It's dinnertime. You're standing in your kitchen, opening and closing every cabinet. You open the refrigerator for the third time, hoping for a miracle. But no such luck. It's exactly the same assortment of Tupperware containers, old condiments, cartons, and packages that were there a moment ago. Nothing looks satisfying. So you just stand there in the middle of the kitchen, hungry and having no idea what to feed yourself. At one time or another, most of us have been completely bewildered in our own kitchens, or in a restaurant, or in the market. It's amazing just how much of a dilemma this is. What do we need to feed ourselves right now?
Deep down, we all know how we should feed ourselves. Sometimes I'll ask my clients to list all the foods they think they should have as well as the ones they're currently consuming. Most of the time these lists look very different. What do people think they should feed themselves? Just what you'd expect: more fresh vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, and whole grains, and less sugar and refined foods. If we already have this awareness, then why is there such a gap between how we know we should take care of ourselves and how we actually live?
Eating vs. Feeding
In my experience, I have found the discipline of nourishing our bodies to be an amazingly effective vehicle for spiritual development and transformation. How can food and feeding ourselves be a spiritual practice? If food seems more mundane than yoga or meditation or prayer, that's because it is. Food is one of our primary human needs. Every day, multiple times a day, we put something in our mouths. When we consume food without much thought beyond its taste, I call it eating. You know what eating looks like. It's the compulsive reaching into the potato chip bag; eating when you're full because food is just there; grabbing a quick bite for lunch between meetings; indulging our taste buds while ignoring how our bodies feel.
When we make deliberate food choices based on our needs for physical energy, mental clarity, creativity, and focus, I call this feeding oneself. I use these terms to emphasize the difference between mindless consumption and purposeful, conscious fueling. The term feeding oneself also shows how transformational nourishment requires two components: the part of ourselves that does the nourishing (feeding) and the part that receives it (oneself). When we feed ourselves, we are aware and responsive to our particular needs for nourishment in the present moment.
No matter how much I talk about this subject, however, it's nearly impossible to understand transformational nourishment as a theoretical approach. Transformational nourishment is profoundly practical and experiential. Because we consume food so regularly, we have the opportunity to pay attention to our inner selves multiple times a day, every day, for many years. Let's estimate that on average people feed themselves something to eat or drink fifteen times a day, though in actuality I imagine this number is a lot higher. Over a period of ten years this translates to 54,750 opportunities to turn your attention inward and become aware of yourself.
What other activity provides us with this number of chances? Not everyone meditates, or prays, or does Tai Chi. But feeding ourselves is something we all do, all the time. Each morsel of food, each cup of tea is an invitation to be alert, creative, and responsive to your nourishment needs. The good news is that you can start this practice at any time. Maybe you've eaten greasy cheeseburgers, French fries, and Coke your whole life. That's okay. It takes only one instance of consciously feeding yourself to begin the incredible journey of transformational nourishment. From the outside, that one meal may look like an ordinary plate of food, but in reality it could be the seed to a new relationship with your true self.
We're all heard the expression "you are what you eat." But what does this really mean? You eat a carrot, and you become a carrot? You eat junk food, and you become junky? While all clichés contain a grain of truth, "you are what you eat" focuses only on the after-effects of food in your body. In working with food and consciousness, I've discovered a subtle nuance to this familiar expression; that is, people eat what they are. If you're stressed out all the time, chances are you're feeding yourself stressed-out, quick-grab foods with little vital nourishment. When we shift our way of thinking from "you are what you eat" to "you eat what you are," we see that the latter involves awareness. It makes us stop and question who we really are. If we believe that we are spiritual beings, then we're more likely to seek out the nourishing foods that feed the shining life force that already exists within us. Use this simple statement as a gentle reminded to feed yourself life-affirming foods, because you are life.