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Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
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Give to hungry as part of eating disorder recovery philosophy


Moved by my Thanksgiving post about how people struggling with eating disorders might get as well as give benefits by helping to provide food for hungry people in this country and around the world Barb Oakes, a Heifer International Volunteer Coordinator in Illinois wrote with a broader suggestion.

She added a new dimension to the food giving experience. My idea reached the level of giving food, time, or money to programs that provided for hungry people in the town where you live or the town where you were born.

You can go beyond these limits and give to cities and countries where you used to live, where you family came from, where you have friends, where you travelled once upon a time. The internet provides websites that make giving to different regions in the world a simple click.

Concept of the empty bowl

Barb Oaks and the Heifer Foundation bring the giving experience even closer. Her system may have special healing and developmental growth benefits to people with eating disorders. She offers the idea of entertaining an "Unseen Guest with an Empty Bowl" as if they were sitting at your table with you.

I've adapted her basic idea, which is geared for holiday dinners, to an every day experience. The idea is to make an extra place setting with an empty bowl at your eating place. Before you eat, look at the empty bowl. Pray or meditate or think about or send kind thoughts to people who face this empty bowl every day.

Put money, as you can, small even tiny amounts are okay, in the empty bowl in appreciation for what food you have available today. As you choose, (you don't need to wait till the bowl is full) give that money to an organization you trust to help stop hunger, or starvation or famine in the location most personal to you.

Laughter and abundance with the empty bowl

This giving reminds me of a joyous, laughing festival I attended at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, just outside of Los Angeles. People give in all kinds of ways to the running of the temple and the good works that the people in the temple do. But the monastics need money too, for personal incidentals in life.

So once a year, everybody who appreciates the Temple line the maze of wide corridors that move through the huge space ringed by a myriad of Buddha and bodhisattva statues. We brought change and single dollar bills so we had the feeling of abundance no matter what we could offer.

The monastics in their brown, gold and red robes formed a kind of parade with empty bowls and little bags. We on the sidelines, pushed and shoved as much money as we could into their bags and bowls as they passed by us in an uneven laughing line.

We had to be quick with our bag and bowl money stuffing because we each were jostled by the people next to us on either side who wanted to put their money in the empty bowls. I remember how hard we all laughed with each other as love and money came pouring out of us, spilling on the floor into those empty bowls carried by smiling delighted monastics.

Helping to fill a person's empty bowl contributes to filling empty places in our own hearts. This could be an especially helpful, even profound, experience for you on a holiday, or any day, if you have an eating disorder.

You choose when to begin and how often to send kindness through your empty bowl and discover what joyous surprises can unfold for you. One discovery could well be that your eating disorder feelings diminish as your capacity for joy grows.

Different Perspectives on "The Empty Bowl"

His Lai Temple at the bottom of this page you’ll find a picture of the empty bowl ceremony, referred to as an alms begging round.)

Empty Bowl Zendo a monk living in the world...

Poetry from Munirabooks FeedSA, South African organization from Tracy's comment/suggestion 12/4/08

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