For most of my adult life, I’ve been convinced that maintaining a connection between body, mind and spirit is important to my overall health and my desire for holiness, but my conviction ebbed and flowed.
Mostly ebbed. “I’ll start tomorrow,” was my perennial refrain, but “tomorrow” never arrived.
Then, about three years ago, I went on a weekend retreat where talking, writing and reading were off limits.
Without my usual crutches, I came face to face with the powerful connection between body, mind and spirit in a very real and sometimes uncomfortable way.
With no books or chatter to fill the void, I spent my time hiking silently through the woods, sitting in an Adirondack chair watching the sunrise, eating deliberately and slowly in the silent but crowded dining room.
When I returned home, I became painfully aware of how often I leave out at least one element of the body-mind-spirit triad, usually because I’m moving through life too frantically. And so I decided to bring a slice of my silent retreat into my chaotic life.
|The Bible on Wellness
‘“Everything is lawful for me,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is lawful for me,’ but I will not let myself be dominated by anything. ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ but God will do away with both the one and the other. The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. God raised the Lord and will raise us by his power.”
— 1 Cor 6:12-14
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
— Phil 4:6-8
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
I began what I have come to call my “mindful oatmeal” ritual, a healthy breakfast eaten in silence and infused with prayer and attention to detail.
It quickly grew into the most important spiritual practice of my day. I knew I was onto something, but what?
Enter two book contracts, each with a different but critical focus on the body-mind-spirit connection.
I guess I should have realized it wasn’t just a coincidence but the Spirit responding to my question in not-so-subtle ways.
For about nine months, I spent every day exploring and writing about the importance of weaving spirituality into our physical emotional and intellectual lives in an effort to achieve and maintain overall health and spiritual growth.
First up on my plate was Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God">“Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God” (Ave Maria Press, $13.95). This book project was a gift, a rare opportunity to dive deep into one aspect of the body-mind-spirit conundrum and provide practical ways to strengthen those connections and transform life from the outside in.
So often we turn to food — for consolation, as reward or sometimes out of boredom — in an effort to fill ourselves up, but what we’re really hungry for is something much deeper, a relationship with God, a better understanding of our true self, a spirituality that permeates all we do and makes us new.
Thinking we can achieve all that by eating more slowly might seem a little far-fetched, but it really is all connected.
Even one small practice can bring about major change.
When you begin to approach your meals from a place of prayer, a place of awareness of God’s presence in the moment, food begins to lose its hold.
Over time you come to see that eating can actually be a pathway to spiritual wholeness rather than a one-way ticket to the nearest Weight Watchers meeting.
Right on the heels of that book was Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality">“Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality” (Alpha, $14.95), which takes this mindful, spiritual approach and applies it not just to eating, cooking and serving food, but to every aspect of every day.
Applying the lessons
I explored the possibility of praying while running, driving, raking, weeding, scrubbing, ironing and everything else that presented itself to me on a daily basis.
Through journal entries chronicling my own attempts to weave prayer into the mundane moments of my life, advice from the saints and anecdotes from modern Catholics, I put down on paper just what it takes to “pray without ceasing.”
In the process, I began to realize how often I operate on autopilot, totally missing major parts of my own life.
No wonder I’m tired and cranky and dissatisfied so much of the time.
As I began to practice what I preach, multitasking lost its shine and my penchant for overbooking my days in the mistaken notion that busy equals successful proved to be woefully misguided.
Seeing the unseen
I can’t claim that every meal is now a meditation (far from it) or that I always manage to chose calmness over chaos (just ask my family), but even when I’m not operating from a place of mindfulness, I am cognizant of the fact that I need to get back to it, and fast. If your life is clamoring for something — attention, serenity, simplicity, balance — step back and start to notice God in the details.
You may find that everything you’re searching for was there all along.
Mary DeTurris Poust is the author of six books on Catholic spirituality and the creator of Not Strictly Spiritual. Contact her at www.notstrictlyspiritual.com.