Taking Food to the Next Level
In my early days on the spiritual path I believed that seekers often begin their spiritual journey by choosing to eat healthier. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. What I know is, as my spirituality has evolved so has my relationship with food.
I was raised on great Italian food. My dad loved to cook and could deal in the kitchen. We ate lots of fresh vegetables from the garden, local fruit and berries, and nuts. It was what I knew. I didn’t think of food in terms of what was good for me, bad, I just ate it. In fact, my mother enjoyed canned soups, and I did, too.
When I moved away I became ‘health conscious’. I discovered health food stores, whose reason for existence excited me but also strengthened the notion that much of what I ate was not the healthiest for me. I imagined I was getting healthier, which may have been because in New York these stores were like oases in the midst of the fast food life around me. I didn’t let them rule me either. I freely indulged in the neighborhood pizza joints and my favorite ricotta cheesecake hangout, Veniero’s on East 11 Street. They were like comfort of the past.
A subtle or not too subtle habit began to appear in my life, that of denial. I would deny myself food. I am okay; I don’t need to eat now; I can go without. I would go hungry and not pay much attention to it, even push past it. That’s cool if you’re an ascetic or Spartan in training. I was more in the deficient-in-self-love category. When I added a high-stress lifestyle to the food trip my body said no. I got sick and left New York for a few months to be nurtured back to health by my parents.
My story began changing once I found my meditation teacher. We made feast after feast in his loft. God was feeding me. My spiritual family loved me and fed me. And I fed them. The spiritual practice was teaching me to be open and receive. By being still, centered, and keeping my heart open I would get the meat (the substance, energy, gift) of whatever I encountered.
The New York feast continued when I left to teach the meditation in Greece. Greeks celebrate life by their love of olives, bread, fruit, cheeses, fish, wine and other Mediterranean delights. I dove in. I married. I embraced the food, the culture, the land. I had more food than I knew what to do with. And the people opened their hearts to me and my work. Despite swimming in richness I often needed reminders to eat by my wife when I would get immersed in work projects and forget to eat.
Has the feast continued in the years since returning to the States? I can enjoy the heck out of food, especially when my family is gathered together by the fire. I don’t live for food, nor think lots about it. I live toward Jesus’ maxim of eating what is put in front of me. This is taking little to no thought for it, as he suggested. On the other hand I realize how adulterated food has become. So I do take thought and put organic in my diet. Certain foods I stay away from. I feel better living this way.
With so many foods available, labels to be read, media attention about diabetes, fats, sugar, and fried food, it seems that the real constant to rely on (besides eating as natural as possible) is me, sort of. Are there old agendas I am still bringing to the table? Am I willing to receive or am I mixing self-judgments in with my food? Am I too caught up in the earthy issues of hormones, pesticides, nutritional value, etc? The latter are important, no doubt. But won’t my attitudes and emotions affect my life and digestion as much and more as whether I’m eating local, organic, or junk.
What if to every bite of food I brought a profound sense of gratitude for the Source of it. What if I transmute everything on my plate into the purest and healthiest substance in the universe simply by knowing it is so. What if I have the conscious intent that every meal I eat is nourishing all hungry people on the planet. What if this meal is the highest offering of Love I ever witnessed.
In short, the more present and conscious I can be when I eat, the more I realize what a divine gift food is to me and the world.