Desire, Self-criticism, and a small exercise for operationalizing wise mindfulness

Hi everyone - I've been organizing some old resources this morning and came across an article that I like. It is from the center for mindful eating.

Here's an short overview: The parts of us that needcomfort and pleasure are usually managed by our most critical parts (for example, if I want X, a critical part will say, "you're bad for wanting X" or, it might criticize others, as in: "you're entitled to X, no one ever gives you what you deserve."). This cycle is desire - criticism - desire - criticism. Often in isolation, we go around and round and round and round. This article alludes to an alternative way to resolve the cycle. The alternative is "wise mindfulness." In the context of this article, wisdom is an abstract idea. Its a numinous part of us that can arise in place of the critic. Sounds good, right? Except, the writer doesn't describe a way to operationalize this wisdom. You may leave the article thinking - well, I want to do something different, I believe that I have wisdom within me, and I don't want to throttle back and forth between desire and criticism. But what do I do instead?

Let me suggest a little exercise. Allow yourself to release any expectations, and ask your judgmental parts to take a step back for a few minutes while you get to know the parts of your cycle. Then, at a time when the desiring part is triggered (and you may call this part of you whatever you want to call it), instead of criticizing it, psychologically turn towards it and ask: "what are you concerned will happen if I do not have/do X." Also, turn towards the critic and ask: "critic, what do you think will happen if you don't criticize me for wanting/not wanting X?" It is rooted in IFS (internal family systems therapy), which suggests that healing begins to happen when you turn towards all parts of you, and seek to learn why they do what they do.

Of course, there's more to this process of resolution. But this exercise is a wonderful place to begin relating to your parts in a new way. No expectations. Give it a shot, take a moment to journal about what you learn, offer yourself some kindness for being willing, and enjoy the article :)

The Craving Cycle and the Voices of Desire - The Center for Mindful Eating, April 7, 2008

Mindfulness is the medicine that cures the disease of desire.


The set up represents the potential for getting lost in craving, wanting, desiring. It’s the doorway into the craving cycle. That potential for getting lost is built into our very being. Why? Deep cravings live within us, always ready to manifest, even when nothing dramatic seems to be happening. Often the set up happens before we’re conscious of the experience of craving. Just about anything and everything can trigger cravings: thoughts, feelings, advertisements, certain people, places, websites, the list can go on and on.

Voices of Desire examples: I’m bored/irritated/lonely/tired; what’s happening on the food channel? I’m feeling really good; is there anything new in the cookie aisle?  


This is where the blinkers come on. Our vision narrows to the object of our desire; we feel consumed by getting what we want. It’s those “need to, want to, have to, got to get away from” what we want or what we’re trying to avoid.  We become so preoccupied by the desire; it feels like the world has shrunk to “just me (the subject) and the object (my craving.)   

Voices of Desire examples: All I can think about eating a brownie; I have to have that piece of pizza. I’ve got to get rid of this feeling of loneliness.


At this point, a case is made for why something is so good and worthwhile to have (or get rid of.) And the case always contains an assessment of what you are craving.  The defense on behalf of the object ofdesires argues: “This is a really fine plate of brownies; that piece of candy is really special; you could really use one of those since you are rather special/hungry/overworked.”  It often feels like you’re being dazzled, intoxicated or seduced by these arguments; they are often perfectly attuned to what is going to hook you. These arguments, however, usually awaken the prosecutor-critic who makes an opposing case: “what about your promise to avoid sugar? Go to weight watchers? Lose twenty pounds?  The key question:  Who is going to win the debate – the seducer or the critic?  Do I go for that object of craving? Or do I resist it? This is a critical choice point in the cycle. There is still a chance you can break it.

Voices of Seduction and Intoxication: This may be the last time when you’ll ever have the opportunity to eat a brownie as good as this. You’ll go on a diet tomorrow.

Voices of Criticism and Judgment:  Don’t do it! Stop! It’s a stupid thing to do. You’ll regret it. It’s just a brownie. . 

If the “in defense of craving” wins – you move on to the next stage of the cycle; if it loses and wisdom kicks in – that you have other choices/options, the cycle breaks.


The decision to pursue your object of desire has been made. You are on your way to getting the brownie.

Voices of Desire examples:. It’s only a matter of time that I’ll be enjoying the brownie. I’ll lose weight later.


This is when you take hold of the brownie. You’ve actually made the grab; it in your hands. This is moment of maximum of intensity is when you’re guaranteed the gratification/ you’ve asked for the pastry and it’s now in your hand.  

Voices of Desire examples: Great! Finally! I’ve got it. 


This is the ecstatic moment of total gratification.  The craving you’ve been longing for and fantasizing about has been satisfied. And just for this incredible feeling alone, everything you’ve done to pursue it is totally worthwhile.  Even as you’re consuming, you’re actually on your way down.  

If it’s more charged, the let down comes at gratification. The let down is in proportion to the excitement. Even as you bite into the brownie, you’re disappointed. Everyone has had this experience. This let down ripens into the following “OH NO”  It’s the first inkling that says “I can’t believe this isn’t  it.


This is when you’re looking at an empty plate, wondering what happened. The pleasure has waned or exhausted itself.  This experience can ripen into two ways. It can trigger the inner critic/the voice of regret that is laden with self-loathing: “You’re a useless slob. You’re in idiot. I’ll never do that again. I only needed the brownie this time but it’s over. I’m really determined to lose weight this time.”  

Or, the voice of the voice of the Hungry Ghost kicks in. One brownie wasn’t enough, so I think I’ll double/triple/quadruples the dose. In other words, if one tastes good, another and another would be better. I’ll do whatever it takes to get that hit again.  I don’t care what the consequences are.   It’s the biochemical process of getting that dopamine hit which floods the pleasure center.

NOTE: The voice of wisdom can ripen:” I’ve got to do something about this. I need to find a way out of this endless cycle.” It’s a different kind of “never again.” It comes from the wisdom of realizing that no matter how many hits of pleasure you get, it’s only a matter of time when the let down will happen. You finally get message: no matter how pleasurable something is, that hit ecstasy will always burn out.


This is when the complex of negative, painful, depressed feelings flood in that fuel the next set up. Of course what these voices say depend on your habits of mind: “I feel guilty, like a failure, awful.” You lash out at yourself and have intense feelings of self-hatred and recrimination.  If you believe in these feelings and see them as “who I am” you’ll feel incomplete, hungry and unhappy. If this is you’re assumed reality – the background assumptions for “who I am” – you are ready for ready for another lap around the wheel. You’re running on a full tank of fuel. Because I’m such an idiot, etc, I need something to cheer me up, take away the misery, etc.  You’ve got to feel that missing piece, that empty space, that feeling of hunger to fill up the lack ..

If we are not mindful of what is happening … we return to


I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. So I think I’ll get some ice cream, a new job, another sweater, etc.,  to make myself feel better….