Body and Spirit

On Tuesday I attended my final class in my final course of my Certificate of Advanced Studies in Spiritual Formation and Direction. As I reflect on my three year journey toward this moment, I see a path of integration and unity. I see myself shedding notions of duality that have kept me living in an “either – or” world and I see the development of nondual awareness, an emergence of a “both – and” perspective. At the beginning of my certificate program, I would have told you I was on a journey to spiritual growth. Now I realize this journey was one of total integration of mind, body, and spirit.

Today I want to focus on the body and the spirit, two aspects of self that are intertwined, not separate, despite what Western duality teaches us. For most of my life, I have perceived my body to be at odds with my spirit. After bingeing or overeating, I often thought with shame of Jesus’s words to his disciples about temptation: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). I saw food (especially those foods I had categorized as “bad”) as temptation that would pull me away from higher (more virtuous) pursuits. I developed a strong desire to resist my body’s urges (be they for food, movement, play, or sex). Resisting those urges increased their hold on me. When I gave in to those urges, I felt ashamed and unworthy, which further distanced me from my spirit (i.e., God). It wasn’t until the early stages of my recovery from Binge Eating Disorder that I learned it was okay (even necessary) to attend to the needs of my body and that doing so attuned me to my spirit. The seeds of my “both – and” perspective had been planted.

Now, at the end of my certificate program, I notice the emergence of flower buds where those seeds had been planted. I am better at recognizing my body as fully connected to my spirit. I am more aware of my body’s needs and when I heed them mindfully, I notice how doing so nurture’s my spirit. Fully attending to the color, texture, smell, and taste of a pear as I eat it brings to mind the individuals who planted the seed of that pear tree, tended to its growth, plucked it from the tree, brought it to the market, and put it on display for me to buy. In this small response to my body’s hunger, my spirit is reunited with the spirits of all those people. Body and spirit are indeed together. The body is both the physical manifestation of me AND the housing (or “embodiment”) of my spirit. The body is not at odds with my spirit; it is at one with it.

This awareness has emerged slowly over thirteen years and will continue to grow as I nurture it. If you are interested in learning more about nonduality, here are some places to start:

Tiny Buddha blog

Cynthia Bourgeault (Nonduality and Centering Prayer)

Cynthia Bourgeault: “The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice”

Richard Rohr on The Dualistic Mind

Peace AND joy,



How Mindfulness Is Changing My Relationship With My Body

As National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018 nears its end, let’s talk about mindfulness. The term is everywhere, but there are many misconceptions about it. Mindfulness can, but does not have to include meditation. It is not about de-stressing or relaxing, though those two things can be a result of mindfulness. Mindfulness is not something you learn once and that’s it.

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your full attention and non-judgmental awareness to the present moment. (For more on mindfulness, read here.) In other words, mindfulness requires intentional engagement using the five senses to notice what is happening right now. It is something that we must choose again and again and again (though it becomes more automatic over time). Our “monkey minds” have well-worn neural pathways that either send us back to the past to ruminate on things that have already happened or blast us forward into the future with feeble predictions usually based on fear or past experiences. These pathways are so well-used that most of us do not really know what it is like to be fully present to the here and now. But all of us are capable of mindful awareness.

Mindfulness has been increasingly researched as an effective therapeutic modality for the treatment of mental illness. Depression (in which the mind is stuck on things past) and anxiety (in which the mind is fearful of the future) both respond well to treatments that include mindfulness. Mindfulness is also helpful in the treatment of eating disorders.

My practice of mindfulness began as a simple cognitive exercise early in my recovery. After every binge, my therapist told me to tell myself, “That was the past. There is only the present.” Doing so helped me break free from the self-loathing I engaged in after a binge and focused my attention on how I felt right now. Later, my mindfulness practice was a little more involved. After a binge, I described the physical sensation to myself without judgment. That was so difficult at first! My mind kept saying, “I feel disgustingly full.” Or “I feel fat and horrible”. Over time, though, I learned to describe the sensations without judgment: “The sensation feels like a stretching across my lower torso. The sensation covers an area about three inches tall and twelve inches wide. There is some warmth in that area.”

Describing things as they are gives us the opportunity to detach a bit, to observe things from some emotional distance. It serves the purpose of severing the link between our behaviors and who we are. After all, if I am “out here” observing my sensations, who is “in there” having the sensations? Mindfulness is a powerful reminder that the true self, the soul, our “center” (whatever you call it) is unchanging and that is where our self-worth lies…not in our behaviors or words or choices and not in our past or our future. As such, our self-worth exists before we’re born and cannot be diminished by anything we say or do. This may be difficult to believe if you’ve received messages such as “You’re worthless unless you…”, but it is absolutely True. Self-worth is not conditional.

At this point, years after I’ve broken free from the cycle of bingeing and self-loathing, I use mindfulness as a tool in my daily life. It is an anchor to the present when I find that my monkey mind is running the show. I use all kinds of ways to bring my awareness back to the present, but the easiest for me is to focus on my breath. Without trying to change the quality of my breathing, I simply notice the air coming in and going out. I notice the physical sensations of breathing. has a five-minute breathing meditation you can try, though you really don’t need more than a few seconds of awareness in order to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness has so many applications and is such a healing practice. Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by misconception. Take some time to read about it and notice your response (thoughts, sensations, feelings) while reading about it. That, too, is mindfulness!



Binge Eating Disorder: The Most Prevalent Eating Disorder in America


“Let’s Get Real”, America. Most of us know someone who struggles with body image distortion or disordered eating (restricting calories, dieting, binge-eating, etc.). But, with the prevalence of Binge Eating Disorder estimated at nearly 3% of adults, we are bound to know someone with this disorder. Despite the prevalence, there is still stigma surrounding this disorder, as many people who struggle with B.E.D. are overweight. And, let’s face it: In America, “Fat is bad. Thin is good.”

In 2004, when I first sought counseling for disordered eating, B.E.D. was not an official diagnosis. It was listed in the “disorders that need more research” section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. My symptoms were officially diagnosed as “Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified”, a catch-all category for any disordered eating behaviors that were accompanied by marked distress for the individual but did not fit the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. In the first five years of my treatment, I struggled to “own” the label, “Binge Eating Disorder”. I had doctors, psychology professors, and friends tell me: “You don’t look like you have Binge Eating Disorder.” Their comments were, I guess, aimed at making me feel better. However, I simply felt invalidated.

Fortunately, my therapist at the time, reviewed with me the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder (those listed in the back of the manual, for research purposes). My symptoms were nearly identical: recurrent episodes of binge-eating, or eating more than is typical in a discrete time period (less than 2 hours); a perceived loss of control over eating; eating beyond the point of feeling full, eating when not physically hungry, eating alone due to embarrassment, and self-loathing after an episode.  The binge eating occurs at least once a week for a period of at least 3 months. Read the full list of current criteria here.

Do any of those symptoms sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Treatment for B.E.D. includes individual counseling, group therapy, and/or support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous and may involve increasing awareness of the function that food serves (i.e., to mitigate boredom, to suppress sadness, etc.) and learning how to more effectively manage the feelings underlying the over-eating. Tomorrow, I will write about how mindfulness, especially mindful eating, has been a major part of my recovery from B.E.D. and how it continues to positively impact my relationship with my body, years after my symptoms of B.E.D. have remitted.

So, let’s keep talking about B.E.D. Let’s gently correct people when they use self-denigrating, fat-shaming language. Let’s do whatever we can to destigmatize this disorder, so all feel safe to seek help.



Silence or Service?

It has been about three months since I last posted on my blog. During that time, I’ve been engaging in daily prayer, yoga, and mindfulness meditation, all of which encourage me to notice, to observe, to see things as they are, without judgment. In cultivating this practice, there is an emphasis on listening — listening to the heart, the body, the ego, God, and others. I’m grateful for the growth I observe in my ability to listen. However, in my focus on “listening” (or “contemplation”), I believe I fell into my old pattern of all-or-nothing thinking and let “speaking” (or “action”) fall by the wayside.

In one of the daily blogs I follow, Father Richard Rohr, OFM writes about the need for balance between contemplation and action. Both are necessary and have their place in this hurting world. If I only consider, notice, ponder, observe and listen, I miss out on the opportunity to directly serve the needs of my neighbors (and myself). (I am reminded of the conversation going around social media regarding the fruitlessness of “thoughts and prayers” in the face of gun violence). If, on the other hand, I blindly push forward into acts of service without stopping to hear the stories of my neighbors in need, I run the risk of serving others simply to meet my own egoic need to feel good about myself.

On this Day of Service during which we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is important for all of us to engage in thoughtful action or active contemplation. As I consider how that has played out for me today, I recognize that my contemplative practices this morning gave me patience when working with others and inspiration to write an article for my church newsletter. They stirred me to write this blog and will keep me further engaged as I write a letter to my 17-year-old pen-pal who lives in Liberia. I will write to her about the reason I pause to remember MLK, Jr., about the difficulty my country continues to have in terms of respecting the dignity of all humans, and about my own belief that all humans are beautiful and good at their core.

In the weeks ahead, I will consider ways in which I can be more active in my advocacy for those who struggle with eating disorders. And I will check in with myself about whether I’m spending too much time on one side or the other of the contemplation–action pendulum. May you, too, find balance between these opposites and may you use both for the greater good of this hurting world.

Peace, joy, and health,



The Importance of Being Present to Pain


Often, for weeks or months at a time, I have very little negative self-talk about my body. Then, sometimes with a distinct trigger and sometimes without warning, the negativity begins…a single, seemingly rational, thought (“You ate too much today”) followed by a fear-based attempt to control something (“You should skip dessert tonight” or “You shouldn’t have any cappuccinos this week”). I often catch myself before I get swept away in the undertow, but not always.

Today, as I frantically headed outside for a walk (not with the intention of enjoying the scenery but of burning off calories I ate while out to lunch with a friend), I suddenly realized that not only was negative self-talk present with me, it was running ten paces ahead, begging me to stop being a loser and catch up. So, I did. I caught up to those thoughts and realized what was happening.

In the past ten days, I have mourned with the nation over the senseless deaths of 58 country music fans. I have learned that my beloved spiritual director is leaving the area to pursue a new ministry. I have said goodbye to my pastor of 10+ years at her retirement service. I have listened to my clients’ stories of pain and loss. And I have been unable to stop or control any of it. Although I’ve cried often and engaged in meaningful self-care, it wasn’t until my walk this afternoon that I realized my mind is trying to control something (someone) when everything feels like it’s slipping away.

And when I realized that was what was happening, I was disappointed and sad. I slowed my pace and started sulking. I remembered my spiritual director’s oft-asked question, “Have you taken this concern to prayer?” and my usual answer, “No. God knows my suffering already.” But this time, I decided to try it. I started talking out loud to God. “Why do I keep falling back into this pattern? Why can’t I be free from this negativity forever? Why can’t I just love myself 100%, all the time? Why do you let me suffer? Why do you let any of us suffer?! WHY DO SO MANY OF US SUFFER?!” I kept walking. I didn’t hear God’s voice responding. The clouds didn’t part. Nothing magical happened. So I kept walking, silent now and more calm.

As I rounded the turn of the last road that would take me back to my apartment, I took a wider path than I usually take, one that took me closer to the road than the houses. I paused to take a photo of some pansies on the corner and then looked up and saw a magnificent tree with sunlight streaming from behind it. And in the middle of the tree was a heart-shaped hole…a scar of sorts. (The photo is kind of dark. Can you see it?) I smiled. I stood in awe. I tried to think of something profound and meaningful to sum up that moment, but the only thing I can say for sure is that it was a moment of True Presence — my presence with pain and God’s presence with me. I took a photo and started walking home.

I still don’t know the answers to my questions, but I know the value of being present to pain instead of running from it. I pray for the courage to continue to be so and for the awareness of God’s presence in my and others’ pain.

Peace, joy, and health,


Looking With New Eyes


It’s been two months since I posted on my blog. In that time, I left my job of 6 years to pursue two part-time jobs in my field. While I don’t regret the decision to leave, it brought new challenges, one of which was an unanticipated month-long grieving process during which I focused on all I had lost: the closeness with my colleagues, a steady routine, predictable income and benefits, my summers off, feelings of competence and pride in my work, and the general approval of others. I didn’t realize how much these losses would affect me. And, for a while, loss was the only thing I could see.

During my grieving, I noticed an increase in emotional eating. I was eating when I was bored, sad, lonely, anxious, or frustrated. I noticed an increase in calorie counting, body-part checking, and obsession with the number on the scale. I increased my exercise and slipped back into thinking certain foods are “bad”. All the while, I noticed my desire to isolate and not talk to anyone about it. However, I did talk to God. I wrote in a prayer journal, prayed out loud, cried about my struggles, and practiced Centering Prayer. I read books by wisdom teachers that reminded me of God’s presence with me…especially in my struggles. Somehow, I was able to trust that this was a temporary relapse into familiar coping skills and not a permanent abyss.


Having journeyed through that shadowy valley to where I can now feel the sun again, I find myself looking back at it with wonder, noticing the tools I used, the self-care I maintained, the people I stayed connected with, and the belief I maintained that “no matter what happens, I am beloved”. I marvel at those blessings, having not seen them when I was in the midst of that valley. Then today I picked up my book — published almost 10 years ago — and started reading. 50 pages into it, I started to cry. What an incredible, blessing-filled journey my recovery has been!

Reading my own story certainly brought back for me the pain and suffering I experienced, but I also saw all the grace-filled moments, moments when God was present with me through my dad’s willingness to share with me his experiences with binge-eating disorder; through my mom’s research about B.E.D. in 2005 and encouragement through buying me my first self-help book; through my therapist’s gentle persistence in helping me cultivate self-compassion; and through my recovery community’s support during relapses. At the time, I overlooked God’s presence in those people. Today, I couldn’t help but see it.

This experience has me thinking about the power of changing our focus. In mindfulness practice, we learn not to stop looking at our pain (in other words, not to avoid it), but to view it with new eyes, eyes of curiosity, not judgment. When I picked up my book today, I was curious about my own story. In viewing my story with new eyes, I saw it differently. I wonder how I can look at other aspects of my daily life with the new eyes of curiosity instead of resignation or judgment. Perhaps my losses would be seen as “a natural part of the ebb and flow of life” and other moments of struggle would be seen as just that: a moment of difficulty, not another line added to a narrative made up and stoked by my egoic self.

Perhaps there’s an aspect of your life that needs to viewed differently. Consider the power of being mindfully aware instead of judgmental, critical, or resigned. If you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness, the body scan meditation on UCLA’s website may be a good place to start your practice: click here.

Peace, joy, and health,



A month ago I wrote about my tendency to take on the role of SuperWoman to myself and others. At the time, I recognized the troubling aspects of this voice and vowed to speak kindly to the go-getter in me, thanking her for her efforts and releasing her from her role. The next day I read my blog post to my partner. His candid response was, “That’s great, Meg. Do you think it will stick?” I paused. “This time, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson,” I said. “I’m done with trying to prove myself and be efficient and impress others.” Ahem. Yep. Not so much.

I am who I am. I am driven, compelled, obsessed (?!). I tackle everything on my to do list like it has to be done now and it has to be better than the last time. I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a child, every moment spent playing would be more interesting or memorable than the last. I would make it so! As a teen, every journal entry would be more inspired. I know I can do it! As a college student, every boyfriend would be closer to my perfect match. If I just try harder, he has to be out there! As an adult, every difficult moment in life will be my greatest lesson. I WILL grow wiser…even if I die trying!

Cue my new superhero: Self-Compassion. This is something I have read about, practiced (loosely) in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, and preached to my clients. Yet, it wasn’t until I was tackling another thing on my to do list last week that it dawned on me just how essential self-compassion is…for me and for all of us.

As I sat down to watch a recorded workshop by self-compassion “guru” Kristen Neff, PhD, I thought, “Let me just watch this on fast-forward and then take the online exam and get these CEUs out of the way.” But she opened with a guided meditation for self-compassion and I thought, “Well, this might be nice. I’ll just listen for a while and then skip ahead.” I ended up listening to the whole thing. And I felt better. It was as if all the rough, jagged edges of my inner struggle were softening. I began seeing my compulsive drive to succeed as it is, without judging it as good or bad. I felt as if I was breathing more easily (or for the first time). I cried. As the tears spilled down my cheeks, I gave myself a gentle hug and rocked from side to side. It was one of several suggested physical gestures of kindness that Dr. Neff says is part of compassion. And it felt so good. I realized how much I wanted to be held and rocked…how much the inner child in me misses being taken care of by others instead of having to do everything myself. And I felt relieved. I felt okay, as I am. That moment of self-compassion opened my heart to the power of self-love.

In her workshop, Dr. Neff shares oodles of research on the positive impact of self-compassion, not just on ourselves, but on others. She shared a personal story about how showing herself compassion while her autistic son was having a meltdown on an airplane actually calmed him down, too. This makes so much sense to me. And it makes me want all of us to be kinder to ourselves. We need it. Our world needs it!

So here are the three components of self-compassion for those who want to begin practicing it: 1) mindfulness of suffering; 2) recognition of our common humanity; and 3) kindness to self. Mindfulness of suffering goes against our inclination. We want to avoid it, right? I used to avoid my emotional pain by over-eating , restricting, or over-exercising. Now I over-work. It’s still avoidance of pain. So, being mindful of my suffering involves taking a breath, turning toward it, and saying, “This is a moment of suffering.” or “This is really hard for me.” or “This hurts.” Then, I can remind myself that others have probably hurt like this, too. (We want to claim ownership of this pain and believe that no one else in the history of humanity has ever suffered this way. But really…!) Lastly, I can show myself some kindness — something as simple as sitting still and breathing or resting my hands over my heart or giving myself a gentle hug.

Since watching Dr. Neff’s DVD, my eyes have been opened to how often I am self-critical and how much in need I am of self-compassion. If you’d like something more concrete than what I shared, I encourage you to listen to any or all of Dr. Neff’s self-compassion meditations on her website (Click here).

I hope that you grow in self-awareness and self-compassion. It’s certainly the next step on my journey.

Peace, joy, and health,