Ice Cream, Potato Chips, & Meditation:
How to Break Free of the Action-Impression-Desire Cycle
By Coach Cary Bayer
I had a little too much ice cream last night. Great personal challenges for me in this lifetime have been ice cream, potato chips and chocolate. Don’t get me wrong—I love them all. Too much. This column will explain the psycho-physiological forces that have kept you and me under the sway of different substances. This knowledge can help set you free.
Suppose my favorite basketball team plays on TV tonight, a rare event, so I stock up on chips. (For basketball, substitute your favorite two-hanky tearjerker. Concession stands rake in millions because Americans are habituated to watching films while chewing popcorn.) The taste of the potato chip in my mouth is delicious and—as Lay’s said in an unforgettable ‘60s ad campaign starring The Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr–you can’t eat just one. The wise yogis explain the reason: it’s because the impression on your tongue and in the storehouse of mental impressions–called Chit–emerges as a desire for another one. Your hands carry out the message and your mouth takes another bite. The impression of the tasty chip gets deposited in the Chit, collides with an impression left from the past (seconds, weeks, or even months ago), and desire for another chip emerges.
This action-impression-desire cycle can go on like this either until you finish the bag, or–God forbid–a second (chip makers are wise, and Wise will happily give you two for one). This “chip-out” can also be re-enacted the next time your basketball team plays on TV, the next time you watch any TV, or even the next night.
I first learned about this action-impression-desire cycle when reading the commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita by the great (and sadly, late) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (The Gita recounts the first time Yoga was taught in the world.) I confirmed his insight experientially.
There are two essential ways to overcome the action-impression-desire cycle, and both involve the critical elimination of the impressions. The first and overwhelmingly popular method involves abstinence; the second–more subtle and far less practiced–involves non-attachment.
Twelve-step programs teach abstinence as the way to prevent any further impressions and, therefore, desires for the substance—whether it’s drink, drugs, chocolate, debt, or any attractive substance. One day at a time, an alcoholic vigilantly guards against having any beverages with alcohol passing his lips, thereby preventing the onset of an action-impression-desire cycle binge. One lapse, even after years of sobriety can trigger that cycle in all its intensity.
Maharishi taught the more subtle approach of non-attachment. In other words, without having to give up, say, ice cream, you can cultivate your consciousness in such a way that it becomes regularly acquainted with the eternal Self beyond the storehouse of impressions. As this serenity develops, eating some Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t initiate the cycle all over again. In other words, you can enjoy the sweet without sweating it. Said differently, the experience of the Self is so sweet and peaceful—actually blissful–that the desert doesn’t register on your particular “Rich”-ter Scale as sweetness. You’ve found something more intoxicating than alcohol, something that makes you higher than marijuana, something that’s sweeter in your consciousness than the ice cream on your spoon. In time, you can enjoy the substance in a balanced way without getting addicted to it. Naturally, it takes some time to cultivate this state of mind to be at peace in the presence of ice cream.
Abstinence not only makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes the substance less potent. And when, through regular contact with the Self beyond your Chit, you develop evenness of mind, even in the face of your substance of choice, you can have your cake, eat it too, and not binge. There are a variety of ways to enable the mind to transcend thought and experience this bliss of Being, so whatever way works for you is all that matters. I’ve tried many, and the one that’s worked far and away the best for me has been Transcendental Meditation, which I’ve practiced and taught. Call it my cup of tea—or cup of non-attached Chubby Hubby ice cream, as the case may be.
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Cary Bayer is a New York- and Florida-based Life Coach, who’s worked with Oscar-winners Alan Arkin and Pietro Scalia, Emmy-winners David Steinberg and Judy Henderson, and Quality Inns. The author of 15 books, including A Course in Money Miracles, and Star Wars Yoga, the Force, and You, he’s a former TM teacher, and trainer of teachers, and founded Higher Self Healing Meditation. You can reach him at (845) 664-1883.