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Spirituality

Does What We Eat Affect Our Spiritual Growth?

Margaret Tash | Sep 9, 2014

PART 4 IN SERIES Spiritual Nutrition

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Margaret Tash | Sep 9, 2014

PART 4 IN SERIES Spiritual Nutrition

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Between material things and spiritual things there is a connection. The more healthful his body the greater will be the power of the spirit of man. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 231.

Let’s consider some spiritual components of our diets. Do you think our physical actions – what we do and what we eat – affect our spiritual growth? Is that possible? Abdu’l-Baha certainly seems to indicate, in the quote above, that our bodies and our spirits have a profound connection. Multiple medical research studies have come to the same conclusion—that the body/mind connection can have enormous influence over our well-being, in every aspect.

The Baha’i writings encourage virtues such as moderation, frugality, and simplicity in our physical lives—but you don’t have to live in sack cloth or work on a farm to embody those virtues. Abdu’l-Baha states:

Economy is the foundation of human prosperity…. It is more kingly to be satisfied with a crust of stale bread than to enjoy a sumptuous dinner of many courses, the money for which comes out of the pockets of others. The mind of a contented person is always peaceful and his heart at rest. How happily such a man helps himself to his frugal meals! How joyfully he takes his walks, how peacefully he sleeps! – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 102.

Baha’is try to cultivate many positive character attributes and virtues, including gratitude and mindfulness. How do we practice gratitude and mindfulness with food? We can express thankfulness for our sustenance, and we can become more aware of the food choices we make, whether shopping, preparing our meals, eating at home or in a restaurant.

Children eatingFirst, we can take a few moments to feel grateful, to think of the connections needed to have this food come to us. This doesn’t need to become a ritual—the Baha’i teachings discourage dogma and rituals–but instead, we want to recognize all that it takes to supply us with food, recognizing the bounty of having enough to eat in a world where many do not. Abdu’l-Baha often prayed at the beginning of a meal. When we stop for a moment in gratitude, we remember God’s bounty, and honor what we’ve received.

Mindfulness, that virtue so closely related to the connection between our intellects and our spirits, can also help us when it comes to choosing our food. When we educate ourselves about the carbon impact of the food we eat; about the health consequences of our food choices; and about the sustainability of our selections, we each contribute what we can to the world’s ability to feed its peoples.

Finally, how do we put these principles into action? Baha’u’llah has given us guidance, to strive beyond merely reading or thinking about ways to change. He writes:

It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written in reality and action. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 165.

You may ask: What can I do? What can one person do? Does it really make a difference? Yes, it does make a difference! First, we need to put spiritual principles into action. This is a process. We don’t have to be perfect. We simply need to make a start. Any small change we make does matter—both in the outside world, and inside our hearts and souls.

Try to think of these changes as a positive process towards a goal, not as a goal in themselves, or worse, as some kind of deprivation. After all, when we pray and meditate, we know we are “depriving” ourselves of time to relax and play. Yet we know that this giving up of a material thing will result in greater benefit, and then we do it for that reason. And so it goes with gradually changing our food habits. Building healthier bodies means building healthier communities, a healthier environment and a healthier planet. Even more, when we make the effort it results in unity with other altruistic souls willing to change their actions for the betterment of the world, and not to remain complacent and self-satisfied.

To make a start, we can pray and study the Baha’i teachings about this topic, consult with our friends and family, reflect on the part we play, and then take some action which moves us. No one ‘right’ way exists–simply make a start to change your habits, and your soul and your conscience will guide you to continue the journey.

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Comments

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  • Grace J. Keene
    Feb 6, 2020
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    This article moved me deeply. Your passion for this subject is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
  • Charles Boyle
    Mar 15, 2018
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    Thank you for developing and posting this work. Ruhi Book 16 beckons - "Healthy Communities"...
    • Margaret Tash
      Mar 16, 2018
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      Dear Charles, Thank you for writing! I am sure the Ruhi courses will incorporate many of these relevant topics in the future. I'll look for Book 16 when it comes out! :)
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Feb 16, 2018
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    I am always very grateful for the food we have in our home and totally shun waste. I must admit I am also a multi-tasker even alone at home at times I will eat my breakfast then feed animals and come back to mine and be concentrating on the chores needing to be accomplished this day. Lunch and dinner is often the same. I do feel however when preparing my meals that I am far luckier than millions who have no food at all...I have never been one to want to eat out or rave over a feast as to ...me food is a gift and nourishment for the body to survive. I'm told I am boring, but that is how I see food. It is not a god to me it is sustenance.
    Read more...
    • Margaret Tash
      Feb 16, 2018
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      Dear Rosslyn and Steve, Thanks for sharing your insights! My personal thought is that we are on a continuum in our relationship to food. Your comments remind me of what 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote: "Looking after one's health is done with two intentions. Man may take good care of his body for the purpose of satisfying his personal wishes. Or, he may look after his health with the good intention of serving humanity.... The latter is most commendable." - in Star of the West, Vol. VIII, No. 18, p. 230. Thanks again for writing!
  • Sep 11, 2014
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    I would say THE GREATEST obstacle for me regarding creating mindfulness during meal time alone, is because I have this habit of trying to "multi-task" . I have this idea it is a more efficient use of my time to eat and surf the internet, etc. While being with others and eating, I can honestly say I almost never step outside of the enjoyment of the personalities and consider we are a for a moment part of God's plan, and to be thankful for the people who are chatting away with me in good spirits. this is just my ...reaction to what I have read here. the preparation of food is an expression of worship, or it can be. The only time I really feel I am dedicating what I have , is my breakfast preparations. I love the preparations for breakfast, sort of, sometimes, ;-).
    Read more...
    • Sarah S.
      May 15, 2016
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      I completely agree!. I do the same thing--multitasking while I eat and what dawned on me as I read your post and considered myself is that I don't even think or appreciate the food I'm eating. Often, I don't even remember eating it. To put that into context of people all over the world without any food, or very limited food, it becomes humbling and a reason for being more conscious/aware of how/what I eat.
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