(5-minute read) – Exercising body, mind and soul makes for a happy life. This article describes three practices that work best for me. They are: peasant eating for body; mindfulness for mind and meditation for soul.
Peasants were traditionally poor, smallholding subsistence farmers. We can’t all be subsistence farmers but we can all eat like peasants. Eating like a peasant means:
Eating what is available
This equates to flexibility and variety. When certain fruits or vegetables are in season, eat them. When they’re not, eat what is. The guideline is to eat what there is. Let your body go with the flow and find enjoyment in simplicity. Seek less enjoyment of fancy foods and you will grow to enjoy simple tastes.
Western society eats too much. We eat until we’re full or more. Often we waste. There’s a pandemic of obesity. Everyone knows that is not healthy. The body works better when it is used to having hunger satisfied yet not filled to the brim. And the body is not isolated from mind and soul, so your whole being benefits from eating less.
Once a year or so I do a three-day fast – three days with nothing but water. You shouldn’t try to do this while continuing your normal lifestyle. A water-only fast shuts the digestive system down and opens the mind to mystical consciousness. It has profound detoxing benefits on the mind, body and soul.
Being conscious of and grateful for the food’s taste and nutrition
Peasants don’t take food for granted. They are grateful for what they get. Gratitude is a form of enthusiasm. The body that is used to being grateful for less is energetic and non-addicted. It is free and easily satisfied no matter what circumstances occur.
Being informed of the source of the food
‘Peasant’ in this context does not mean uninformed or uneducated. Peasant eating is wise and informed. The commitment to this lifestyle is made out of an awareness of the Earth and its resources. We should eat with a sense of awe and wonder for the miracle of our existence, a sense of humility in the face of our smallness.
The practice of being mindful helps us think clearly. It consists of three steps.
Be aware of your mental and emotional reactions
We are physical beings. Our bodies and minds react chemically to inputs in the manner they have become accustomed to doing. We literally do carry around our baggage of the past.
For example, defensive reactions due to childhood insecurities continue to repeat in life as inputs activate the same biological systems and neural paths associated with self-defence that habitually fired in the past.
The first step in mindfulness is to recognise these habitual reactions.
Pause and move away from these reactions – go to your ‘inner room’.
The second step is to move away from the habitual reactions. This is the mind letting go. It may be helpful to actually picture this letting go. Some see the stuff floating past them in a slow-flowing river. Others picture the thoughts and emotions as a parcel left at the door of God, although there need not be explicit religious imagery.
I personally simply turn inward through consciousness of my breath and a kind of inward gaze.
The idea is to feel the habitual reactions pass by – to feel their grip release – at first maybe only a little bit. With years of mindfulness exercise you will feel the grip released completely. Like with any exercise, it takes time and commitment to see an improvement.
Respond appropriately in full awareness
The third step is to decide on your response, and then respond.
You may not always need to respond. The letting go of habitual reactions may very well also tell you it is not necessary to respond at all.
The inner room may compel you to respond – but now in an appropriate manner. If anger is appropriate it will now be controlled and well directed. Whereas before your outburst may have been like a shotgun spray with collateral damage everywhere, you now fire one accurate strike with the appropriate calibre.
Most often your response need not be personal. It can demand the justice or the attention it requires focussed at the message not the messenger.
This mindfulness practice may also be applied to thinking about problems which you have not been able to solve. It cleans the slate so that new creative perspectives can emerge.
The appropriate response is some combination of The Seven Aspects of Spiritual Intelligence, namely:
Meditation is the most important practice. Without it the first two exercises are very difficult. With regular practice of meditation, peasant eating and mindfulness come naturally.
The meditation I practice is simple and non-prescriptive. It is opening to the spiritual dimension of life.
You need not be religious to meditate – in fact with time many of the religious doctrines you may have held will fall away.
You need not even be spiritual when you start out – you only need to want to explore that dimension of reality. Something spiritual starts to happen to the mind that meditates. I call it opening to God. It is universal love – but you are welcome to call it what you want.
I recommend twenty to twenty-five minutes of meditation twice a day. Eat like a peasant, or don’t eat at all before you meditate.
I have been meditating for about twenty-three years to the guidelines of Centring Prayer. I have adapted these guidelines over the years. Here are my adapted guidelines:
- Choose a short word as a symbol of your intention to open to spiritual reality.
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Introduce the symbolic word into your mind.
- When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the symbolic word.
I wish you a happy life exercising body, mind and soul. You are welcome to get in touch with me if you want any more information on anything I’ve touched on in this article.