Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Spiritual Diet

My son is in occupational therapy for something called "sensory integration disorder" -- his brain and senses don't communicate properly. The general therapy for SID is something called a "sensory diet" which involves making sure the brain gets a full and varied set of sensory information all the time every day. This helps keep the brain alert to sensory information and helps it learn to cope with stimula.

This is tough for a kid who's supposed to sit still at a desk for hours every day!

The sensory diet is not something a non-SID person would ever think about. Who considers whether they have pushed, lifted, listened, balanced, rubbed, squeezed, chewed, and bounced enough in a day? Most people will just listen to Mozart, not listen to a "diet" of music. The sensory diet is really a mind-opening concept.

I think too about the "spiritual diet." Going to church/meeting is one item in the diet. Reading books is another. Talking, listening, centring. Then there's political action, social action, environmental action. I'm probably missing some things from the spiritual "food groups" here, but you get the idea. Emphasizing one area of the spiritual diet too much makes us spiritually malnourished.

Maybe some of us drop out of one part of the spiritual diet because we feel we are getting too much of one thing, not enough of another. Like my son who can't "hear" his senses, we can't "hear" our spirit/Spirit. The revolving-door aspect of many of our meetings may reflect this spiritual diet thing.

This week, another book came in on the reserve list at the library, this time a well-known US author, Barbara Kingsolver. Her newest book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and -- if this ain't proof that there's a global movement going on here -- it's about a year of local eating.

Reading the two books (The 100-Mile Diet [aka Plenty] vs this one) back to back, there is a temptation to compare. The Smith/MacKinnon book is less thick, more translucent, more open about human frailties and failures. Kingsolver's book is dense, brisk, and heavier. Perhaps more practical in many ways, too, with more how-to elements in it. Smith and MacKinnon were flying by the seat of their pants, relying on near-genius cooking skills to survive, still in many ways wondering who they were going to be when they grew up. Kingsolver is already a bestselling author, who sits proudly on the list of the 100 most dangerous people in America.

Both sets of authors touch on the cultural antipathy toward spiritual values in diet. But Kingsolver drives the point home.

She points out that as guests, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist people can politely turn down the platter of ham on the grounds of their spirituality, with no hard feelings from the host. And in many ways, a vegetarian can do the same thing for lifestyle reasons, although possibly with a more tight-lipped smile from the host.

But what about the person who, for spiritual reasons, cannot eat food that was grown by people paid less than $2/day in a far-away country, then shipped at the expense of our environment to our table, with rich corporations taking all the profits? Or those who, for spiritual reasons, feel they must eat the food that their region produces? Refuse to pour greenhouse gases into their refrigerators and mouths? Respect the dignity and value of an animal's life before it dies to become our ham platter? Treat the human body as a temple and forsake GMO and mass-produced pseudo-food?

"No, thanks, I'm on a spiritual diet"???

Hm, I envision said platter of ham up-ended in someone's lap in response.

Somehow, these values that I/we consider spiritual lie outside of the accepted boundaries of spirituality and therefore don't get the same respect as rules printed in ancient documents. And there are those other rules, equally ancient -- rules of hospitality and good graces -- that trump anything newfangled.

My parents are coming to visit in a couple of weeks for a weekend. I am trying to bring myself to buy the required food-things. Breakfast includes orange juice and oranges. Bread is white and comes with a brand name on the bag. Salads are green at all times of the year.

Do I dare offer them red cabbage and carrot salad, with squash soup, a handful of the mini kiwis I grew in my backyard, and the wonderful meats that I get from my farmer? Maybe some dolmades made with chard leaves, or bruschetta of my own tomatoes and garlic, roasted onto crusty local bread? All of it grown, sought, gathered, preserved, and/or cooked by my own hands, gifts of the earth as the days grow shorter and colder?

Would that seem like a gift to them? Or a snub?

Probably a snub.

I wonder if Woolman's hosts were snubbed when he would slip into the back kitchen to pay the slaved people who had served him. I wonder if he even ever worried about that.

I wonder if he ever snubbed his parents.


At 9:55 AM, Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for this thought provoking post, Nancy. I have bee struggling with how to bring my diet more in line with my ideals. One person who has helped nudge me in this direction is a vegan f/Friend from my meeting who I think does a very good job of sticking to her principles without offending others. What I have noticed is that she is not judgmental of people who don't share her car-less vegan lifestyle, and this makes her much easier to listen to than people who come off as "holier than thou."

Of course parents can be the trickiest. I seem to vaguely remember a story about William Penn's tortured decision not to take his hat off to his father, but I can't remember the details.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Said parents cancelled the trip. Phew, saved by the bell!

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Anardana said...

Hi there, I found your blog randomly.. I like it :)

At 1:35 AM, Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

I know of Quakers who, when offered free food for whatever reason, refuse to eat more than a basic meal, like half a sandwhich and an apple, because of spiritual beliefs much as you are describing here. They don't want to indulge while others in the world suffer. Imagine the discipline it would take to maintain something like that?!

My family lives in the country, and we try to grow a lot of our own food. When my family comes over, they get whatever we give them, snub or no snub. Luckily, I have a husband who can cook anything successfully. My brother is a vegan, and he doesn't complain. We always have veggies and fruit, so he's happy. What is hard on us is going to my parent's house and all they eat is frozen pre-prepared stuff or canned chili or something. I usually end up eating just cheese.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Kim Ranger said...

Hi Nancy,
I do know one person here who only eats locally-grown foods (very difficult when in jail!). He simply makes no bones about it, doesn't apologize or make a fuss. Somehow it works for him. Best of luck in other sticky situations!


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