Sunday, November 09, 2008

How to achieve emotional portion control

When life hands you asparagus ... throw it at the wall.

Asparagus being an metaphor for all the fears, doubts, inhibitions, barriers, setbacks, embarrassment, shame, missteps, and mistakes that choke our lives.

And the wall being a metaphor for, well, any place but your heart of hearts.

I struggle with putting this yucky stuff in perspective every day, and the struggle sharpens during bad weeks like this past one when I wonder what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I'm up to. The trick, I've realized, is to emulate Lester Burnham from American Beauty.

No, I do not destroy my marriage and run off with a cheerleader floozy and dance among rose petals and inject melodrama into plastic bags. This is neither productive nor advisable nor formative.

Rather, I emulate the asparagus scene (see video above). Notice that Lester takes 2 or 3 pieces of asparagus off the plate before chucking the rest. He holds onto the food for only as long as he needs to absorb the health benefits. Otherwise, it's just another standard-issue plate under an easily replaceable side dish.

In the same way, we need emotional portion control. We can learn to recognize when our appetite for contrition and regret is sated, and we can get back to the business of building to the next positive step.

Havi Brooks over at The Fluent Self (one of my new go-to faves for life, liberty, and the pursuit of blogging) puts it this way in her post on procrastination (read the whole thing, it's very helpful):

Procrastination is fueled by guilt. Guilt and fear. [...] When you learn how to soften the guilt and the fear, what invariably happens is that you get very clear, very quickly.

Let's take that idea and look at it through the emotional portion control lens. As I see it, you have three choices:

1. Ignore the asparagus. You're ok if no one passes it to you. As long as you can push your problems to the side, not acknowledge your mistakes or shortcomings, and generally let your ears fill with sand, you're content to stunt your spiritual growth. You don't need to grow and be a kinder/better/richer/deeper human anyway. Leave that to preachers and Nobel Prize laureates.

2. Eat too much asparagus. Did you know that taking in too much folic acid (abundant in asparagus) can mask whether you have a vitamin B12 deficiency? And that if a vitamin B12 deficiency isn't noticed, it can lead to neurological damage? Same with your emotional wallowing. This is a great way to go out of your mind by beating yourself up over perfectly normal and expected pitfalls, and prevent yourself from moving forward and actually fixing the problem.

3. Soften the asparagus. One proven method is smashing it between plate and wall (again, see video). You can also sit boxes on it, bury it in the backyard, and run car tires over it. However you choose to do it, recognizing life's more uncomfortable lessons for the good they can deliver makes them more palatable, and thus helps you absorb the benefits -- in this case, wisdom. And as Havi puts it, this helps you get very clear, very quickly.

I'll be honest, I'm up to my ears in asparagus from this past week. Today is Sunday, though, and I plan to host a spiritual Sunday dinner to herald in a new seven-day set. Consider most of my plate on the wall tonight. But I know what I do eat will be much more satisfying.

Hat tip to Michael for inspiration.


  1. While I very much appreciate the thought and analysis you put into deconstructing this metaphor, I do feel the need to point out one contention that might otherwise seem minor - The cheerleader character was not so much a "floozy" as she was a slate onto which Lester projected his fetish, which you've articulated otherwise - he can reach into this purity and find in her something that is untarnished (unlike his family, marriage, and self). He is looking to find some layer of authenticity - something that is real, and in trying to do so, he is helping to create this "floozy" - only to realize that what he is looking for is completely mythical.

  2. Anonymous2:02 PM