For years I floated from diet to diet trying to discover the perfect meal plan that would support a healthy body and feed my soul. There's so much stuff out there about the treatment of animals and how awful eating meat is for your body, so I would guilt myself into eating vegetarian. Then more information started to flood in about the merits of a vegan diet and how we should cut animal products out completely. Then all those intense documentaries were released about the terrors of the food industry, how we're a nation addicted to sugar, how there's cancer-causing chemicals and additives in all the foods we eat, and that everything we consume is genetically modified.
Then it started to happen. People began to identify with their diets just as much as they identified with their gender, culture, and career. There's been more than one occasion when I would really upset someone because I didn't practice their eating habits. I even had an active member of Inspire tell me she could no longer get her "Spiritual food" from me because my beliefs around eating didn't align with hers. Her diet became her life and she had to stand for what she knew was right.
I was surprised when I was asked to prepare a chicken dinner for all the guests at a spiritual retreat. My teacher is a Tibetan Buddhist venerable and the 27th chief in a sacred lineage of a Cherokee tribe. She is the most awakened person I have ever met, pure joy walking the earth; I thought for sure that she would be vegetarian. I heard stories of how she wept when someone squashed a mosquito in front of her and now she's asking for a chicken dinner?
I asked her to share her perspective on food and diet. "Is it true that a vegetarian diet is more spiritual than one that includes meat?" She shared that she has practiced eating solely nuts and fruits in her life and now that she's getting older her body does better with nutrients it receives from certain meats. She teaches that everything on the earth is alive and that she's heard the cry of vegetables that have been harvested improperly, cut at the wrong angles and tossed about mindlessly. It's not just animals who suffer from poor treatment, we're all alive.
She also suggested that we become just as mindful about what came out of our mouths as we are of what's going in them. She invited me to develop a deep awareness of Love in every step of meal preparation. From purchasing the goods at the store (doing research to know where your food is coming from), to being present and kind to the person who is at the register, to preparing the meal in a state of gratitude for all the ingredients we're using and for those you'll break bread with. She reminded me of the importance of blessing the food to give thanks for all the souls that helped get the meal onto my plate, from the farmers who grew the ingredients, to the plants and animals who offered themselves for our nourishment, to the people who stocked and sold the goods. Infuse Love into every step of the process and this is how we can feed both our body and soul at the same time. In essence, be in holy relationship with your food preparation.
I think she might be onto something.
There's so many factors that go into choosing a diet that works for you. I encourage everyone to release the temptation to let our diet plan become another way we separate ourselves from each other. Our bodies and feelings are pretty good at guiding us towards the foods that will support our health, vitality, and well being. Go towards the stuff that makes you feel good ... real good, not the stuff that gives you a temporary high and inevitably results in a food coma. Eat to celebrate your health not to avoid your feelings.
I have no opinion on what's good or what's bad in terms of dieting. I do feel called to follow the guidance of my teacher and do my best to remain in a state of Loving mindfulness in every area of my life ... including my meals. It feels like a good ingredient in happy living.
Jesse Brune-Horan is a Spiritual teacher and happy living expert. He's the co-founder & Spiritual director of Inspire Spiritual Community, a non-profit organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community. He's the host of the podcast "LGBTQ+ and Spiritual", and co-host of the lifestyle series "Super Easy with Jesse and Alison." He lives and Loves in Los Angeles with his husband Christopher and their family.