It’s difficult to quantify, “What is anorexia?” When you go online and look for answers, there aren’t many. I found lots of sites by anorexics on how to practice their anorexia more effectively, i.e. by people who need treatment themselves. The sites with information are scary: they say, essentially, this is a serious disorder/disease and if you or someone you know has it, seek medical/psychiatric care immediately or go to the nearest hospital.
Which, of course, is true: if you, or someone you know, is in crisis and needs help, then by all means seek counseling and treatment immediately.
But that disclaimer aside, what are those of us who live with this on a daily basis do, on a daily basis? If we, and by “we” I mean anorexics, if we survive past age twenty-five, then it’s likely we’ll live full and productive lives. And yes, that is a true statement as well, and not hyperbole: anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening, especially for teenagers. But as an adult, I haven’t found much help if one isn’t acute – i.e., how do you go about the activities of daily living?
While that question could be answered by a book-length manuscript, today I want to talk about something seemingly simple – gardening.
I read recently that Morita therapy uses light physical labor and journaling as part of its treatment. I have not tried the therapy, nor am I familiar with it, but the part that caught my attention was the “light physical labor.” If you’re curious about the therapy, Shoma Morita, the founder, wrote a book about it, available here. The idea of using physical labor resonated with me, and reminds me of the ideas in Chop Wood, Carry Water, a book with which I am more familiar (and recommend, by the way).
Those of you old enough to remember the movie Karate Kid, which stars, ironically, an actor by the name of Pat Morita (same family?), will remember the part where Mister Miyagi has the young hero paint the fence, wax the car, and polish the floor. “Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.” The boy is frustrated by such tasks and finally loses his patience with the master, complaining that he’d learned nothing. Mister Miyagi barks, paint the fence! And the boy blocks a punch with the move he’d been practicing. Wax on! Block. Wax off! Block. The light bulb turns on. Physical labor. Zen. The art of being in the moment, but on different planes simultaneously. Enlightenment, and a clean car/house/fence.
Is it any coincidence that Zen practitioners often keep gardens, or that those gardens are often magnificent? There is a peace in working a garden, but also frustration – it’s real, it’s now, and dirt is dirt. We cannot change it with our minds; it’s concrete reality. I can’t speak for other anorexics, but I know that for myself, being in my body and dealing with concrete, this-plane reality is difficult. It’s scary, threatening, and frustrating. It’s also useful, necessary, and real.
I remember hearing once that there are two kinds of gardeners: those who, after hours of gardening, come out looking well-put-together and serene; and those who come out looking mud-spattered and sweaty. I am the latter kind. My favorite piece of gardening advice is, “Plant it green side up.” While I own a large collection of gardening books, and have even read them, I am a casual gardener. It’s hard enough to get in there regularly, to weed, water, and do the other daily maintenance activities required.
But this I know: home-grown tomatoes do taste better, and fresh basil is yummy. Mint tea from fresh spearmint turns your pee green and settles your stomach, and marigolds are apparently good for the skin but I haven’t yet planted enough to find out. I find harvesting difficult and have wasted a lot of produce in the process of trying to learn to “chop wood and carry water.” Yet I come back to it, year after year. Why?
Because gardening is now. It’s grounded, quite literally. When you garden, you come out covered in dirt, with blisters and wet shoes. But more importantly, you come out satisfied. Not necessarily big “S” satisfied, but even the little “s’s” are useful.