A few months back, an associate asked to interview me on radio in order to share my thoughts on “food and the body.” I came up with the following notes, some which never made it into that dialogue, as we ran out of time.
The older I become, the less certain I am of anything. I discover truth in paradox, wisdom in metaphor. Living in the body as fully as we are able however, seems fundamental to sustaining wholeness in our brief walk on this precious earth. I might even go so far as to say it is a valuable key to enlightenment.
One of the unchanging constants and, at times, one of the most difficult to practice, embodiment, especially in the face of adversity, marks the measure of our progress as souls. It is in the spirit of this knowing that I offer six steps to help us to remain embodied, even in the most stressful of times:
EMBRACE THE PROCESS
It is true that life is a journey, not a destination. We are here to mature as souls in an adversarial, polarized environment. Without day there cannot be night. Without struggle we cease to recognize abundant joy. We may not like or admit this to ourselves, but humans are basically a lazy species – if we all were given our idea of heaven here on earth, likely we would collapse into paradise and advance very little in a spiritual sense. As it is, we have countless opportunities for growth through the medium of adversity, whereby we are able to explore our sharp corners and polish ourselves along the way. Eventually we learn that what we resist, persists. Surrender is tempered with discernment as we deepen our awareness of what lies in common between us; of how we fit into the scheme of Creation.
What we do here matters, but how we learn to be in conflict, in adversity, while maintaining our will toward vibrancy and living to the fullest is a measure of that growth, that maturity. And adversity means different things to different people. Some of us are introverted and back away from any kind of conflict or we internalize it. Others of us are extroverted, openly facing adversity and attempting to resolve it. Neither is right or wrong, we all learn in different ways. Inwardly or outwardly, all of us face the same kinds of adversarial challenges. How we deal with them is often an indication of our spiritual maturity, but this is not meant to quantify or judge another’s spiritual evolution.
We are not bodies having a spiritual experience, rather we are spirits having a physical experience, and unless we embrace that knowledge at some point, we suffer. And we spread that suffering to others, knowingly or at times unknowingly. And of course we are all learning along the way – nobody is perfect, or likely we wouldn’t be here on earth! Even the Dalai Lama admits to having anger, though what he does with that anger is likely different from most of the rest of us.
And so we learn kindness towards ourselves in life’s process, as we understand how truly challenging it is to be human. We simply strive to remain as awake and aware as we are able to in each moment. And then things knock us off-course as invariably happens, and we have to learn how best to deal with adversity as it comes in the most respectful way, both to ourselves as well as others.
Now I’m not talking about a mandate here for all human beings – one must feel the call to awakening in this way – it must be a choice. Or another way to put it: we suffer long and hard enough that life brings us to our knees. We then begin looking for answers, for different ways to relate to ourselves and the world. We cannot escape our bodies except through death, so the presumption is that these bodies have much to teach us about ourselves on some profound level. Being in the body, really being in it and with it, requires an attention many of us need to cultivate, me included! We can be so very much in our heads in this day and age – it really behooves us to get out in nature as much as possible, to get our feet onto the ground, out into the grasses and the trees and to hear nature’s sounds, from the rush of water to the call of birds to the sound of the wind; to observe the activity of creatures, to interact with them where it is possible and respectful. We can watch the changing skies, make connections between what happens in nature and what is happening in our bodies. Our ancestors relied upon these kinds of things for survival a mere 150 years ago! Many in the world still do. To maintain balance, attuning ourselves with the natural world seems crucial.
If we spend our lives in a high-rise at work and at home and never go outside a city, well, it’s one way to live – but I’m not sure it connects us to the real issues we face in the world today. Television and newspapers are reported to us yet remove us from direct experience and connection. And so, like children, we go out and explore and discover, perhaps for the first time, a real connection with the earth and her inhabitants. Animals and other living creatures are living life, and we humans are the only species who reflect and think about it and decide whether or not to participate. It’s kind of funny when you stop and think about it.
Which means to stay in our bodies, to respect them for the intuitive wisdom they contain as guides through the physical universe. I know, this sounds funny to some people – stay in your body! (Sounds like stay in your room!) But honestly, I think we can all relate to experiences whereby we are driving from point A to point B and don’t remember how we even got there. Or we can remember when a moment of inattention almost got us hit by a car, or we stubbed our toe or almost fell off our bike. These brief moments of inattention are what I mean by not staying in the body. And of course the body can hold pain, and pain makes us want to leave, even if that translates to a desire to get intoxicated or escape into fantasy. Some of these escape mechanisms can actually put us in danger, such as drinking and then driving. Or they contribute to making bad decisions for ourselves. Then there are harmless forays into fantasy, like watching a movie or listening to a symphony. It’s not all bad, but most of us need discernment.
If we cannot function without constant background noise – and if some of that noise includes disrespectful feedback like listening to certain song lyrics that reinforce negative stereotypes or connotations – we might consider changing that music, sometimes altogether. Generally speaking, most of us need to remember to be more present to ourselves in a physical, self respectful way. Being in nature reminds us of our solidarity and our vulnerability at the same time. And so part of being in the body and staying awake is taking care of it in a respectful manner. Physical activity almost always helps with this alertness and awareness. Of course it gets the blood flowing into our brains and eyes, but it also grounds us into the body. The kinds of activities we are able to engage in may change as we go through life, and aging brings this more clearly into focus. If we always played an hour of tennis or ran 10 miles a day, we can give ourselves permission to do something gentler, something different. It doesn’t have to mean we vegetate, and many find that exercises such as yoga can accomplish quite a bit while being gentler to the body. Or we can go to lower impact exercises like swimming or bicycling.
In the case of those of us who have never really been active or in shape, it may seem overwhelming when we get a test back which says we have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and the doctor says we need to lose weight or start exercising. It can seem pretty overwhelming. At some point, not caring for our bodies when we are younger does tend to catch up with most of us. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing – we always have something to learn from our bodies! We can be with ourselves, sit with this for awhile, remember what we loved doing as kids and discovering that maybe this will work for us now. If we loved to wiggle and move, there are several ways to do this, including the new wave of Zumba and Nia. If we liked riding our bikes but have forgotten how, we can start at the gym and work into getting back in the saddle again.
As for the dietary part, we are not really taught in this culture to view food as medicine. Rather we view food as substance to satisfy hunger, cravings, and desire. And if you doubt this, put yourself across the table from the most scrumptious meal you can imagine and note your body’s response to it, your desire for it. Many of us eat for pleasure, and this can lead to ignoring the body’s call to stop at a reasonable place where we are comfortably full. I would almost venture to say that most westerners overeat, and eat poorly combined food choices, meaning what we eat is not always easy to digest, thus the pounds pile on.
We are also conditioned to consume through various influences, including and perhaps most pointedly by our media. This begins at a very young age for most of us. Our economy, really in the spotlight these days, depends on our consumption. And of course we have a disproportionately obese population. Even thin people can have eating disorders, so we’re not just talking about obesity. I think it’s safe to say that we definitely have issues as a culture around food. Being aware and present to the body, to our old thoughts and feelings which keep us on the wheel of consumerism, can be enlightening. When we focus this awareness onto the food we eat, onto our choices around those foods, we can learn a lot about our cravings and what they are really about. Which leads me to my next point:
MONITOR YOUR THOUGHTS
If we don’t obsess over this monitoring yet not just let the mind ramble on, we increase the potential for peace of mind. Our thoughts have power, including power over our best intentions. Remaining aware of our creative ability is part of this: we do, in a very new age sense, contribute mightily to creating our own reality. Every moment we make choices and react to what life puts in our path.
Be mindfully aware of self sabotage. We are all prone to this pitfall, as Medical Intuitive Carolyn Myss confirms in Sacred Contracts. We say we want something, and most of us really do. But we have to be aware how, on some deeper level, we either don’t feel worthy to accept what we’re asking for or we are not ready to receive it. Discovering our hidden saboteur enriches and deepens our awareness of the nature of existence.
We all judge, it’s part of our nature as human beings. If we did not judge, our ancestors could not have discriminated between a toxic weed and a nourishing herb. Some of us have taken this to extremes however, judging anything outside our familiar as threatening, to be avoided and/or condemned. Recognizing when we do this, being honest with ourselves, seeing ourselves for who we truly are, can be quite enlightening. It also allows us to drop judgments more and more over time, including and perhaps most importantly self judgments.
Self criticism holds us back from blossoming into the creative, supportive, loving beings we otherwise could be. And this brings up another point to reiterate from the beginning of this discourse: all change begins in the self. It is the one thing we have absolute power over.
RECOGNIZE THE MIRRORS IN YOUR LIFE
Recognize when your needs from another are more about what you need to give yourself than it is about them. Understand and remind yourself daily that nobody can give you what it is you really need and/or desire: no person – even if you do marry a millionaire; no food – even if it has the best quality chocolate and you drool when thinking about it; no substance – even if it is the best single malt whiskey since your trip to Scotland in 1963.
There are no substitutes for giving ourselves nurturing, love, understanding, generosity and caring. We can and we must grant these things to ourselves, even if the media keeps reinforcing that we will only be happy when we take a vacation we can’t afford to some exotic tropical locale, or if we eat truffles from France or if we buy a Lexus.
Also in the mirroring department is the tendency to project our needs onto another to such a degree that we are convinced that, if we can get this person to change, we ourselves will feel a whole lot better! If only they would earn more money, make love to us more often, cook us dinner every night or take us away from our misery, we could love them more. A satisfactory existence ultimately isn’t about any of these, if we get right down to it. If we are unhappy, we have only to work on our own lack of happiness. We do have the power to change, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it when we are deep in our stuff. Yet take this example to heart: the only change any of us can make is within ourselves. And we know how hard a job that can be, so how could we possibly ever change another person? It takes a lifetime to effect lasting, deep changes just within the self.
PRACTICE UNREMITTING FORGIVENESS
Let others be who they are. There is nothing we can do to change another anyway, as we now know. When we hold resentments, we are in effect keeping toxic energy alive between us and another. I’d even go so far as to say that we are giving them power over us in doing so. If our ultimate goal is to reclaim peace and love toward ourselves and others, a) we are defeating this objective, and b) we are truly hurting ourselves. The only answer is to learn to forgive, which, in some cases can be really hard. But we must do it to free ourselves, to make 100% of our energy useful and viable.
Sometimes we need distance in order to accomplish forgiveness toward some people. There are certain people that may come into our lives who are simply too volatile or set in rigid patterns of denial and fear – and these people are not only uncomfortable to be around, but can actually attack or deflate our sense of self. Some can actually be abusive, and we don’t want to subject ourselves to that kind of thing if it can be helped. And so we pray for them, we open our hearts in the sanctity of our own space where we are able to relax and reach in, accessing our deepest heart’s compassion and unconditional love for another’s woundedness. We can then transmit this love through the spirit of forgiveness. Sometimes this is the only way, but we may be surprised to find that it is only a start: that we make inroads into discovering not only something profoundly loving within ourselves, but often we find this deep caring returning to us at some unknown point and time from another person altogether. We just can never know or necessarily even track the results of our heartfelt acts of kindness and forgiveness. And so we just do it.