"The Body Issue"
(In Our Practice, Summer 2002)
By Cheri Huber
The food at the Monastery is phenomenal. Most of it is organically grown. Even though organic food is more expensive, our motto is to put our money where our morals are. If we want a sustainable world, we need to invest in sustainability. If we want a disposable world, we can shop at the cheap places that specialize in sweatshop labor and shoddy disposable goods. (Do you sense a perspective here, or have I been too subtle?) Now, I don't have opinions about where other folks should shop, how they should spend their money, or what they should eat. But at the Monastery, which is supported by donated work, energy, and money, it feels important to be as responsible as possible. For example, when we receive money that's not used immediately, we invest in socially responsible funds. After all, our first vow is, "not to live a harmful life, nor to encourage others to do so."
But I digressback to our extraordinary Monastery diet. Each day monks go down to the gardens and pick fresh vegetables. The tofu and grains we buy from our local co-op and grocery are organically grown. Even the soymilk is made fresh from organic soybeans. The meals are a delight for the eyes, the nose, and the mouth. Still, there are those who will not eat this healthy, nutritious diet, but instead fill up on rice cakes and graham crackers.
"Why?" you might ask incredulously, as I did. The answer is that old bugaboo, egocentric karmic conditioning making its feeble attempts to control. "But I need this." "My body doesn't do well with __________." I need more __________ in my diet." "I've found that if I do/don't eat __________ I feel better." When we get through the schmaltz, what becomes apparent is that the voices are using food as a source of constant beatings. If I eat what I'm told to eat I'm a good person, I'm in control, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. If I don't eat what I'm told I'm bad, I'm undisciplined, I'm a loser, I'm fat, I'm a disgusting pig.
Food is only one arena in which these voices of self-hate operate. People who don't live in a monastery hear the voices berate them about work, television viewing habits, alcohol, money, exercise, and a whole host of other hot topics. From self-hate's perspective, the beauty of food as a weapon is its unavoidability. Every day we can dodge or to get a beating, depending upon whether or not we meet self-hate's (slippery) standards. What did I/did I not eat? How much did I/did I not eat? How much will I/will I not eat?
Recently I asked the monks to consider if it makes a difference what food is put into a body whose constant diet is self-hate. Could food be pure enough to counteract the poison of self-hatred? I wonder.
I love the body. Bodies are so marvelously, mind-bogglingly wonderful, and they get so little respect. Can you imagine if the mind had to meet the same standards as the body? The mind would have to look a certain way; be a certain size and shape; be young, fit, and flexible; and above all, be attractive. But no, we're taught to ignore the mind and focus on the body. The mind can hide out and let the body take all the hits. St. Francis of Assisi called the body "Brother Ass". We all know the expression, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." My teacher would say, "Au contraire, the flesh is perfectly willing; it's the spirit that's weak."
Call me biased, but I think that everything comes down to going beyond self-hate. Doesn't that seem so? When the voices yap about what's wrong with you, why this or that won't work, and how you've always been a loser, life is very difficult. When you stop believing the voices, when you have someone on your side who likes/appreciates/ loves you, you live in a whole different world.
In fact, let's do the next email class on the body...
I hope this issue of In Our Practice gives us much to consider about the body, our bodies, our relationship with our bodies, and the possibility of bringing a whole lot more kindness to a good and loyal friend.