Dr Amy Chadwick
Borlotti beans simmer in a mirepoix of celery, onions, garlic and carrots. It is a slow-cooking day; a day to be contemplative about food. Contemplative about how this food came to be, the seeds it initially grew from, where it was grown, how it was harvested and how it came to my kitchen. Contemplation on the process of preparation: cleaning, chopping, soaking, simmering. Contemplating this evening on the way the food nourishes me, filling my stomach with its warm and flavorful presence. Each protein, carbohydrate and fat as well as the myriad of vitamins and minerals present in the individual ingredients, the love, the care, the energy, the sunlight, the water, the soil, the earth, the Guiding Presence are all gathered here in this one meal to nourish and feed my body, soul and spirit in a simple Borlotti Minestrone with Arugula Pesto.
I am blessed with good food and the time today to cook, to be present with my food and with own body and health. Some days are not as relaxed, and I do not have the hours of food preparation to really be conscious. However, I strive in each moment to be contemplative. What does it mean to be contemplative? Does being contemplative play any important role in our health?
I am certain that living contemplatively is at the root of true wellness; a healthy body, mind and spirit. The dictionary defines the word contemplative as 1. concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion, 2. a state of mystical awareness of God’s being or 3. an act of considering with attention. 16th century mystic, St. John of the Cross, wrote: “Human health depends on the continuous awareness of God’s presence.” All of nature and of ourselves is influenced by spirit, making each moment a contemplative possibility. Contemplative practices abound, reminding us to pay attention. This is not purely a spiritual or religious practice. It is a way of life, where we pay attention to each moment, where are are deeply conscious and intentional about our thoughts, our conversations, our actions, our food and our play. This does not mean we are serious or withdrawn. We do not have to live the life of a monk in order to live contemplatively, although in some ways a life withdrawn from the chaos of the world makes the contemplative life less challenging. With practice and attention, we can be engaged in our lives, loving our families, taking pride in our work, laughing and playing with friends. In fact, I believe that with a contemplative life, we can be infinitely present and engaged, fully conscious and able to gather all the blessings abundant in our lives.
With consciousness of our food, we make decisions that nurture our bodies with proper nutrients, satisfying flavors, and enjoyment. We eat an appropriate amount with attention; we do not live hungry nor do we stuff ourselves. We choose whole foods that have a life force still present in them, for in our core, if we listen, we can feel the nourishment present in real food and nonexistent in processed food so prevalent in our society.
Living contemplatively does not come naturally to most of us. I am definitely a work in progress, and my meditation practice is only in its infancy, but I am practicing, learning and striving for this peace and this awareness in my own life. Through regular meditation, through slow eating, through cooking my food, through regular healthy practices like conscious breathing, exercise, time with friends and family and a presence with my work, I slowly grow as a contemplative human being. I fail often. I get caught up in the chaos. I speak unkindly. I eat something with no thought, with no nutrition and with no healing capacity. I get distracted. I become self-centered. I hurt myself and others. But, I am challenging myself to be aware and to practice the tools necessary to assist me in being more and more contemplative.
I truly believe the rewards of a contemplative life are without end. I am challenging my patients to also make a daily effort to practice contemplation, whether it is with five conscious breaths, a commitment to a conscious and aware exercise plan, to cooking one meal a week with full awareness to the foods being used, to the flavors and to the way it makes you feel as you nourish your physical body, or to a practice of meditation and prayer. In contemplation, we are able to experience life with all its richness, power, beauty and grace.