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Mind Like Water

Here’s something to chew on, the phrase “mind like water,“ a Zen concept. Understanding this metaphor and practicing its message is a useful approach for those of you who abuse food when you get anxious. Think of it as another tool in your toolbox.

“Mind like water” means letting your mind react to life’s problems as if it were water. When thrown into water, large objects, say a boulder or even a person diving into a pool, make a big splash. The bigger the object, the larger the displacement of water, the greater the number of ripples, and the longer the water’s surface takes to return to placid. On the other hand, if an insect lands on water, there are only a few tiny ripples, and the water becalms calm again quite quickly. The point is that there’s a clear, logical, noticeable correlation between the size of an object and its affect on the water.

Now, think of your mind as a pond of still water, and picture the inconveniences of life and your problems as objects which get thrown into it. Small problems should make small ripples, while larger ones disturb the entire pool of your mind. Inconveniences should ping and cause rippling for only a moment. Then the surface should return to calm and stillness. Larger problems should cause greater disturbance, and require a longer time for your mind to come back to still and peaceful.

The problem arises when you treat minor hassles and major catastrophes alike (And truly, how many of us have more than one or two bona fide catastrophes, if any, in our adult lives?), that is, when you respond to minor inconveniences as if they are large objects being thrown into the pond of your mind and cause major rippling. You may be so used to reacting to every disturbance by going on high alert, that you no longer can distinguish what is minor from what is major. For the record, being late for a movie is minor. Being evicted from your apartment is major. Going for a mammogram is minor. Having breast cancer is major. Unfortunately, you may allow all these events to cause you equal anxiety.

Every time something creates distress for you, think about whether it is pebble-sized and should cause minor rippling or whether it really is large enough to destroy the tranquility of the pond of your mind. This is another way of saying that you need to put life’s problems into perspective. If you regularly hold and practice this view, you gradually will become less anxious. When you’re less anxious, your stress level will decrease. And when you feel less stressed, you will be less likely to abuse food.