I passed another milestone yesterday, and thank God, I stepped back over the line in the opposite direction today. It was not a milestone to which I have aspired, so receding is a good thing. It has to do with my weight. It’s been going in the wrong direction slowly and steadily. I knew there would be some “bounce back” as they say, but I’m long overdue for a bit of stasis.
In the halcyon days of rapid weight loss I did not hesitate to post joyous announcements of the diminishing numbers. I have not been so forthcoming regarding their rise. Understandably, this is nothing to celebrate, but it’s nothing to hide either. It’s actually useful for me to confront this unpleasant truth. (Some of my skinny clothes have been telling me this for months.) This was never billed as a quick fix program, but an ongoing process of discovery, hope, self-examination, triumph, and bewilderment—just to name a few aspects of my journey of physical (and spiritual) development.
When this whole thing started I forged an intentional link between body and soul. The overlap of the 18-month Kaiser Medical Weight Management Program and ALEPH’s 18-month Kol Zimra Jewish meditative chant leaders training supported that. In this perpetual weight maintenance phase I’m in now, I need a more enduring anchor than an 18-month program (adding quickly—there are lessons from both programs that have firmly entered my life and are supported by ongoing alumni activities as well). Fortunately, I am now immersed in yet another ALEPH workshop, Hashpa’ah, a three-year course in spiritual direction. Its message is deeply aligned with my intentions relative to my body as well as my soul.
Hashpa’ah asks a fundamental question, “How can I have consciousness of the Divine Spirit in every moment, in every action, in every word?” That’s a big question. I don’t expect to fully achieve this in this lifetime, but by striving toward ever-growing God consciousness I can also come closer to making every bite a sacred, conscious, life-sustaining act. It has been interesting to note, even in the early days of Hashpa’ah study, how frequently the readings touch on issues that relate to my quest for physical as well as spiritual fitness.
We speak of the four worlds of doing, feeling, thinking, and being—the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual components of life. We read essays, such as Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s piece on the relationship between the 12 Steps and spirituality, in which, as I face my addictive behaviors, I am reminded how powerless we are, that surrender to a higher power is the only salvation, that liberation comes from understanding that we are whole even in our brokenness, and that prayer and meditation will “improve our conscious contact with God.”
In another essay, Rabbi Jacob Staub writes, “By acknowledging every bite of food we eat…we seek to avoid a functional atheism in which we forget where everything comes from….” Howard Avruhm Addison instructs us that we must remove blockages to the Divine flow by purifying our character traits, so-called negative and positive middot, including Ta-avah—Craving/Lust. Alan Morinis offers that, “…it is not the traits themselves [that are positive or negative] but rather their level...which could be too high or too low.”
In the end, just as it was in the beginning, the task is to be mindful, not only of what I eat, why I eat, when I eat, how much I eat, but now also, where God is in all of this. Most people I know have trouble connecting to a notion of God even in the synagogue, much less to address the presence of God in everyday matters.
I struggle with this myself, but find increasing comfort in using the G-word to describe the Great Mystery, the Ineffable Pervasive Energy/Life Force, and recognize that I can summon its Presence pretty much whenever I remember to do so. The reason it’s called a spiritual “practice” is that, as in getting to Carnegie Hall, that’s what it takes—practice. One of the “positive” middot is Patience. With God’s help, and a little help from my friends, perhaps I will cultivate more patience, fewer cravings, and ultimately feel more comfortable living and breathing in my skin as well as in my skinny clothes.