As a ministerly type of person, I spend a lot of time thinking about what heals us. I've studied herbs and aromatherapy. I've tried all sorts of lifestyles that claim to be the most healthy lifestyle ever. I've dreamed of being a raw vegan doing yoga with my bare feet leveling out my energy with every step. We've done all natural, all organic, all earthy. . .all to no avail.
Sometimes the method is the madness, or the method makes the madness. I don't know. What I do know is that when I finally uncovered the source of my own body's consistent distress and began meeting the immediate needs of myself and my family, life got better. The question:: Is this killing me slowly? was replaced in my mind with:: Will this make me or my daughters immediately ill? This may seem like backwards motion, but I have not experienced it this way.
We still eat healthfully, but in a home with as many food restrictions as ours has, the mindfulness changed from fear to support. I no longer stare warily at foods that are deemed unhealthful, but which pose no immediate threat to my body. I am no longer afraid of white potatoes. I no longer replay the list of warnings in the back of my head when I consume chicken nuggets. When you know that certain foods will make you violently ill, it really puts things in perspective. Food that gives you good energy is good enough.
This is not to say that we run around eating with no sense of discipline, because we are very disciplined. We simply eat without dogma. No hippy dogma. No establishment dogma. I mean, food is pretty simple, and I made it complicated for years by trying to follow all the rules. I just couldn't stop.
I'm pretty sure that the most important rules of all things--food, spirit, life in general--are so simple they're easy to bury under ideas about how we're supposed to implement the simple guidelines that keep us steady. This is where I falter over and over again. I make a plan instead of sitting and listening. I stress when I could be letting some beautiful view soothe my nerves. I chide myself for little treats instead of enjoying them alongside the abundance of nourishment in my belly.
The fruits of the spirit have long been my guidance for a check in to see how I'm doing. Am I producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, where am I stepping off the path? Am I living in judgement of myself or others? Am I neglecting to savor nourishment? Am I resisting enjoyment? Am I treating myself and others equally? Is my standard for treatment of myself and others appropriately set? What am I missing the mark on? Most of the time, for me, the miss is that I'm taking an axe to my sense of worthiness. Not worthy because of x, y, or z. X--I used bad creamer in my coffee. Y--I was snippy with that person. Z--I haven't mopped for months.
Do you know that I just now realized that there is nothing anywhere close to "perfection" on the list of fruits of the spirit?
It can be a vicious cycle. Judgement and Perfection are in love with each other. They are in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. The beauty is that we are worthy because we are worthy. You don't need a reason to claim worthiness. The vicious cycle becomes the beautiful cycle when love becomes a practice; when joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become the practice. I forget this all the time. I fall off the wagon and then climb back on again. The way back to producing good fruit is applying the first fruits to my own soul. I love me. I will be joyful today. Peace is the queen of my heart. I deserve my own patience. Kindness comes in many packages, I'll open one from me, to me today. In me is goodness. I'm going to feel it today. I faithfully walk the path that leads to my well-being, which is not even distantly related to perfection. I treat myself with gentility when I step off the path. I exercise self-control to stay on the path long enough so that goodness, and all the other fruit will pour out onto others.
Sometimes, this whole exercise happens over a cup of coffee. They say coffee is bad, and on top of that, I'm using the bad creamer. It's full of carcinogens. . .anxiety builds. . . fear is the opposite of love. I'm going to enjoy this. I'm not going to let anxiety wreck this hour--one I can choose to fill with peace. I'll be patient with my imperfection. Kindness means I won't judge myself. I'm still good even if I'm making an imperfect choice. This cup of coffee does not represent what I consume all day long. I faithfully nourish my body every day. It is okay not to be a perfect consumer, so I'll be gentle with the allowances I make for myself. I'll have the self-control to only have two cups today, just like every other day.
Sounds like a lot, but it's really very quick. It steadies me. The practice, not the coffee. That, I just enjoy. Carcinogens and all.
Anna Turner is the woman behind Little Hearth. She's an ordained interfaith minister, a writer, a believer in purposeful living and healing, a perpetual student, and a full time feminist mother.