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Learnings from ‘The Cookie Thief’

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 I recently watched a short video of a poem read in Week 3 of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. The poem by Valerie Cox called The Cookie Thief is essentially a tale about how oblivious we can be to how wrong we can be.

 

A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

How many times in our lives,
have we absolutely known
that something was a certain way,
only to discover later that
what we believed to be true … was not?

 

The poem introduces participants to the fact that in any situation, we are making continuous appraisals, and these appraisals generally falls into three categories:

 

PLEASANT

I like this

I want more of it

It is pleasant, safe, non-threatening

“approach”

 

UNPLEASANT

I don’t like this

I don’t want it

It is unpleasant, unsafe, threatening

“withdraw”

 

NEUTRAL

I don’t notice it

It doesn’t effect me

It is neutral

“oblivious”

 

When we begin to practice mindfulness, we begin to see our automatic appraisals of situations, and how they shape our experiences. As outlined in the Openground course book, through the practices participants explore the hedonic tone associated with experiences, and learn not to be so reactive to them. There can be more freedom in life to not be driven by just your likes and dislikes. There is freedom in being able to choose your actions according to your values, not just because things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This involves being able to accept, and investigate all your experiences, rather than acting on them unconsciously.

For some people, this might be particularly apparent while doing the body scan practice. In this practice, you are invited to notice, and open to the sensations in the body. You might notice your response to some sensations in your body is ‘I want to feel more of that’ (‘pleasant’) – other times, you might find yourself thinking ‘I don’t like that sensation’ (‘unpleasant’). One of the reasons body awareness is emphasised so much in mindfulness practice is to increase our capacity to notice these subtle hedonic tones in our bodies, so we can more consciously choose how to respond to them, rather than being blindly driven by them.

The poem also provides a number of other lessons, as outlined here.

1) Question your assumptions – The lady in the poem simply assumed that the cookies were hers and that the “cookie thief” was rudely taking them from her.

In the book The Four Agreements, the author says that mistaken assumptions that we just take for granted are the source of much of the conflict we experience in our lives.

What are you assuming that you may need to question?

2) Give others the benefit of the doubt – Most people actually have a good reason to do the things they do, yet we often just attribute their actions to their nature (e.g., they are rude, or a jerk, or stupid). In fact, this is so common that psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error.

The lady in the poem attributed the “cookie thief’s” behavior to rudeness rather than considering the fact that the man had a good reason to take the cookies.

3) Things are not always as they appear – As the poem reminds us in its closing, even our most deeply held beliefs can be wrong. It’s up to us to keep an open mind.

4) Stressful situations reveal what’s truly inside each of us – Stressful situations, like the lady facing off against the cookie thief, tend to reveal our “true colors.” Why did the lady react this way to the cookie thief? Why did he react the opposite way?

5) We all get to choose our response – In the end, we all get to choose our response. The reaction of the cookie thief to the lady, who was the true cookie thief, is a great example.

If you’d like to see the poem ‘in action’ watch the video below:

Interested in learning more? Sign up for the next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course commencing in February 2018.

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