I am very nearly through with my degree work in graduate school, currently in the middle of my internship. Come September, I ought to be done and out on my own. This is a rather shaky proposition in some ways. The job market here in Portland is particularly bad, and since I am stubborn and refuse to leave this place that I love so dearly, I’m not about to go chasing jobs elsewhere. However, I’m happier when I’m self-directed anyway, and so the prospect of being completely self-employed, while financially risky, is at least more appealing on an emotional level. It’s quite within my grasp, too. The Green Wolf isn’t enough in and of itself to cover all my bills, but it’s a decent part-time job at this point.
I’m guessing you aren’t here to read about the mundane details of my life. And yet, these things are exceptionally important. While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is far from a perfect model of how all humans prioritize needs ranging from food to self-actualization (you can find self-actualization among the hungry, and self-blindness among the well-fed), it’s a good reminder that we human animals are embedded in multiple levels of being.
The physical gets a bad rap in spirituality a good bit of the time. In fact, “spirituality” implies “spirit, which is antithetical to flesh”. Okay, yes, that’s a rather simplistic definition. There are plenty of spiritual practices that involve the body in a very conscious manner. However, all too often within neopaganism in general, and even in neoshamanism in specific (though this is less common than in some other neopagan paths) the body is seen as a vehicle to transcendence. Being in the body is not seen as a transcendent experience in and of itself.
And I feel that’s a great shame, because the very act of living is an amazing thing in and of itself. Let’s take eating as an example. Many of us, especially in high-paced Western societies, have a tendency to rush through food. I mean, really–it’s called fast food for a reason! The center of the grocery store is full of prepackaged, processed, quick-to-prepare meals for the entire day. Now, admittedly, I partake of these a good deal, especially in the busiest part of my week when I have both classes and internship obligations to attend to. Sometimes it’s tough to find the motivation to make a meal from scratch.
And yet, the experience of making the food from scratch is, in and of itself, an act of self-care for me. I discovered a few years ago that I enjoyed cooking in part because it is its own alchemy. The proportions of seasonings and other ingredients have everything to do with the end result. And everyone likes good food better than mediocre or even bad food (though what falls under each category is wholly subjective, with the exception of spoilage/etc.).
Even if you don’t make your own food from scratch, and even if the food isn’t the greatest, you can still gain a good deal out of the very experience of eating. There is a concept known as Mindful Eating. This is the art of slowing down the process of eating, being more aware and immersed in that experience, and allowing food to BE the experience. It also makes us aware of the values and habits we attach to food. In this day and age, when so many of us are facing numerous health problems associated with unhealthy relationships to food and the body (I can point to a chronic case of acid reflux, for example), awareness of how these relationships manifest, as they are manifesting, is crucial to improving them.
And eating mindfully is spiritual. It creates a lot of the same states that many people seek in their spirituality. There is a transcendence of the ordinary, and an altered state of consciousness. There is great connection to something greater than the self–in this case, food can be the gateway to connection to not only the Land that grew it, but all the other living organisms that touched it along the way, human and otherwise.
But eating mindfully also grounds us in that most important microcosm–our body. It is the physical vehicle in which we can interact with this world we live in; the physical brain is the seat of the mind that we use to navigate nonphysical realities. Being present includes being embedded in the body. (Or as they say, “Be HERE now”.)
So much of our health overall depends on the health of our bodies. I know that my emotions and psychological health can be adversely affected by a lack of sleep or by low blood sugar or otherwise just feeling off physically. Since these things are indispensable to the process of experiencing, comprehending and processing spiritual activities, then it behooves me to take care of my body as best as I can. And since food is my body’s fuel, then I’d better be aware of what I’m putting into myself!
A lot of where my spirituality has gone as I’ve been largely “underground” for most of a year has been in approaching spirituality in the everyday. And I am amazed at what I find. There is no alchemy more important to a human being than the processes by which the body takes in air, water and food and uses the molecules to keep itself going. (Those with, say, food allergies are required even more than others to be aware of the delicate balance of introducing molecules to their systems.)
We don’t need to look to arcane processes to be able to find magic. We overlook the everyday, and yet we do this to our own detriment. Not that there’s no value to the more esoteric things, but really, if what you’re seeking is magic, then realize that it exists everywhere, and yes, is often the very same things that are explained in scientific terms–without the need for further elaboration.
This was an inspiring read. I’m of the opinion that food and eating should be vital topics for neopagans. Sexuality is a popular topic, as it should be, but eating is a much more primal and vital act. How and what we eat ties into our view of ourselves, our society, and the rest of Earth. I would love to see mindfully sharing food in both large and small groups become a value for pagans. Something similar to the ancient Christians’ breaking bread together where shared meals solidified ideas of fellowship and hospitality. I’d also like to see celebrations of harvests and gatherings to bless crops and gardens.
This is a point that can’t be over-emphasized, I think…So, excellent!
I agree, people downplay the physical. And that is a great mistake, I feel….I think If there is an ‘out there’ awaiting us after this life (being a skeptic, I can’t say I am sure of it), we don’t get there gratis. I think we can only achieve that “change of venue” IF we have truly lived here.
And that includes the physical. Denigrating any part of this earthly life, not loving it utterly and fully, in my opinion, assures you a return ticket as many times as it takes to get it right.
Uniting the body, the mind, and the soul in BLISS should be the goal. Uniting them in sorrow or anger or pain is so easy by comparison. It is the joy, the delight that most of us must learn to experience fully. I think food is one of the best ways to introduce this to people.
Slowing down when I eat has been difficult; it is something I am having to relearn. The conditioning that eating in high school puts you through, and then you carry into adulthood, is sometimes hard to hit back against. It is something I am teaching my son, and that makes it easier for me to work with. Beginning now, hopefully he will have a better outlook and relationship with food, and its totems and spirits, than I have until lately.
The whole denial of the physical, and the duality that equates the physical with darkness and the spiritual with the light, has ancient roots in Manichaeism and has infected every tradition that began in Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, many neo-pagans cling to this world of dualities, failing to see the pluralities that truly represent the universe. It’s so much easier to live in a black-and-white world.
Paleo – Yeah, I’d love for Sabbats and such to be more food-oriented rather than drinking-and-socializing-oriented. Hmm. Thinky-thoughts.
aediculaantinoi–Thank you 🙂
Labrys-And we can’t know for absolutely sure til after we die whether there is anything or not, or whether we ever get to come back here. So why not enjoy the here while we have it?
Sarenth–One of the toughest things about the American lifestyle is how busy and fast-paced it is. This is why I like the various Slow movements, including the Slow Food movement. It’s a good reminder to us that the work will still be waiting for us, but it’s good to take a break.
Bansagart–People are afraid of grey areas. It’s sad, really, because there’s not just grey, but a whole host of other colors between black and white.
Great post! I have a great desire to understand and work magic through doing “ordinary” things, to understand the sacredness in the processes of daily life, and to learn how to spiritually relate with the entities/elements that I physically relate with [in fact, if there are other books/websites/etc about this that you recommend, I would love to hear about them].
It makes sense to me that the act of eating is one of the most, if not THE most, magical, sacred aspects of our lives. On the physical plane, I don’t believe in any separation of spirit and matter – IOW, everything physical has spirit. Therefore, every time we eat something, just as the physical matter becomes a part of our bodies, the spirit of the food – part of the being the food came from – becomes part of us as well. What I’m not sure of is, what does this mean? How does this affect us?
I am in deep agreement of focusing more on what we subject our bodies to everyday. Even things from the grocery store which seem healthy or “green” seem to be catered to those without the actual knowledge of being healthy and makes them buy it to make them feel better about themselves. I have as of late, been making whatever attempts possible to eat more organic food and drinks, and being aware of my physiology. I feel that the quality of my day can be determined on what I am consuming at times.
Anything like ayurveda, and herbalism are completely useful means for the health of the physical self, and the physical self inevitably governs the mental self. Our body can be seem as the base of the triangular pyramid, while working in unison with mind and spirit, but if you destroy the base, the other components crumble. This triangular relation is observed with animals ecology in nature as well.
Do you have any specific plants that you like to prepare, or specific ingredients you seek while buying food, Lupa?
Also, on being more conscious in the simplistic things seems to be an elegant way of finding tranquility. I have tried this, setting aside specific days to do things slowly and mindfully. While stillness or peace can be attain through a specific practice or ritual at the end of your routine day. You can use your actions instead as the means for the higher state of mind, like talking and knowing exactly what you are saying, or eating something you took time to make and give to yourself.
I love your sentiment towards life, you are an inspiring woman
I think a lot of it depends on the individual needs of the body. For example, I am an obligate omnivore. No matter how well balanced, a vegetarian diet does not suit me, so I have to eat some meat. Ideally I’d eat all free range, but my budget doesn’t always cover that.
I am a big fan of onions and garlics. I can’t eat anything really spicy, but i like a good savory dish with tomatoes and bell peppers.
You may wish to look into the concept of Mindful Eating; i think you’d like it.