The Power of Self Care

I recently wrote a two-part series on health (you can read them here and here). For those that bristle at the word ‘health,’ maybe because it’s a word that seems over-used to the point of meaninglessness and is often used to level judgment on people, perhaps thinking about it in terms of self-care will be a better entry point to the same idea.

In my previous posts I talked about eating well, getting enough water and sleep, finding ways to move that make your body happy, and finding professional and/or friendly support. All of those things are important, not just for our over all health, measured in terms of aches, pains, immune strength and fitness, but also in terms of happiness, peace of mind and personal stability. It’s much easier to be present with our lives and loved ones when we’re well rested and well fed and not hurting.

Self-care is something that I’ve learned only late in life. I’ve always been interested in health and fitness. I swam competitively growing up. I’ve never enjoyed staying up all night long. But the way I thought about health was much more along the lines of ‘don’t get fat;’ it was a form of superiority and virtue, so I thought. Over time I’ve let go of that thinking.

I remember two friends I had in high school and college. These guys were popular, smart, and high achieving. They attended prestigious colleges and when they came home for summer, they worked jobs with lots of responsibility and long hours. They worked hard and played hard. Their motto was “we can sleep when we’re dead.”

At 20 that seemed doable and even ideal. Now, as a mother of small children, in my late 30s, that just seems insane. However, that thinking seems to infect more areas of life than just the habits of ambitious 20-somethings. I remember working out with kids who would push so hard they’d vomit. I know loads of people who are getting through their days on coffee and sugar. It’s not that these things are just unhealthy – as if health is some sort of finite, definitive term that we can measure objectively; I find these ways of approaching life as acts of unkindness and even, in the extreme, acts of self-torture.

Kindness, going easy on ourselves, self-care – these things are generally looked upon as lazy or wussy; at best a sign of indulgence, at worst a sign of weakness. There’s something in American culture that aims to reward the person who works 60+ hours a week, pulls all-nighters, does gruelling daily work outs for a six-pack, or starves themselves thin. Somehow that’s virtuous. But those who happily eat bacon, get 9 hours of sleep a night, goes gently walking for a few miles only a few times a week, or chooses a slow-track career option in order to avoid an expensive commute or gain more time with family is often considered unambitious.

I’d like to extend self-care into our spiritual practices and even into the very private area self-talk. While I think I’ve got a strong handle on all the things I’ve listed above (eating, sleeping, major life choices, etc), I still struggle with bringing self-care into these two very personal areas.

I am ambitious and I want results! So that must mean elaborate pujas, regular spell work, making sure I do all my exercises every day, and so on, right? Well, no. Sometimes it means not doing anything. Sometimes it means just sitting and breathing and checking in with my parts. Maybe the way to honor a particular holiday is to not celebrate it, rather than stress out and go through the motions.

Not Doing is not something I’m good at. Over the years my husband has helped me trust that I can Not Do and my world will not end. I am coming to trust that when he says ‘lean on me, let me carry your load today’ he really means it and I can actually let go. There is freedom in this space. Eventually I get over my cold (or my migraine, what I’m struggling with lately) and go back to my regularly scheduled activities with renewed vigor.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to accept that letting go of Doing is an act of love for myself. This leads me to self-talk. The voices I hear in my head are mostly me trying to guilt me into Doing. ‘The gods will forget about you if you don’t make your weekly puja.’ ‘How are you ever going to grow in your skills if you aren’t practicing them daily?’ ‘You haven’t read tarot/run the Iron Pentacle/made a house offering/etc in weeks, what kind of a witch are you?’ Yeah, those voices are kind of mean. Nipping those voices in their wilted little buds is a necessary form of self-care.

I’ve come to realize that negative self-talk is a form of self-sabotage. More damaging to my skills and relationships than taking a day off or a week off, or doing the easier of the pujas (or whatever) is this self-talk that aims to undermine my very desires. Those voices don’t make me rush to my altar any quicker or practice my vocal exercises any more often; instead, they make me run even farther away from what I love. I want to hide under the bed, out of sight of such a nasty bully.

Self-care is an act of power. It’s not an act of power over – over others or even over myself. It’s an act of power with – I bring myself into right alignment with my loved one and with all of my parts. And what is a witch if not a person unafraid to harness power? I aim to increase the power and efficacy of my witchery and all the areas of life into which I put my efforts!

Getting a handle on all aspects of my Self and my health is powerful stuff. Better physical and mental health is an act of love to myself and to those with whom I have commitments. Learning to accept self-care and the care of others is an act of surrender  and commitment to what is really important: my relationships – with family, friends and my gods, and to the desires I work towards regularly.

Health, part 2

In my last post I talked about five dietary changes to help you be healthy. Now I want to add five non-food related ideas for health. Yep, it’s another non-spiritual post!

Let me reiterate two things. One, I am not a medical professional. Take this post as you will. Two, I am not interested in promoting weight loss. I am interested in overall health. Sure, taking steps to get healthy as a whole person often leads to weight loss for those who have excess weight on their frames. Sometimes it means gaining weight. What’s important is that our bodies find equilibrium.

Let’s get to it!

#6: Get more sleep. I’m sure you hear this everywhere. You might even wish for it when your alarm goes off in the mornings. There are ways to get more sleep – and more restful sleep – without resorting to sleeping medications.

The first tip is…. just go to bed earlier. On night’s I’m feeling particularly tired I go bed as soon as the kids fall asleep. I feel a bit like child myself, crawling into bed at 8.30pm. But getting 10 hours of sleep? That makes me feel great!

Try making your room dark. I mean, DARK. This can be especially helpful if you live in an area with lots of streetlights. Get thick curtains or even a cheap, but thick piece of material to tack up. Put a scarf over your alarm clock. Our whole family sleeps much more soundly when it’s truly dark in our room.

Get off screens before bed. There’s something about the constant input of light that messes with our brain’s natural sleeping signals. All the light tells our brains it’s still daytime and our minds can keep going. I’ve read some people advocate for 5-6 hours before bed, some say 3-4 hours before bed; I generally get off 2-3 hours before bed. This means not just television, but computers and smart phones, too. If you spend all day at work in front of a computer, perhaps just leave screen time behind once you leave the office. Maybe start reading all those books you’ve bought, but never gotten around to reading.

#7: Deal with your feelings. Get to know how you really feel. Perhaps without the distraction of excess screen time, or with a practice of sitting meditation, you might start to realize that you have undealt with grief, anger, insecurity, or other unvoiced feelings. Learn to feel your feelings and find ways to express them. I have experienced first hand the heartbreak and health-issues that can arise from undealt with emotions. Learning to love and free up all of our parts will help reduce stress, but can profoundly affect our health, both mental and physical.

#8: Surround yourself with support. All of us need support and encouragement. Find people who love you and support your efforts to get healthy. Maybe you have some addiction issues – AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and other 12-step groups can be amazing -and free!- therapy. Maybe you need to go see the doctor. Maybe you need therapy. Maybe you just need to reach out to your friends in new ways. Find a forum online or a meet-up group. We are not islands unto ourselves; we are meant to thrive in a community, whether that’s a small one of only 5 people or a larger one of interconnected groups. Whatever it is, do it. Get the support you need.

#9: Move in ways that make you happy. Our bodies were made to move. Even if you have mobility issues, find some form of movement that makes you feel good. If your health is particularly bad, maybe a walk around the block is a triumph. I don’t think we all need to be joggers or join the gym. I am a huge fan of exercise that can be done anywhere: yoga, walking, squats, push ups, etc.

If I may, let me make a few suggestions about yoga. It can be expensive and elitist. Don’t let that stop you. I recommend finding a class that makes you feel good. If you can only afford once a month or every six weeks, do that and tell your teacher that you’ll be coming once a month (or whatever). Then, take what you learn and practice at home. You can get adjustments and corrections and new poses on those days that you go to class, but you’ll be getting the benefits of regular practice at home. Also, you don’t need fancy gear. I wear pajamas to yoga. Seriously. Or gear I’ve found at Goodwill.

Whatever you find, start with something that makes you feel good and is appropriate for your body. Then, work your way up in intensity and endurance over time. Eventually you might branch out to new activities. Forget about perfect abs and just make your body feel good!

#10: Find ways to manage stress. This one is part and parcel of every other tip here. Eating healthier foods reduces stress on the body. Getting more sleep can ease stress. Getting exercise can be a great release. But you may need more. Sitting meditation can be one tool for this, although I have found that sometimes it can raise stress because we have to sit with ourselves and our issues! Maybe you need to take up a hobby. Maybe you really need to find a new job, or make some other serious lifestyle changes. As you get healthier, I believe that you’ll start to see the ways that your life can be more spacious – even with kids and jobs and pets and bills.

So there you have it! Niki’s top 10 ways to bring more health and vibrancy into your life. Please remember to start where you are and make small changes that you can stick with. There is no need to try everything at once!

The spiritual life is ideally one of holistic health. We are both not wholly our bodies and we are completely incarnated in the flesh of this world. I don’t see our various parts as separate, but as interconnected. If I am unhealthy in my body, usually my work and my relationships struggle too. Finding the equilibrium in all my parts is one of my big goals for life in my ‘ashram.’ I wish for all my friends and readers abundant good health!

Health, part 1

Warning: This post has nothing to do with Paganism or Hinduism or magic.

This time of year everyone is writing on Halloween and Samhain (I’ll get there). However, health is a topic that is really important to me. I am an American with lousy health insurance. I have a family of young children and another on the way. These two things make maintaining my health a priority.

Good health is also a political act. Working with an herbalist, choosing not to eat junk food or eschewing television for an earlier bedtime (just for some quick examples) put us in control of our health. These simple acts make us less dependent on the loop of food and health care systems that see our health as a commodity or an obstacle to worker productivity. Food companies will blame the eater – “Consumers don’t have to choose to eat our crap!” But when most affordable foods are laced with fillers and sugars, what is the average person to do? Our health suffers, and if you’re American, you likely struggle to work within your insurance system (if you have it) to get the care you need.

As a magic practitioner health is also a priority. I want my energy levels at their optimum capacity. Diminished health can mean limited reserves for raising energy for spells, or even for devotions. These facets, family, political, and magical all weave together. The personal is political; the magical is political, too.

On the heels of the herbal conference I attended and looking ahead to the long winter months of colds and flu, I want to write about 10 things that you can do for better health.

Before I begin, here are two disclaimers. Number one: I am not a medical or health professional. As in all things, do your own research, use your brain, and talk to health professionals if you have questions or special concerns or circumstances.

Number two: I am talking about health in this post, not weight. Yes, being vastly over or under weight usually signifies other health issues, but weight alone is no indicator of health or unhealth. I do not believe we have an ‘obesity epidemic’ in the modern world, I believe we have a health, food, and medical systems crisis. Losing weight will never make you a better person. However getting healthy can change your life.

All of the following suggestions are things I or members of my family do and with which we have had positive experiences.

#1: Get rid of processed food. All of it. The sugar especially. Now, I admit that our house usually has rice crackers, pirate’s booty, ketchup, and mayonnaise in it. (You can pry my Best Foods mayo from my cold, dead hands.) Almost everything else is a whole food. Getting rid of processed foods can seem really daunting. A great starting point is to go through your kitchen and read ingredient labels. If you can’t picture the ingredient or cannot pronounce it, it’s likely a chemical additive or rancid oil byproduct. Toss that sucker out. We are what we eat: literally. Take pride in your body and what you fuel it with.

Getting rid of foods can seem really wasteful, so if there are unopened packages, consider donating them to your local food shelter. I also recognize that more natural replacements can be costly. Maybe you can do without certain products. Maybe pick the top 5 you can’t live without and keep those. Like mayonnaise.

Get rid of candy and candy masquerading as healthy food. All of those nutrition bars and granola bars? They are packed with sugars. Low-fat yoghurts are especially notorious for their high sugar content. Buy full fat, plain yoghurt and add some jam or fresh fruit – you’ll be getting a lot less sugar.

Don’t think that artificial sweeteners are a good choice. They are not. Giving up soda, both diet and regular, is a crucial part of reducing sugar intake. If you drink soda daily, this can be a challenging, but excellent, first step to improving your health. Some people can go cold turkey, others need to taper off. But please, rid your diet of soda.

#2: Reduce caffeine. This is tied in with reducing sugar for many people. Most sodas have loads of caffeine and sugar, many people drink their coffees and teas with lots of sweetener. Beyond sugar, almost all of the herbalists I’ve heard speak talk of how most people have some degree of adrenal fatigue (the adrenal glands are stimulated in the ‘fight or flight’ responses to immediate stress). Reducing caffeine, whether switching from fully caffeinated to decaf, or from coffee to tea or green tea, is a great step to helping your body heal.

#3: Go gluten-free. I know, I know, it seems like a fad these days. But my family swears by it. Some of the things we’ve seen improved are fewer mood swings, elimination of skin rashes, weight loss, fewer colds, and serious sugar reduction and all the benefits that brings. I find that without wheat and other gluten fillers to take up space on the plate or in foods, we end up getting more actual nutrition in our meals. We snack less and are satiated with simpler things.

#4: Learn to cook. Making dietary changes usually requires some degree of taking control of your own meals. Cooking well does not have to be expensive or elaborate. For those that end up eating out every day for lunch and/or who are pressed for time during the day, try setting aside a few hours on a Sunday to cook up one or two casseroles or one-pot meals, then lunches are taken care of for a week.

#5: Drink more water. Lots and lots of it. We are made of water and need it for just about every bodily function. If you drink a lot of teas and coffees and/or sodas during the day, you are very likely running at a hydration deficit.

Try not to drink bottled water. I learned a really effective tip recently – keep a pitcher full of tap water and let it stand for 6-8 hours. The chlorine will off-gas, leaving you with healthier, tastier water. We have two pitchers that we rotate, so that one is always off-gassing and one is always ready to drink. Also, diets heavy in grains seem to cause more water retention. When I went off grains, I found that I peed like crazy for two weeks straight and then….. I didn’t need quite as much water as I was drinking before.

These are my five basic food suggestions. In my next post I’ll talk about five non-food related tips for bringing more health into your life.

One last thing to remember: don’t feel you have to change everything at once. Set yourself up for success. If eliminating soda from your diet is the first step you choose, you might just want to focus on that for a while. Then move on to adding in something else. Health isn’t about short-term changes. There is no ‘miracle food that will melt belly fat in 5 short days!’ We’re talking long-term rejuvenation.

L’chaim! To life!

Surrender

I suck at surrender. I’m a dominant, organized, go-getter who has a very hard time not doing. A lot of the time this works in my favor, especially as I run a household and raise my kids. I enjoy nurturing others and being pro-active in all of my varied practices. But surrender is an important act of (not)doing, critical to the spiritual life and for healthy relationships.

I’m starting to see that my limited capacity for ecstasy might be linked to my limited ability to surrender. Letting go to an experience that I have no control over is an essential component in experiencing ecstasy, but I have a hard time feeling safe in that position. Much of that is because for my entire life I’ve privileged what I call Big Fat Brain over other forms of knowing. I am very smart, and I’ve clung to that as a shipwrecked person would to a life-raft. Big Fat Brain serves me very well. To it I say, Thank you. But it’s not the entirety of me. I’m trying to make more space for other ways of knowing and experiencing.

Wrapped up with Big Fat Brain is the training I’ve received in Doing, rather than Being. I witnessed adults deriving their worth from doing. My parents, my mother particularly, is never sick. Never. She dotes on others, others do not dote on her. The examples my parents taught me was that getting help was a form of indulgence. None of that is true, which I know in my head, but letting go of those attitudes is hard work. I’m still disentangling those myths from my life.

And there’s no experience like being sick to drive this home to me, again. This week I’ve caught the cold my husband had last week. It’s just a regular ol’ cold, nothing too serious. Except I’m in the late stages of my first trimester of pregnancy. What does that mean? It means that I was already experiencing headaches and mild congested due to swollen membranes brought on by the expanding of my vascular system as the body ramps up blood production for the growing fetus. Add a cold on top of that I’m pretty miserable. Being pregnant also means I can’t take anything for any of the symptoms. I have no choice but to hunker down, rest, and drink ungodly amounts of fluids.

It means that I need extra help. It means that I have to let my husband take care of the cooking, dropping off and picking up the kids at school, and doing all the things that I might normally do. I have to surrender: to the cold, my duties, to accepting help. Better to learn this now, better to improve my surrendering through relatively small colds, than to be felled by chronic injury or illness and forced to learn the hard way.

Family Announcements

When I started this blog just over 2 years ago my youngest child was only 4 months old, we were living in Wales, I was enrolled in a PhD program specializing in systematic and feminist theologies and the Virgin Mary. Now I’m living in Washington State, my eldest child has started kindergarten, my youngest is 2 and half years old and goes to preschool five mornings a week, and I happily moved away from academia. Time flies!

My family is the greatest joy in my life. It is the source of my deepest rewards, challenges, and personal growth. It with much happiness that I let you all know that I am pregnant with my third child! My husband and I have been debating for a year whether or not to expand our family, and well…… I wanted to do it sooner rather than later, as I am no spring chicken (according to biological dictates)! I am mid-way through the first trimester; the baby is due in mid-May, which makes me think I’ll birth around Beltane.

Many women don’t often mention their pregnancies until they have passed into the second trimester, when miscarriages are less likely to occur. I do not have a history of miscarriage. Each of my previous pregnancies stuck, so I have no expectation that this one won’t either. That said, birth, like death, is something we have little control over. There is always a risk that this bub won’t ‘take.’ My belief is that the more women who speak about their miscarriage history, the less likely women will be to feel isolated or alone in the event of one (which happens more frequently than we realize), or worse, to assume that they are flawed and faulty women because they haven’t carried or have trouble carrying a baby to term. So if I have to share sad news, I will do so. But please, send your blessings for healthy, smooth pregnancy!

 

A happy mother’s day

Being a mother is perhaps the single most life altering, spiritually powerful thing I’ve ever done. Women often write about how intense and life-changing are the self-sacrifice, the long hours, the intense demands, and the beauty of the love that children bring. Those things are all real. For parents, male and female and every other stripe, parenting is crash course in intense love and compassion and heartbreak. These are good things.

For me, being a mother is all of those things and it is also the foundation of my spiritual life, the core of ‘my ashram.’  If I had been told this when I was pregnant with my first child, I might have laughed it off as hormone induced sentimentality.

Being pregnant was powerful stuff for me. I tend to be a very thinky person, all up in my head most of the time. I over think things, I reason out and take people and situations at their word, even if my gut is urging me to notice something different. My spiritual practice has long been focused on Results and doing things Right. But being pregnant put me in my body in a profound way. The hormones coursing through me kept me emotionally volatile, particularly with my first pregnancy. I struggled to surrender to that experience. I didn’t like that I couldn’t move as quickly, as nimbly, or as gracefully with my enormous belly. I struggled with the postpartum years – being three or four or five shapes and sizes in the space of 12 months is trying, and not just on the wardrobe.

I came to be present in my body in a way I’d never had to before. It wasn’t about being strong or fit or athletic – the ways I’d related to my body previously. It was about nourishing others and myself. It was about growing and sustaining a life. A life that was ME, my bones, my blood, but also its own singular thing, distinct from me.

Nourishment.

Nourishment.

With my first pregnancy this life within life transformed my theological understandings of the divine. I am the Holy Mother. And so are millions of other women. I’m not sure I can fully articulate the mind-blowing realization of this yet. But theological ideas of interdependence, Process Theology, goddess language, and ideas of a Matrix of Being, made so much more sense. Intuitive and experiential sense that reason and systematic theology could not argue away.

I remember one day in my first pregnancy, walking home from the BART in Oakland (public transportation), looking at the many varied people around me, many of them looking pretty miserable and not particularly healthy. I realized, every single one of those people is some mother’s beloved child. Every single person began as a mewling baby. Even if some of those people were not well-loved by their particular mothers, they were grown and nourished by a body and birthed – with blood and sweat and tears. That was powerful stuff for me. It was the beginning of new chamber of compassion in my heart.

In a practical way motherhood has also forced me to clarify. If I have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time: do I sit on my laptop? do I go meditate? do I write? I have to make choices in a way that I did not before. I am also more aware of my energy levels. I am ‘on’ all day long. At this point in their lives, I still have to monitor my kids’ energy levels and often be the boundary keeper for them. There are many times I want to go make my own magick or go connect to my gods and I just don’t have it in me. Sometimes I skip it all together. Sometimes I get creative. Whereas before I might have been ‘all or nothing’ about pujas or mediation, I now find great value in perhaps just placing an offering on my altar, bowing, and saying Hail and Thank You.

I understand the concepts of macrocosm and microcosm at more personal level too. My children are part of a great macrocosm, but their world as far as they experience it is teeny tiny. I see how my understanding of the world is equally teeny tiny, even though I’ve got a larger grasp on the world than they do right now.

I grasp the concepts and realities of the Ancestors and Descendents in a way I couldn’t before. I am bone and blood and flesh of my mother and her mother before her and so on. My children are my bones and my blood. The Ancestors and my Descendents make me a mother, as much as my own choices, my own body, and those of my partner have.

I can never not be a mother. I may some day have different spiritual beliefs, certainly my views and practices have evolved over the years. But I can never not be a mother. Even if both my children vanish tomorrow (may all the gods forbid), I am forever a mother.

I’m sure plenty of people come to these realizations on their own, not needing to have children. For me, I can’t imagine that I would have come to understand them without becoming a mother.

So, all hail the mothers! All hail the Ancestors and all hail the Descendents! And all hail the Holy Mother, in whom we live, move and have our being.

Amen.

The Body

What a complex site of confusion is the body. As spiritual persons we have a host of understandings about it to unpack. As a female in the Western world there are even more complications and understandings to unpack. I’m not going to get too theoretical about either of these points, but instead, as this blog is designed to do, I will talk about my own experience and understanding of the body.

Many religious traditions proclaim that the body is a negative thing. That it is a hindrance on our path to enlightenment or salvation. It is a hive of warring passions, a host of unclean fluids and matter, an obstacle and nothing more. This is primarily a dualistic understanding of the world. The body and all matter are separate from spirit. If we transcend our bodies, usually through renunciation or asceticism, we will be free from the enslavement of the physical world.

Some traditions embrace this world and all the various physical manifestations, seeing the physical as a site of pleasure and joy. If one sees the divine in all, then my toe and that tree and your cat are all embodiments of the divine. This can lead to a couple of different ideas, one being that anything pleasurable goes, and some ideas involving all things in moderation.

Some spiritual traditions don’t talk much about the body either way. But if you dig deeper almost all traditions come down somewhere into the two camps. And most of them into the first, body-negating one.

As a female in the Western world there are numerous other layers of body issues on top of the bedrock of philosophical and religious tradition. Most of it is dualist in nature. Almost all of it says that the female body is dangerous. Even with the comparatively hedonistic sexual flaunting and use of female bodies for selling things and entertaining in movies and pornography, the female body is an object to used by patriarchal forces for their benefit, never for the female’s benefit or enjoyment. The body is definitely used as a snare, but we are also supposed to have heroic spiritual self-control. It’s all very confusing.

In my chosen traditions the body and spirit are neither dualistic entities at war with each other, nor are they one and the same. I see the body as a gift. Embodiment is full of beauty. Some say that the spirits envy us our physical existence. We get to smell, touch, taste, feel. My body is my vehicle, my tool, but not some mechanistic flesh that does my mind’s bidding – again, a dualistic perspective. Ideally, my body and my souls work in concert for good of all my parts, to further connection among those parts, and with other creatures and spirits.

The extremes of pregnancy and childbirth once again drive home to me the joy and mystery that is embodiment. Watching dandelions and weeds force themselves through cracks in concrete is a testament to the spirit of life that thrums in us. Life is determined to live. While austerities have their place and use (mostly for purification purposes or gaining discipline), in my mind, any tradition that demands you renounce your senses and joy in this body is misguided.

Of course, our bodies and our senses can also mislead us. Too much of a good thing becomes no longer a good thing. Too much wine dulls our pleasures, too much food makes our stomachs hurt, too much sleep can leave us groggy, etc. And our bodies often ‘betray’ us. I am lucky that I have no overriding health issues. I do have whiplash in my neck and a jerky movement can leave me in mild pain for days. That sucks. It is hard, not just because I hurt, but because it keeps me from feeling at ease, hindering my ability to be present, keeping me from picking up my children, from connecting with my partner (I can’t tilt my head up to kiss him, sometimes not even on a pain-free day!). Pain hinders us from connecting; connection is, in my view, the core aim of the spiritual life. I have a greater amount of compassion for my friends and others who experience pain and discomfort, chronically or acutely.

And then we die. Sometimes we die suddenly, sometimes the body gets sick and slowly falls apart.

Christian theology views this as proof of sin. Adam and Eve would have lived for ever, but were cursed with toil, suffering and death. ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ That is no metaphor. Classical Christianity sees that as a physical truth. I think it is nonsense. At best, it is a metaphor. Pain and suffering of any kind are indeed a form of sin. Most of us suffer thanks to systemic sin. The Bible isn’t joking when it says we suffer the sins of our fathers for seven generations. Cycles of abuse, poverty, environmental degradation – all of those things lead to webs sin, and they lead to disconnection and death.

But we live in a world governed by physics, biology, chemistry. There is no life without death. We must eat, and whether that’s a carrot or a cow, something must die for something else to live. One animal’s defecation is a dung beetle’s joy. One rotting apple is another organism’s home or lunch. To think that the earth and humans could exist without death is baffling.

I spent several of my teen years and early adulthood using my body as a site of control. I felt I had so little control over other aspects in my life, but I could control what I ate and how fit I was. That obsession was a form of superiority (countering fears of inadequacy) and self-punishment (because I could not conquer my anxiety). I look back and while I was very healthy, I was also very, very hungry. An apt metaphor, as well as a physical reality.

I will admit that these days I tend to struggle with fasting and austerities. I sometimes look back at my past and wonder why I can’t be as disciplined as I once was. But I see that I love myself so much more now. Not in a self-righteous way, but in a fuller, more complete way. The strength of my discipline as a young adult was not coming from a place of love or health, but one of grief and fear.

I also see that I have given up many things in my life already. I can’t eat gluten and so as an act of love for my body I do not eat wheat in any form; there are many things I miss, homemade bread, French pastries, and fresh pasta among them. I have gestated, birthed, and nursed two children – that is austerity and sacrifice indeed. I am getting older and that combined with recovering from birthing drives home the fact that my body is not in my complete control. I am blessed with a healthy body that responds well and quickly to exercise. I am fit and healthy, but there is a humility in letting go of looking like my 25-year-old me. Even as every image in the Western world tells me that I should look 25 for as long as possible. That my worth is a youthful, slender body.

My body is a site of connection. I am my own world tree, the axis of my universe. I am both my body and not my body. If I gain 100 lbs or lose my legs or get burned in a fire, I will still be me. And not me. But this embodiment is all I know at this point.

I know that if I need to I can withstand and benefit from austerities. But why impose them if I do not need to? The world has sufferings enough as it is. I was hungry for several years for no good reason. Why not wait for a good reason? From this bodily axis in the universe I connect to that very same universe, and to you. I cannot transcend my form. Even if I gain enlightenment tomorrow I am still tethered in this body. And what a joy and a privilege that is.