Resources for Recovering Resilience: Chocolate as a Resource for Recovering Resilience

I’m serious. Ever since I learned that dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) is a health food – because of its anti-depression and anti-oxidant compounds and its capacities, in moderation, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol [see August 2014 e-newsletter “Holistic Pain Relief”], I’ve been intrigued with the potential benefits of this 3,000 year old boon to the human diet.

Chocolate has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and slow down the signs of aging. Because chocolate increases blood flow to the brain, it improves cognitive functioning. Because it encourages the brain to release endorphins, it helps us feel happier. The prebiotic flavanols in dark chocolate reduce stress hormones, helping to reduce anxiety.

Chocolate can also be a way of offering comfort to others when a hug or holding hands might seem inappropriate, too intimate.

I experienced this first hand many years ago, when a mistake on my part meant I got to the airport without a printed ticket for my flight. (To join a group of people gathering to celebrate a good friend’s 60th birthday; it was important to catch my flight to catch the next one and the next one, etc.)

It took 45 minutes for the airline staff to straighten out my mistake and re-issue another ticket. That left 8 minutes to get through security and make a dash for the gate. I was instructed to simply barge through to the head of the security line, which I did. They said there would abe a lot of yelling and complaining in protest, and there was. I ran for the gate and got on the plane literally 90 seconds before they closed the doors for departure. As I collapsed into my seat, my seatmate heard my apologies and explanations and simply offered,” Would you like some of my chocolate?” Whew!

Dark chocolate even becomes a metaphor for the ups and downs of life itself. In the “chocolate meditation” I teach in the Mindful Self-Compassion course, participants are given small bits of dark chocolate with the guidance to:

1. Notice the piece of chocolate in your hand. Notice any thoughts, feelings, sensations of anticipation arising as you contemplate the chocolate.

2. Place the chocolate in your mouth, simply noticing the flavors, textures, meltability of the chocolate.

3. As you bite into the chocolate, notice the sweetness, and then notice also the bitterness. Notice the combination, that chocolate gives us both sweetness and bitterness, at the same time, as does life.

4. Reflect on knowing one reality through knowing its opposite: dark and light, sound and silence, easy and difficult, ease and pain, bitter and sweet. Reflect on moments in your life when you know this to be true.

The exercise below in chocolate tasting gives you’re an opportunity to discover which brand of dark chocolate might become your favorite resource for recovering resilience while sharing the camaraderie of good friends in doing so, camaraderie being another excellent resource for recovering resilience.

1. Purchase five different brands of dark chocolate bars.

2. Break the bars into bite-sized bits and place all the bits of one bar on separate plates or in separate bags numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

3. Each person in the group samples one of each kind of chocolate, cleansing the palate in between with a bite of carrot. (I researched this.)

4. Each person jots down notes for each sample, of flavor and after-flavor, texture, melt-ability, etc.

5. People compare choices and then discover which brand of chocolate they preferred. (When my friends and I did this, the winner hands down was the dark chocolate from Whole Foods.)

For wonderful wisdom about the benefits of many other kinds of chocolate, view the marvelous film “Chocolat” with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, and Judi Dench.