is really hard for me to feed myself when I feel guilty. It was all I could do to eat my breakfast (even though I was hungry). I punish myself by not eating when I am feeling guilty.
Jun 10, 2010
Although my body's sore, it feels a lot lighter this morning after yesterday's dance. Still watching my tendency to zone out while eating or standing in front of the mirror. I also tend to still rush these. Impatient with the process. Lots of forgiveness again this morning as I stood in front of the mirror: for being impatient and for being unconscious. Recently, I've noticed my tendency to slip out of my body while I am eating. I don't know how long I've been doing this but I think it's been a long time. That day looking into that toddler's eyes after the eating incident provided a good reflection for me. I was not sure what it had to do with me for a while but now I do. It is one of the ways I block nurturing myself. So been working on receiving-a weak point of mine. Eating is a noticeably different experience when I stay in my body where I am present and can feel the pleasure in my body. I had this moment of bliss a few days ago that reminded me of watching a relative eat when he was a baby. When the food was coming, he would watch it in excitement and his whole body would shake and he'd let out this squeal of joy. I had an inside moment like that. I want to develop (or go back to) that kind of relationship with food.
Jun 18, 2010
Drifting in and out of connection as I eat. So this morning I decided (instead of a blindfold) to load up my fork and put it in my mouth eyes closed. When I am done chewing, opening up my eyes and loading my fork again. This worked and it slowed me down. Realized I was forcing myself to eat after a while and all these memories flooded back of adults force-feeding me when I was a kid. It was hard to fight the impulse to eat the rest; I felt super nauseous. Lots of tears. Lots of forgiving myself for allowing them to do that, for not fighting back, for losing connection with food and myself. Now I see why the force-feeding with the toddler triggered me so much.
Jun 19, 2010
Continued with the eating with eyes closed and loading up spoon only when bite was done for breakfast. That seems to work. Still feeling myself trying to rush through eating and "get it over with." Wondered as I ate where that came from and then I got pictures of this force-feeding and the overwhelming feeling of just wanting it to be over. Associating it with wanting to get away from that tyranting energy. Lots of forgiveness around allowing myself to be tyranted like that and doing the victim thing. Planned to eat lunch before going to visit a relative this afternoon. Didn't want to show up hungry and be prone to temptation. The first thing Portuguese people do is offer food and drink to visitors; it is considered an insult not to accept something "of theirs." So I prepared myself to accept coffee. Told my relative I wanted 1 tsp. of honey and she put in 2. I drank it but made a note to myself to put in my own next time.
Excerpted from Dreaming of Cupcakes by Jennifer Engrácio. Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Engrácio. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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Table of Contents
What is Shamanism?, 5,
A Sweatlodge Experience, 8,
Avo Vitalino's Story, 15,
Chapter 1: The West, 19,
Chapter 2: The North West, 63,
Chapter 3: The North East, 103,
Chapter 4: The South, 135,
Chapter 5: The South West, 169,
Chapter 6: The South East, 191,
Chapter 7: The East, 217,
Chapter 8: The North, 247,
Chapter 9: The Centre, 281,
Glossary of Terms, 309,
Works Cited, 313,
Recommended Resources, 317,
About the Author, 319,