The food cart is ambling it’s way down the aisle. But this is Spirit Airlines and there is only one way to procure a bag of peanuts and that’s by taking out the credit card. I refuse to do it. I find myself cursing the frill-less airline company that is whisking me away from soft, lovely weather head first into ridiculous weather at 500 miles an hour. How dare they! Catching my annoyance, I feel a bit silly as I remember that this high tech, powerful and sturdy vehicle is taking me over 1000 miles without crashing even once. Not to mention all the people who have made even just this single event happen. I suddenly realize, I’m hangry!
Hangry. It’s a word that has made Merriam Webster’s “words we are watching list”. They describe it as a “clever portmanteau of hungry and angry, and an adjective that describes being irritable due to hunger.” I think it is safe to say that we all face this feeling from time to time. I used to let it get the better of me. I’ve in no way completely conquered it, obviously. But lately, I have been using the irritability that comes from hunger to provide me with an opportunity to practice, learn and grow – turbulent though the journey may be! Indulge me, will you, as I prattle on about hangry-ness.
When I find myself getting hangry and notice myself reacting to it in not so nice ways, such as on the plane right now, the first thing I do is get curious about the current state of my meditation practice. Is it strong, weak or even non-existent? I’ve noticed that the more I have a consistent meditation practice, the less I seem to be triggered by hunger. This can be a good insight for me as it reminds me of the benefits I get from doing meditation regularly. Meditation helps me practice relaxing into uncomfortable physical sensations. The Buddha stated quite clearly that if you have a body, you will be subject to a vast array of physical, mental and emotional discomfort. This is non-negotiable. Body=occasional discomfort (I’m being generous with the word occasional as I think that once you really start paying attention there is always something physically, mentally or emotionally that is sucky). Hunger is just one of the countless forms of suckiness that can overwhelm us and cause us to loose our bearings.
Plus, I think hunger is especially interesting because if you think about it, the speed at which it comes on seems to come from a deep, primal place that I will uneducatedly speculate is connected to the experience of our ancestors in the jungle, yet probably doesn’t really apply to very many experiences in our modern lives. Here’s the thing. I’ve never faced starvation and I’ve rarely missed a meal. But as I sit in seat 19E, the middle one of course, grrrr, really hungry and watching bags of peanuts roll happily past taunting me, my rational mind knows that I will have my food needs met today at some point. Even so, I am fantasizing about commandeering the food cart and ripping open bags of nuts and shoving them in my mouth as fast as I can in advance of the rapidly approaching flight attendants’ rear guard. Somehow, there is something irrational and old that makes me start to think that maybe I won’t be fed and my body starts preparing itself through tension, tunnel vision and adrenaline, to fight or maybe jump on something, wrestle it to the ground and take a bite! But that would probably get some looks from the passengers and in this age of omnipresent cell phone documentation, that might not looks so good on Fox news. So instead, I direct all that energy inwards where occasionally it leaks out in obvious and uncomfortable ways, like getting angry at the flight attendants. To say nothing about what it’s doing to my insides.
So here I am, trying to use the sensation of hunger to challenge myself to find a different way of being in the world. A way where I am not resisting the crazy ups and downs of moment by moment life. I remind myself that this is an opportunity to practice to rolling with discomfort, be it physical, mental or emotional. I’m not talking about ignoring it or not experiencing it. After all, it is happening so it would be quite disingenuous to deny it. But to practice really noticing it, and to bring some understanding to the fact that I will not starve today. Then, I try to take that understanding, add in a few deep breaths and some body scans to let go of tension and try to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Yes, that’s it. I am learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I know that’s blasphemy in this world of life-hacking, Amazon prime next day delivery, and artisan everything. But hey, I’m a rebel that way. I mean after all, if I am constantly trying to be comfortable all the time, despite the Buddha’s reminder that basically that is impossible, then I will be constantly reacting to every environmental stressor, to every perceived slight, to every little pain in the body, to every fear that arises out of said pain and in a very real way, go a little batty. This sort of constant reaction shows itself in all kinds of neurosis. Hangriness is just one of them.
So, how am I going to work with hanger now that it has arisen? Honestly (and maybe somewhat strangely), I going to try to have fun with it. To look at it as a challenge. When I am feeling the hangry-ness begin to arise, I am smiling inwardly at the opportunity that I have this moment to practice. To practice a new way of being and reacting, one breath at a time. To practice a more open and aware way of sensing my bodily sensations and mental constructions. To bring softness and compassion to my own situation. I also am trying to bring compassionate understanding to people who are ACTUALLY starving or who don’t know where or when their next meal is coming. People who are not sitting on a plane with their biggest problem being they have to wait a couple hours before I get home and can make a meal. I try to remember how fortunate I am to have such luxury. There is so much I can do in this space between satiation and hunger. It’s a work in progress though. And as I finish writing this at 30,000 feet in the middle seat of Spirit airlines and we are bouncing up and down in strong turbulence, my cramped body and nauseousness seem to be giving me yet another opportunity to practice. I attempt to smile inwardly and challenge myself to feel it fully and soften around it. Here I am with another chance to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Thank you Spirit Airlines for affording me so many opportunities to practice!