Feeding the Fearless Heart
March is National Nutrition Month. This transition month between the end of Winter to Spring can be an ideal time to pay attention to what your body needs for deep nourishment. Maybe those good intentions at the start of the year have faded out of sight and a healthful routine of eating feels frustrating once again. Maybe the morning protein smoothie feels like a chore and has lost it's appeal. It's easy to feel that if we eat all the "right" foods all the time we'll be out of harm's way. The problem I see when working with clients is that when we don't meet those ideals, there's often a negative feedback loop of psycho emotional distress that creates imbalance in the body. Those stress hormones when turned on all the time from fear and anxiety contribute to everything from an increase in inflammatory gut markers to weight gain. It's important to remember the messages we tell ourselves are just as vital as the food we take in, absorb, assimilate, metabolize and excrete.
What if we pivoted from our mental idea of "this is what I should be eating", which can often come from a place of fear, to feeding the fearless heart. Feeding the fearless heart comes from psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, whose work I deeply admire. Brach references an old Cherokee tale to illuminate the meaning of feeding the heart.
An old grandfather is speaking to his grandson about what causes the violence and cruelty in the world. “In each human heart,” he tells the boy, “there are two wolves battling one another—one is fearful and angry, and the other is understanding and kind.” The young boy then asks, “Which one will win?” His grandfather smiles and says, “Whichever one we choose to feed.”
This is such a wonderful lesson that can be applied to the way we nourish ourselves with good nutrition, and it starts by pausing and recognizing our mental patterns. This is why when someone complains to me they just can't find the time to make well balanced meals and they aren't a good cook, I start with the negative messages they've programmed themselves to believe. Positive shifts in the way they eat and prepare food will follow naturally, once the person realizes she's strangling herself in her limiting beliefs.
The path towards feeding the fearless heart comes from the Buddhist practice of uncovering 3 basic qualities of being human: natural intelligence, natural warmth, and natural openness.
Natural intelligence is the innate wisdom we always have ready in the wings. It's that intuition of knowing what's best for us. For example, most people know intuitively they need to eat more greens, a lot more greens, on a daily basis. Take a moment and tune into your breath. Think about a day in your life of eating. Then notice how it makes you feel in your body. Does it bring warmth and relaxation or does it make you feel tense? Then, without judgement, visualize what way of eating makes you feel at home in your body.
Natural warmth is our ability to have empathy, to feel gratitude, levity, and appreciation. Natural warmth has the capacity to heal relationships, that with ourselves and with everything and everyone around us. There are many ways to mindfully explore your relationship with food, in this case. A couple very good exercises are the Loving Kindness and Body Scan from Duke Integrative Medicine.
Natural openness is the third quality. This refers to what Buddhism calls the spaciousness of our skylike minds. We can connect with this openness at any time. All it takes is a willingness to pause for a few seconds, or longer, and experience a vast, expansive mind. In experiencing our natural openness, we can more easily access our natural intelligence. And with these qualities we can be clear and honest about how we want to nourish ourselves and extend that out to our families, communities, and planet.
If you, or someone you know, needs help with a health condition or is interested in exploring more conscious eating patterns, reach out to Marti through the CONTACT page.