March 04th 2005 - It’s that time of year again, when Target and Walgreen’s reserve entire aisles for the Christmas doodads ~ most of them food items. The red and green M&Ms, the fancy salted nuts, the chocolate Santas wrapped in foil, the rows of boxed candy canes lined up to form a veritable sugar army. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the commercial aspect of the holidays, especially when faced with a towering shrine of artificially colored, hyperflavored, mass-produced candy. It’s strange, though, because at the same time, I find something very personal and dare I say, spiritual about eating a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates with my family. Yes, it’s sugar and fat and by no means unique ~ there’s a warehouse full of those yellow boxes, I’m sure. But it’s also a link back to the Christmases of my childhood, when a deep connection to the people around me and the goodness of life in general was experienced through the magical ingredients of the holiday, special chocolates included.
Deanna Minich, Ph.D., a holistic health consultant in Minneapolis, believes strongly in the power of food to unite us not only with other people, but also with the divine. “Eating an apple [with consciousness] can connect me to the tree that it came from, to the soil that the tree was growing in, to the person that picked that apple,” Minich said. “Food provides us with calories and nutrients and from a nutritionist’s standpoint you can look at it as all the chemicals that you need for your body, but it’s also energy on another level ~ more of a spiritual, vibrational level. Food is consciousness materialized.” If that’s so, then the act of taking that food into our bodies can be a literal acceptance of life and the present moment.
Karen Lawson, MD, the director of Integrative Clinical Services at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, supports this assumption.
“We’re energetic beings and we live in an energetic world, and I think if we become more and more aware of that and understand it better, we’ll start to recognize the fact that the things we take into our body ~ air, water, and food ~ have not only biochemical characteristics like pollutants or contamination, but also have energetic qualities.” Lawson thinks that as a society, we are shifting into a more spiritual gear, which means that more and more people are becoming open to the idea of eating with awareness. “I think that as we become more spiritual, or more conscious of our spirituality, it begins to play a role in everything we do. When I decide what to eat as a spiritual being, I think not only about the caliber of the food, when do I eat it, how do I eat it; I also think about the process in which it was grown ~ you know, did it do good things or negative things to the world around me, because I’m connected to all of this, so it’s all me.”
Despite the vast differences of beliefs that exist between the religions of the world, a thread that runs through them all is the way that food is used to deepen a spiritual connection. For Buddhists, food is used as a bridge to liberated awareness and loving-kindness. Hindus see food as a means through which one can discover the authentic self. Christians represent the body and blood of their savior with food, and use this to commune with the Holy Spirit and the people around them. For Jews, food brings the inherent holiness and wholeness of each moment to life. Fasting supplies Muslims with a means for surrendering to God’s will. Pagans use food rituals to show respect for the cycles of the earth. Ultimately, though, our relationships to food can transcend even religion and become more personalized spiritual expressions.
We’re told all the time by doctors and nutritionists what foods to eat and what to avoid ~ and this advice often has the lifespan of a dairy product. How does all the modern hoo-ha about food and diets ~ often contradictory to itself ~ fit into the spiritual way of eating? Minich counsels people to pay attention to what our bodies and spirits tell us they want, because those are the foods we most need to attain balance. She also says that the color of the food we choose can provide clues to what part of the self the food will go to. “More or less, the foods for each chakra correspond to the color of that energy center. I think it’s nature’s way of showing us what we need. If you’re craving foods like beets, strawberries, cherries, or tomatoes, these are all related to the first energy center, the root chakra, which is red.” Our bodies will tell us which foods to avoid, too. Minich advises to listen to your body when it tells you to skip foods that are stale, decomposed in some way, spoiled, overcooked or burnt, as these don’t have much physical or spiritual nutrition to offer.
I remember the mystifying moment on a family vacation when I was 10 or 11 when I learned that avocados grow on trees. We were in Florida, where fruit trees are as common as elms and oaks are here, and as I stood in front of that tree in the hot sun, I tried to associate the avocados we bought at Rainbow with ones in front of me. Where were the little stickers?
It’s easy to lose the connection between the food we eat and the earth it came from, especially when we buy nearly all of it at the supermarket. There, even the fruits and veggies, the most whole food items, have been separated from the soil. Processed foods in plastic packages further distance us from the earth connection, a link that both Minich and Lawson deem important to good spiritual nutrition. Separating food from its source, Minich teaches, will affect not only the physical assimilation of nutrients but the spiritual aspect as well. Lawson agrees. “I personally think that food that is grown organically, cooked in a healthy way, and eaten consciously contains a different spirit as well as different nutritional and energetic qualities than foods that have been processed, packaged and microwaved. I think in five to 10 years we’ll find out that all that microwaving of food depleted a lot of the nutritional value,” she said.
We live in a primarily overpackaged, overprocessed reality, but there is still a way to eat spiritually, Minich explained. Because much of today’s food is nutritionally depleted, “we have to be very diligent about thinking about where the food came from, and infusing our own energy into it.” So even things like Twinkies can be nutritious? “I wouldn’t say that Twinkies are bad, you know; they have their place, and their own vibration. I think as long as you go into the process of thinking about where that food actually came from, its origin, you can create energy for yourself within that food. Think about all the people who were involved in making that product. If you are very conscious when you’re eating it, and you infuse your own love and energy into the food, then it definitely has some merit.”
Lawson says that while there is physiological value to being very careful about what we eat, “we underplay the importance of the joy and the setting and the community in which we take in our food. So I always tell people that if they’re going to eat something that they know from a biochemical basis is probably not really good for them, like chocolate, eat it with love and joy. And eat it with friends.”
Minich sees eye to eye with Lawson on this point. “Food in any setting is very bonding; it’s a communion of sorts. I don’t think it matters too much what food is being shared ~ it’s just the fact that it’s being shared by people. I think that it’s just a way to share that consciousness.”
It feels good to know that my Whitman’s Sampler experience isn’t just a deluded annual excuse to eat too much chocolate. This year when that familiar yellow box comes out, though, it’ll be a little different. I think I’ll be more conscious than ever of how scrambling for the chocolate-covered cherries and truffle balls is bringing me closer to my family, and closer to a power that is greater than all of our families and all of our chocolates combined.
Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS
Port Orchard, WA
Port Orchard, WA 98367
© 2002 Minnesota Women's Press, Inc.