The Inner Religion You've Been Praying to All Along

I want to take a minute to talk about religion.

And let me say now that I promise, this isn't going where you think it is...

When I moved back to New York from San Francisco I was pretty lost. Then, in spring 2016, leaving the restaurant world only worsened this feeling of disorientation. I was suffering from a total identity crisis. Without my job to define me, I felt worthless. What I didn't realize at the time was that I had adopted the religion of the line cooks, which goes a bit like this: if you aren't in the weeds with work you are not working hard enough. If you're not doing at least four things at once what are you even doing here? You are not worthy. And, you are lazy. And these were the words that played over, and over, and over again in my head for the next year, with little reprieve.

Although I had found my passion straight out of college, when it was clear that that passion wasn't going to sustain me forever, a week off from it was all it took to start feeling guilt and shame for not being "busy". And so the cycle began: guilt, shame...paralyses. Or at least, that's how it felt at the time. In fact when I look back now, I realized I was actually moving forward in quite a steady pace. Only a few weeks after quitting my job, I went to Israel for a month, cooked at three restaurants there, came home and started a certification in Food Therapy (which led me to my current masters program), started a job teaching cooking at a non profit, began a relationship, and learned how to heal my physical ailments that I had accumulated in restaurant life through food. All this in about 8 months. Yet...every day all I could think to myself was: you are lazy, you are worthless, you are not deserving. I had no idea how to stop these thoughts from flooding in from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I closed them 16 hours later. These thoughts and beliefs became my religion, and my prayers.

Of course, when you believe these things about yourself you don't treat yourself very well. When it came to my health I would take 2 steps forward and 3 steps backward, using food to cope when my emotions and anxiety would be too much to handle. 

I thought I had found the cure when I started working out 5-6 days a week. Boxing, training, spinning, dancing--I did it all. Anything to get out my stress and distract me from my feeling of total inadequacy. But the universe knows what's up, and it knew that what I needed to focus on wasn't found through class-pass. A bad stress fracture took away what seemed like my only outlet. Alright, now I'm really useless, I thought. 

Somehow, I found my way that spring to a women's-only retreat that focused on getting up close and personal with your inner critic. I was finally given the space to meet myself where I was, and to have some candid conversations. I had the opportunity to stop yelling at myself, and start asking myself some questions. I went from judgement to curiosity: a critical perspective shift.

Some of the questions we were prompted to ask ourselves were:

What would make you feel worthy?

What is stopping you from getting to that place?

What would a day without any self-judgement feel like? What would you do with that time?

This conversation with myself was a new thing, and I have to admit it was uncomfortable at first. Talk to myself? That felt indulgent...and silly...and here come the judgements...

But, I kept at it. This conversation with myself revealed the strong, stubborn pillars of my personal religion that I had built up over the last year and how they were affecting every move every thought...they were like quick sand when I tried to make any moves away.

By talking directly to them, I was slowly but surely able to chip away at the beliefs that didn't serve me, and replace the thoughts of inadequacy and shame with ones of curiosity, love, understanding, patience...

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all deeply religious.

This type of religion doesn't have anything to do with the holidays you do or don't celebrate; it is, almost more importantly, about the underlying, personal belief systems that govern how you see yourself and the world around you. 

The inner religion we all build up over time can be a very powerful thing, and is unique to YOU. For example, you might hold tight to the belief that you are not good at (circle one) dating, cooking, running, writing, concentrating, being a mom, your job. You may believe deeply that you are simply "not good enough", or that others have it all figured out way more than you. Maybe your religion is that food is the enemy and is there to tempt you and make you fat. Maybe you're walking around thinking "I am a mess" or "I am unlovable". That is a religion. It governs how we relate to ourselves and others. And when we aren't aware of it it can cause illness and dis-ease.

The first step is simply to talk to yourself and acknowledge the deep religious beliefs you hold. Only then can we start to change them.