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My Spiritual Life, with Food

I am a weighty Friend in the literal sense of “weighing a lot” but definitely not in the metaphorical sense of “important and significant.” I turned 60 years old this year. This is the story of my spiritual life and my life with food, and how they have begun to merge during the past year, creating for me a spiritual path that I follow as faithfully as I can every day.

The first leadings. In January 2011 my husband and I went to the California coast for a weekend. I felt old, really old, and fat, really fat. I could barely walk on the beach and the paths on the cliffs above the ocean. I had high blood pressure and high blood sugar. I was 59 years old but I felt like I was 99. I felt my death very close to me.

I drank too much, ate too much, didn’t get enough exercise, watched too much TV, and sat working at the computer too many hours of the day. The only breaks I took in between writing a textbook and teaching on‐line classes was to play a few games of solitaire on the computer—not much exercise!

Life intervened in the form of a car accident in February that had two results. Most immediately, two brain injuries affected my ability to think and focus on work. That forced me to postpone the due date for the textbook I was writing. I could no longer devote hours to my on‐line teaching without taking frequent breaks away from it. Computer games, even solitaire, were beyond my mental abilities. I started slowly to do some puttering around in the yard and I started walking a half an hour every other day with a friend from my worship group. The doctors forbade me from drinking alcohol for a month.

Second, as a result of being trapped in the car, unable to get out, I felt like I needed to improve my flexibility and strength, so I started taking yoga classes last summer, again with a friend. I spent more time gardening and dog paddling around a swimming pool. I went on a kayaking trip. We went to the Berkeley kite festival and walked around and flew my kite. I started walking for half an hour or forty minutes three or four times a week with another friend from my worship group. My friend kept (and keeps) me walking pretty briskly and the terrain is hilly.

Around this time, my husband decided to reduce his alcohol intake, so I did too. It is a paradox that as a result of the car accident, I have started to feel physically healthier, more flexible and alert, and, luckily, my brain has healed too, over the time.

The second leadings.  I belong to a worship group which has been reading and discussing since last summer Nancy Bieber’s Decisionmaking & Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way. My initial response to this book was that I really didn’t need to find my way anywhere (pretty arrogant!)  but as soon as I started reading I realized how much fear of God, and not in a good way, I have.

In the beginning, I felt so much resistance that I couldn’t even start, much less finish, reading the second chapter about facing our fears of the divine: fear of not being in charge, fear of change, fear of trusting the guide, and fear that there is no god. Man, oh man.

One of the early exercises was to write a letter to god. For several weeks, I couldn’t do that exercise because, I suppose, I had not heard that still small voice for a long time and I was afraid maybe it wasn’t there anymore. With encouragement from my fellow worshippers, I literally forced myself to sit down at my computer to compose a letter. It came out as a prose poem.

Right in the middle (marked with asterisks below) of this spiritual exercise, there was a palpable change. I experienced an opening and a deepening, as the spirit helped me open up to my fears and become vulnerable to following the will of the divine.

Spirit Love Light

You are light. You are ever present at all times and places, and yet I am not always aware of you. I stay in the dark.

You are spirit. You surround and sustain and imbue the physical world and life, but I don’t always see you because I am blind.

You are love. My best way of worshipping you is to extend you and grow you; I don’t always do that because I am too caught up in my activities, my concerns, and my things. I am too “busy” with my “busyness.”

Holy one, can I open to you with a yes?
Am I willing to risk my comfortable existence?
If I risk my comfortable life, will I become more aware, insightful, and more able to extend you?

*Or perhaps it’s better to start with these questions—*
Why do I think that openness to you means risk to me? Where have I learned such fear of you?

You are spirit. You are love. You are light. You will not harm me.

Spirit of love, I don’t want to say this:

—I am open to you but please don’t ask me to do something I don’t want to do.

Holy divine, I want to say this:

—I am open to you and willing to walk with you wherever we need to go. Amen.

Right now and always, I pray for the strength to say this and mean it.

_______________________

I waited for the spirit to tell me to quit my job and join Peace Brigades International. I waited for my inner voice to tell me to leave my family and join an ashram. I expected the divine to ask me to do something involving great sacrifice or danger, and I readied myself to do what I was told.

But instead, the divine asked me to do something much more difficult.  My inner voice told me that the divine loves me and wants me to live a long and healthy life, and that the only way to do that is to lose weight and exercise. I was led to feel sure that a time would come when I would be able to lose weight if I had faith.

I was reminded of the story of William Penn and George Fox, where Penn wants to know if he can wear a sword and Fox tells him, “Where it as long as you can.” Although this anecdote is disputed, to me it means that Fox realized that the time would come when Penn would want to give up his sword because it no longer meant anything to him. He would find it easy to give up wearing the sword because any sense of deprivation or sacrifice would be replaced by a better feeling of choosing to do the right thing.

I started praying this prayer[1] during meeting for worship and yoga meditation:

I give my attachment to food to the Holy Spirit as part of myself.

I know that my attachment will be released, unless I want to use it to imprison myself.

In the name of my freedom I choose to release my attachment to food, because I know that we can only be released together.

My attachment to food is part of myself and I don’t reject it, but I give it to the spirit so that I can be released from it and it can be released from me. I have used my attachment to food as a crutch, a comfort, an entertainment, but now I am willing to give it up to follow god’s will for me to live a long and healthy life.

I asked the divine if there was a diet plan that would suit me and that I could stick to for the rest of my life. My inner voice told me not to diet any special way, just to eat half of what I usually eat, especially you know what.  I have been doing so for two months now.  Another paradox:  I enjoy my food more now that I am eating less of it.

I wish I could say that I have lost a lot of weight already but I can’t. My clothes fit better. Since a year ago, I have lost 15 pounds and I am much fitter and able to keep up with my friends and my children when we hike together.  When I am slogging up hills, huffing and puffing, it helps me to think that the divine is leading me. When I am reluctant to go to yoga class, I know that it is another form of worship that I don’t want to miss out on.

This is my spiritual path with food for the rest of my (hopefully) long and healthy life.

[1] I adapted this prayer from A Course in Miracles Textbook Chapter 11, verses 5–7.

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