W hat we put in our bodies in the form of food and drink reflects our relationship to our physical selves most potently.
According to author and workshop leader Geneen Roth, the way we interact with food has a direct correlation with our relationship to the Divine. What can those relationships reveal about our relationship to Spirit? After years of speaking with other women and teaching workshops on mindful eating, she has come to the conclusion that our relationship with food reflects our ability to nourish ourselves and remain connected to our deepest knowing, that knowing that comes in many names: our intuition, Spirit, God.
If we are not at peace with the physical world, our spirits also cannot be at peace. Examine your relationship to your body, she writes, and you will find those stuck places where Spirit is waiting to break in. I could finally begin to see how and when my spirit became disconnected from its own wholeness. I could finally begin an honest conversation with Spirit using both my mind and the more subtle language of the body. Looking at my relationship to my body and food in the spiritual context I know best—a Quaker one—was not easy. The silence around food and the body in the wider Quaker culture that I discussed in my previous two articles certainly presented one major roadblock.
But my struggles were also tied to Quaker theology. Quakers have historically rejected the physical world as expressions of Spirit—including the body and food.
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It is not, of course, the physical world or ritual per se that early Friends were objecting to; it was forms that are empty , devoid of all meaning. If done with sincere and honest intention, ritual has the potential to transform our relationship to the physical world and imbue it with an energy that reestablishes our inherent, forgotten connection. Ritual is the process of honoring the spiritual dimension of this Earth; it is an act of respect that utilizes the uniquely human capacity to infuse the physical world with consciousness.
It is an act of mindfulness and prayer. Healing my relationship with my body, by extension, has involved learning to acknowledge and respect the physical truth of food, to see and taste and honor it. Eating has become a practice of mindfully respecting the very substance that gives me life, of the power that connects me to the Earth, and that keeps my divine spark burning.
When I bring this level of intention to food and the process of eating, I am infusing the physical world with the spiritual—in fact, I am seeing the world as it truly is: completely divine. This idea, like all spiritual truths, is ageless. Recognizing the spiritual dimension of food is an essential component to the practice of Yoga and its sister science, Ayurveda.
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It is predicated on the idea that by listening deeply to our bodies and spirits, we can learn to heal ourselves through the preparation, eating, and honoring of food. All we need is a capacity to listen to and respect our bodies, to honor food and the act of eating in the same way that we honor our ideas, thoughts, and transcendent experiences.
H ow can Quakerism, as its own spiritual practice and wisdom tradition, similarly engage with the physical world in order to help us heal our relationship to food and to our bodies? What ideas and rituals could we authentically incorporate in order to honor the physical world? What can we let go of, and what can we learn from other traditions? Where do we go from here? All I have are small glimpses of truth, and with it a roadmap for moving forward.
Our journey will begin with honesty. We must help one another unpack our relationships with our bodies by sharing our stories. When we can tell these stories, we can begin to weave the threads of pain and truth together into a progression toward wholeness. If we can approach our stories without shame or fear, perhaps we can stop regarding our bodies as a source of those very same toxic emotions.
First we must learn how to bring Spirit to our bodies and the act of eating, recognizing how food and our physical experiences connect us with Spirit. Simultaneously, we must address the social factors, the brokenness of the world as expressed through sexism and oppression, that keep us disconnected from our bodies and unable to live full, healthy lives.
Traditionally, Quakers have attempted to bring Earth and Spirit together through the practice of sitting in silence. Silence—that great and powerful mystery—is our most potent tool for healing. In it, we find Spirit. Through it, we come to wholeness. Silence completely transformed my own relationship to my body. After years of pushing my physical self, of not listening to its promptings and desires, I was finally able to hear its desperate attempts to get my attention during a quiet, restorative yoga class.
The constant throbbing pain I had been ignoring for years finally began to reveal itself. What is this pain saying to me? I began to ask. What can I learn from its subtle and not so subtle messages? Could I let go of my gripping, my grasping for control and stability enough to really listen to what it needs?
Could I simply allow my body to heal itself after so many years of deprivation and stress, due to a deep belief that there was something essentially wrong with my most basic self?
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Of course, before that time, I had spent ample time in silent Quaker meeting. I was propped in a comfortable, relaxing yoga pose and listening for what the body had to say to me. What if we were to bring mindful movement into our weekly meetings? What if we listened for the messages of our bodies and the world around us? The fact is that the Christian religion is a deeply patriarchal one, yet holds the wisdom and truth of a deep spiritual tradition. We must find the middle ground where these two realities meet. Many in my generation are ready for a religious community that can openly embrace the teachings of a wide array of spiritual truths and practices.
The health of our bodies and our planet depends on it. Often these dichotomies can be a source of confusion and shame rather than clarity. Living with a chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis can be a devastating and life altering experience. Cristina invites us into her most intimate thoughts. She engages our emotions with a vivid recollection of her initial diagnoses and how her struggles to accept her new reality. This incredibly rich journey takes her from despair to hope, a new world seen with a fresh perspective.
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