The Holistic Diet

Are you really what you eat? Well maybe, if you really think about food as what you take in and process through your body and mind. I was introduced to this way of thinking about food by my teacher of Agni Yoga, Russell Schofield. He suggested that food can be thought of as having three dimensions or orders.

He referred to what we ordinarily think of as food as “third order food.” These are the physical substances we put into our mouth, chew, swallow and digest (which includes assimilating what is of value and eliminating the waste). Attention to this kind of food is absolutely necessary for health as is supporting the processes of digestion. Eating food that contains little or no toxins, food that is organically grown, has balanced nutrients, etc. is strong on the radar of anyone who wants to be healthy, as it should be. We can include also all that is in the air we breathe and water we drink. As well, the things we touch.

“Second order food” is the psychic energy we take in. In more ordinary terms it’s the conversations we have, contacts we have with other people and also the things we listen to watch or read through various forms of media. All relationships involve the exchange of mental and emotional energy, thoughts and feelings that we process more or less consciously just as we do physical foods. In all aspects of our life we are metabolizing the energies of our experiences including what comes to us from the outside and what arises from within us as we react to events.

Processing life experience consciously, as one might do in therapy or on ones own, we absorb what is helpful for us and we shed or eliminate what is not needed. We often describe this as letting go of old fixed ideas, attachments and prejudices while we learn lessons, grow as persons and mature.

It’s at least as important to be mindful of the second order foods we are taking in as the third order (physical foods). We need to recognize the power of the thoughts and feelings to which we give our attention. Many folks are recognizing that they can overdose on certain news programs, finding themselves depressed or chronically irritated. While paying attention to the news can help us to be aware of what is happening in the world around us, we can overload on the negativity that is packaged through the sensationalist and polarizing media outlets. We may be unable to digest it all.

The practice of discernment is vital here. Paying attention to your energetic responses to what you ingest may be better than any formula about what to eat, what to watch, or who to spend time with. Your body will feel the heaviness of overindulgence in some food just as the weight in your heart may be telling you to take time for some healing or regenerative practice. Of course, holistic models tell us that the mind and body are not separate, that physical foods effect mood, just as our emotional state effects our body. We are really paying attention to a spectrum of energy with which we interact that may harm or benefit us; a good reason to say grace before a meal.

What my teacher, Russell, called “prime order food” is the light of spirit, life energy or chi. Practices that attune us to this energy are like drinking from a pure well within that cleanses and heals. Or we can say that we are eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, the essence of our true nature. Perhaps this was the “manna” described in the Biblical story that kept the desert wanderers alive as it does us in our life journey. The prime order food nourishes our mind and body and supports and enhances fully metabolizing the second and third order foods.

One could say that a healthy diet involves paying careful attention to all three orders of food: eating and drinking organic and balanced foods; spending time with people of goodwill and reading or watching things that are clarifying or uplifting; and having a regular practice of meditation, prayer or other form of spiritual practice. The holistic diet model of 3 orders of food is helpful in that it allows me to recognize the full spectrum of my daily nutrient needs and take the steps toward a balanced and healthy life.

(This article will appear in the Fall 2019 edition of Four Winds Journal).

Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It

There is a common feeling of uneasiness that many people share– that they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. This feeling is amplified in the current context in which we have a heightened awareness of what is going on in the world and the realization that what is going on in the world is a crisis for the future of humanity and much of life on this planet. It’s only natural that we ask, “what is my role in all this?”

But this feeling derives from a deeper and older questioning than that which is stirred be current events. Do I have a purpose in this world? Why am I here? What am I doing and what should I be doing? Do I have a “mission”?

It’s easy to adopt answers that derive from reductionist psychological thinking on the one hand or metaphysical belief systems on the other. But my experience is that these will not make the nagging feeling go away. The true felt/sense of purpose, though fleeting and subtle in its early stages, grows as one dives deeply into the nature of oneself, (One’s Self).

Traditional cultures always had initiatory rituals and ceremonies to mark the shift from the dependent child phase of life to taking responsible and purposeful action in the world as an adult. The Native American Vision Quest is a clear example of how ritualized solitude in nature along with fasting helped open a seeker to a voice beyond their ego for guidance. The ceremonial use of “hallucinogenic” or sacred plants and psychedelic compounds is an ancient and also presently growing movement helping people find a clearer sense of themselves and a healthy direction. Some forms of meditation and some of the modern, deeper experiential therapies, also offer possible approaches to clarifying meaning and purpose in life.

Still, it is one thing to have a vision or idea of what to do, and another to choose it and do it. When we return from transcendent moments of clear vision, we face the challenge of resistance within ourselves and others, and the tendency to not accept and act on our “mission.” Your mind will use every trick in the book to make the expression of your vision seem either impossible or too trivial. Yet, wise elders tell us that it is essential to live it out lest we feel lost and confused. I’ve come to believe that the failure to act on our best sense of right action is one of the most potent contributors to depression.

This is why integration work is so vital to any ritual or process that takes one to the deep places beyond our conditioned mind to our deepest truth. Just as it takes intention, courage and guidance to seek a vision, it takes intention, courage and guidance to bring that vision into manifest expression.

I can say this of what I’ve learned from my various and ongoing quests for vision and the challenges of walking it: 1) Discovering purpose begins with recognizing and accepting what I face in the present; 2) I am not alone in what I am here to do; 3) It is not for me alone; 4) It feels really good when I am doing it.

May you find your way to open beyond the noise and chatter to your true vision, voice, and action towards the unfolding of our species’ awakening.

Postscript: Some years back I was “told” (and told others) that I would help organize a concert to celebrate the movements for life-affirming, progressive causes in Rockland County. The right combination of allies and time came together to help fulfill this vision. See below and join us if you can. https://petecentennialrockland.eventbrite.com

New Year Greeting from Ginny and Alan

Ginny and I send greetings to you and everyone who has had contact with us and our work through Sacred River Healing.

We know that the turning of the page on the calendar to 2019 may be filled with hope or foreboding or a mixture of both. Life in these times is not always easy. We established Sacred River Healing in 2004 to serve as a healing and transforming vehicle. Our aim has always been to help people navigate the challenges of life and grow more deeply into their true nature, their authentic self, their soul’s calling. As the conflicts in the world have grown more heated (literally for Mother Earth) we find the pressures on individuals and families have increased and the need for our work even more apparent.

Ginny continues to bring her intuitive healing skills, (based on over 45 years of bodywork practice) to people who experience benefits beyond relief of pain in their body.  Alan continues to see clients as a psychotherapist, integrating practices of meditation and guided somatic (body) awareness to heal the traumas of the past and open to a vision of a creative and meaningful life.

This year also brought Rachel Astarte to Sacred River Healing, working as a psychotherapist intern with Alan. Rachel shares the vision and orientation of our work and has many years of working with people as a transformational life coach and clinical hypnotherapist.

We send our warmest blessings to you for a good New Year and ask that you keep us in mind when you or someone you know can benefit from working with us.

Peace and blessings,

Ginny & Alan

 

On Conversation

Interestingly, the roots of the word “conversation” are “to live with.” Thinking of it that way can give us a new sense of what a real conversation would be like: to be really alive with someone. It would mean we are fully awake, listening deeply to what someone is saying and giving full attention to that person when we are talking and expressing ourselves. It helps us to recognize that we are conversing not just with words, but with our full body and energy, full attention.

Healthy therapy, whether as psycho-therapy, or body-therapy, involves such conversation. Attention is focused with intention and sincerity. But truly, all of our waking life can be seen as conversation, exchanging, giving and receiving with whoever and whatever we encounter. Whether it’s a person, an animal, a tree, or a river, we are alive with life; we are in conversation with all of life.

One understanding of the difference between prayer and meditation is that prayer is talking to the Divine, meditation is listening to Her (or Him, or however one thinks of that which is beyond the personal self). In any case, a true conversation would involve both. We express our question or intention and then listen and open for a response. We are alive with the Presence.

It’s unfortunate that so much of human communication involves only partial attention and a distracted mind. It’s no wonder that people feel unrecognized and disrespected in so many encounters. It’s also no wonder that people find so little solace in their world when they don’t open to hear the voices of nature and the still small voice within. Thankfully, the wisdom teachings of spiritual traditions, especially those of the indigenous peoples of the world, have gained a voice in the collective conversation humans are now having. They are slowing us down to have real conversations, learning  to really speak and hear each other and therefore to live with each other,. Only then can we avert our destructive collision course and build a just a peaceful world.

 

Why Meditate With the World in Mind

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“If you think you are too small to make a difference,

try sleeping with a mosquito.”

                         – His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

It’s a good question especially given that we usually attribute to meditation a clearing of the mind. The simple answer though is that the world is already in your mind. Your heart is full of the love and pain you feel for what is happening out there, your thoughts cycle through the various news stories you’ve heard or seen in the media. Even if you’ve shielded yourself from watching “the news,” it creeps in. Whether it’s boys trapped in a cave or the latest outrage from the boy-men in power.  You are part of this world and there is really no escaping that; you’re in the world and the world’s in you.

About six months ago I started offering free monthly guided meditations with the theme, “Meditation With the World in Mind.”  We have been able to meet in the beautiful environment of The Open Spirit in Nyack. My sense was (and is) that we need to come together to align our consciousness with the deepest life force of love and compassion. We need to counter in ourselves and the world the destructive influences that often dominate the trajectory of human activity. 

It is possible to see these meditations as healing moments for yourself, to release the negative reactions to “the news” that may cause you to feel hopeless, depressed or stuck in anger and cynicism. On the other hand, you may see these meditations as a form of activism. After all, your mind-state is a part of the collective mind of humanity. Actively changing your mood, your attitude, your emotional-mental condition has an effect on the field of human energy that we all live in. 

Further, practices have been developed in all the world’s wisdom and spiritual traditions that offer ways of aligning our personal healing and awakening to that of others. Native Americans use the phrase, “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” meaning “all are related,” or “all my relations.” It is invoked in ceremonies and prayer rituals and calls attention to the experience that what is intended is not for the individual or small group alone, but for all life. Similarly, meditation practices can be learned to bring awareness to this reality of inter-connectedness and that the benefit of the meditation is for all beings.


Please feel free to join us. There is no charge, but donations of any amount are welcome. 

 Meditations are generally scheduled for the 3rd Monday of the month, 7 – 8:30 PM. But please confirm.

 

 

The Path of the Activist – A Holistic Perspective

Activists embody the archetype of the Warrior. Not the warrior as soldier in an army (though that is one way the Warrior archetype expresses itself), but as one who engages the world with an intention to change or transform it. In his book, The Six Pathways of Destiny,[1]Ralph Metzner relates the Warrior to the Guardian, the Reformer, and the Activist. He goes on to describe this life-path as “those who function to protect and defend the integrity and well-being of any natural system – an individual organism, a group, a community, a society, an ecosystem – against threats from without (by infection, invasion, or oppression) as well as threats from within (by corruption, toxicity or stagnation).”

 

From a holistic perspective, when you are strongly drawn towards a way of being in the world – whether as an artist, scientist, healer, organizer or activist – it is understood that this tendency comes from your Soul. You are motivated from within to focus the direction of your attention and actions. Being an activist in the world taps you into the Warrior stream of spiritual power that gives you the strength and courage to carry on in the face of resistance and opposition. This stream of energy guides and nourishes you and moves you to act for a higher purpose.

 

We learn through meditation and other spiritual practices that the wellspring of our being, the Source of life within, gives you direction yet is not attached to the outcome of your actions. As the highly respected spiritual teacher, Ramana Maharshi said, “Work performed with attachment is a shackle.”[2] In other words, attachment to the outcome of our efforts creates suffering for ourselves and often for others. The implication of this teaching is that you can be an agent of change in the world and still not be emotionally dependent on how things turn out. As you attune to and express your deepest inner nature you are freed to enjoy the process, and I would add from my experience, you are more effective.

 

This can be a very challenging notion for activists who in their passion to change the world become fixated on the success of their program. (I include myself among those who find it difficult). However, this basic idea accords with the widespread meme attributed to Gandhi, “Be the peace you wish to see in the world.” Cultivating awareness of the Self fosters the ability to witness with detachment yet act with compassion and love. This becomes a priority for the holistic activist whether you are protecting or healing an individual or working to transform the world.

 

Another facet of holistic activism is learning to focus your actions in harmony with your personal life. Our email inbox tends to be filled with messages urging us to donate money, make calls, sign petitions, and come to meetings, vigils and demonstrations. Learning to find our own way, one that is in balance with the health of our unique mind/body is very challenging. Of the infinite issues that call out, what truly calls you?

 

In an article that I wrote for the online Four Winds Journal, “Doing and Being While Facing the World Today,”[3]I offer suggestions for getting in touch with your own direction as an activist (whether or not it is your primary life-path). First off, it’s helpful to avoid pre-conceived ideas of what being an activist should look like for you.

 

It may be that at some point in life you need to focus on your emotional or physical health. When you take time for this you may confront self-defeating internalized messages telling you that spending time on your own well-being is selfish. It’s helpful to know that you deserve your attention. For one thing, you are part of the body politic – the very part upon which you have the most influence.

 

On the other hand, you may feel called to participate in direct action related to climate change, racism, war or some other cause. If so, you’ll need to gather up your courage to act on your sense of what is right. There can be a great deal of resistance to taking action. It’s helpful to draw upon the energetic support of allies in the related movements as well as the Spirits of all those who have struggled for a just and peaceful world throughout the centuries.

 

To sum up, holistic activism places a primary focus on the consciousness with which you act – learning to BE that which you seek to bring into the world. Additionally, it emphasizes finding your unique way of confronting the problems and suffering in the world, a way that is in harmony with your mind, body and spirit. Finally, the holistic activist acts with intentionality and courage without attachment to outcome. Not easy. It helps to keep a sense of humor. The key is that you have choice.

 

[1] The Six Pathways of Destiny, by Ralph Metzner, Regent Press, Berkeley, 2012

[2] The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Shambhala Publications, Boulder, 1972

[3] Four Winds Journal of the Orenda Healing Institute: http://www.orenda-arts.org/current-journal-issue/ or I will gladly email you a copy.

 

What is Holistic Activism – Part 2

(This is the second part of a short series offering my thoughts on holistic activism. I welcome responses and your own contributions to this subject.)

Processing the News with Body, Mind and Spirit

                                                                               ~Alan Levin

Every now and then it hits me like this: “the news is making me sick.” Using the term “sick” in this way, people generally mean disgusted. But I want here to emphasize the literal nature of “makes me sick” with reference to how following the events of the world can cause mental, emotional and physical illness. Additionally, I’d like to offer some suggestions from a holistic perspective for maintaining health and well-being in the face of the horrors streaming at us through the media.

A basic understanding of the holistic orientation is that the body, mind and spirit are a unity, not separate from each other; they are ongoingly inter-dependently relating. Whatever is happening in our mind effects our body; whatever happens in our body effects our mind. Further, both mind and body are nourished and regenerated by the spiritual sources of life within us. Body-Mind-Spirit, All One. We can be unaware of or ignore this inter-connectedness, but our life experience will move us in the direction of waking up to it.

Take a moment when you are hearing any thought, perhaps what you are reading right now.  If you resonate with the thought(s), you will feel a positive emotion and perhaps a tingling or exciting energy in your body. On the other hand, if the thoughts challenge your previously held views or opinions, you may feel angry or defensive or afraid, and your body will contract, get tense, even if just a little. We all tend to do this.

When we read the newspaper or listen to the news on the radio, tv or social media, the same thing happens. Usually the ideas and events are presented so rapidly that we don’t even notice our internal reactions. If we do recognize that we are getting angry or afraid, we probably don’t notice the physical correlates to those feelings; the tension, stress or pain in the body. Unaddressed, as the weight of these experiences continues to accumulate, we may find ourselves depressed, in chronic anger or anxiety, dis-ease. Many folks today are suffering in this way from hearing the news.

This is not to say that anger or fear are in themselves unhealthy or unwarranted. They are natural reactions to threats to our personal safety or the safety and well-being of those we care about. When what we love is threatened, whether it is our family, other humans or other species, a mountain, river, forest or ocean, we are going to find ourselves reacting. This is natural and universal. What’s important is how we relate to our reaction and what we do with it.

From all the research on mindfulness meditation, we’ve learned that being fully aware and non-judgmental towards our feelings, begins to lighten their intensity and loosen the tightness with which we hold them in our body. It involves not pushing those feelings away, but also not feeding them. What’s important is that we are fully aware that there are these feelings and they are in us, not out there.

Returning to the experience of listening to the news: we therefore recognize that what is happening out there is triggering a reaction inside here, and we respect our feelings for what they are, whatever they are. In a sense, we become the observer and don’t personalize the reaction; our feelings are a part of what is happening in the whole of the experience. Just as there is rage and fear, conflict and competition out there in the world, something like that is happening inside us as well. We are moved to humbly accept our part in the pain and suffering in the world.

From a holistic perspective, the spiritual aspect of our nature is the source of love and empathy, whether for ourselves, our family, humanity, other species or Mother Earth. It is this love, however lost from our conscious awareness in the moment, that is truly at the root of our reaction to injustice, war or the damage to the natural world. It’s why we care. Our frustrated, impatient, justifiably righteous, egoic self may distort the flow, but at the source is generosity and love. Just remembering this can shift the way we feel because we are reminding ourselves amd getting back in touch with the healing force of that love. The focus of our attention is then on healing, healing ourselves and whoever or whatever we were disturbed by. We shift towards the motivation to respond to the situation creatively and skillfully.

Just as the holistic healer takes time to work on themselves, the holistic activist needs to take time to work on their own consciousness. As Ghandi said, “be the peace you want to see in the world.”

A few suggestions for relating to the news:

Process: Recognize that your body and mind are deeply impacted by events in the world and you need to take time to digest, metabolize and assimilate what you are letting in as information.

Step away: Humbly admit that the world will not be any the worse if you don’t listen or watch the news for a day, or a week. Take a news fast now and then. We need time to process the undigested material, refresh and renew our consciousness.

Act: In addition to what you are learning about yourself, your reaction may be your soul calling you to actively respond. Learn to communicate and act in ways that are in harmony with your nature, both the loving essence of your soul, and the gifts and talents of your personality. This will be the topic of the next piece in this series.

What is Holistic Activism?

It has become increasingly clear to most people that individual health is not separate from the health of the community, nation and world. Just as we take responsibility for our personal health and the welfare of our family, we feel a calling to be responsible citizens. We are part of the body politic and we feel emotional reactions to what is going on in the world. 

Transforming our emotional reactions into mature, responsible action is something that more and more people are finding themselves called to learn and practice. I have joined with others in creating the Network of Holistic Activists in order to bring the insights and practices of holistic healing towards our social and political problems. You can see our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/366558880455897/

The following post will be the first in a short series sharing my thoughts on Holistic Activism and inviting you to consider how it may relate to your own life journey.

# 1. What is “Holistic?”

I first encountered the word “holistic” in the 1970’s. It was the term being used to describe many of the alternative healing modalities, ancient and modern, which were springing up and spreading into what are now mainstream phenomena: acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, therapeutic bodywork, etc.. Holistic was used in conjunction with the phrase “body, mind, spirit,” and it was understood that integrating all three components was essential for true healing.

At the core of the holistic orientation is the understanding that there is a wholeness (holos means whole) that has self-healing, self-regenerating qualities. These attributes of the whole are not available to us when we focus only on a part, usually the diseased part, which has been the focus of Western allopathic medicine. New understandings of systems theory and ecology helped us recognize how this was operative on both small and large scale organisms, e.g.: the whole mind/body/spirit of a person has the healing potential that repairs any of the parts when brought into balance. Similarly, the Gaia theory suggests that the whole of planet earth, as a complete living system, is always working to bring itself into balance, restoring life, demonstrating a kind of “intelligence” of its own.

When practiced, a holistic healing approach involves cultivating awareness of the whole and it’s healing attributes while also focusing on the particular manifestation(s) of disease or dysfunction. This kind of awareness has a deeply spiritual dimension, calling forth the energies of what is sometimes called the soul, spirit, essential Self, or whatever one calls the aspect of being that is transcendent to the personal sense of self.

Further, the holistic mindstate involves an attitude that approaches problem areas without judgmentalism, aversion or expectation. Holistic healers, therefore, work on themselves to be in an appropriate mindstate or state of consciuosness. They work to clear their perception and also to make their own mind/body a more open vehicle for healing to take place. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi, are utilized both for the healers own well being and also to help them in their work.

While there are many different tools, techniques and processes that a practitioner may use, holistic healing can be said to involve at least these five elements: 1) attention to the inter-relatedness of the body with the mind and Spirit, 2) an orientation to the self-healing whole, 3) openness to the spiritual dimensions and sources of healing, 4) a nonjudgemental attitude, and 5) non-attachment to the outcome of the process. As previously stated, it is part of the healer’s task to develop not only the skills for their practice, but also to cultivate the awareness, attitude or state of consciousness required. 

In the next segment, I’ll discuss how this relates to activism in the social and political sphere.

Walk With Me – Thich Nhat Hanh Film

Walk With Me

Film about Thich Nhat Hanh

Bowtie Cinema in New City, NY

November 6th, Monday at 7:30 PM

Few teachers have awakened and inspired so many people across the world to the experience of meditative awareness, mindfulness and living a compassionate life. We are delighted to bring this film to Rockland County. Thich Nhat Hanh has meant so much to so many of us who are interested in meditation, mindfulness and living a life of service. Please register now and support this film screening.

See the Facebook event page to register now. The way this works is that only if enough people sign up in advance, will the screening take place. Please help us by registering early. 

Here’s a little bit about the film from the film website: http://walkwithmefilm.com/ where you can also see the trailer.

“Slow down and breathe. This contemplative journey follows in the steps of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is a rare insight into life within a monastic community. ….With unprecedented access, WALK WITH ME goes deep inside a Zen Buddhist community who have given up all their possessions and signed up to a life of chastity for one common purpose – to transform their suffering, and practice the art of mindfulness with the world-famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.”

Again, this screening will only take place if enough people sign up in advance. Please go to the Facebook event page to register for this one time showing of Walk With Me.

Open Invitation to Holistic Healers and Spiritual Guides

An Open Invitation to Holistic Healers and Spiritual Guides
Sunday, October 8th
2-5 PM
Location: Stony Point Center

(Great meal available at 6 if you’d like to stay for dinner – $15)

For those who have been immersed in holistic, integral or spiritual approaches to personal healing, growth and transformation, the political sphere of activity has often seemed a very dark and hopeless arena of collective human dysfunction. There is, for many in these fields, (yoga and meditation teachers, holistic bodyworkers and psychotherapists, teachers of Tai Chi, Qi Gong, shamanic practitioners, spiritual coaches and guides, and others) a distaste for “politics.” Folks in these fields tend to see that their work with individuals or small groups, with people who choose to make changes in their lives, actually brings about results. Further, it is sometimes said, that the best way to change the world is one person at a time opening to the wholeness of who they are as compassionate, loving beings. Our connection with all beings means that the changes in one will ripple out and effect others. Personally, I am a great believer in this principle.

 

Yet, the events of the past several decades, and especailly this past year, have brought home the awareness that: yes, any individual changing is connected to everyone, but we are all connected in a burning house. What’s more, the fire in the house has grown exponentially as the forces of domination and control have consolidated their hold over the political apparatus. This apparatus makes the policies that allow, even promote, greed to be the primary motivator for economic and, in fact, all social activity. Their policy-making is responsible for the collective failure to address rampant poverty, war, and the impending, catastrophic effects of climate change. These policies come out of politics, and they are ignored at all our peril.

 

So, how does one bring the sensitivity, awareness and skills of the work being done in holistic healing and personal growth to the issues that confront us as a community, nation and world? What does that look like? How can people with such an orientation join together and also join with those activists working on and through the political system? It is these questions that I’d like to see us come together to address. I’d like to join with others to build a bridge that connects the consciousness and sensitivities of healing practitioners with political activists. Would you like to be part of that?

 

I am open to any suggestions, ideas and forms of collaboration. I’m not looking to lead or start a new movement, but join with folks locally along lines that others have pioneered in other places. How about we start with a gathering? I’m suggesting this date and hope it works for enough folks to get the ball rolling. If you are interested at all, please respond to this message, even if you cannot come at that time.

Peace and blessings,

Alan Levin

alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org