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,



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,


Women Who Matter To Me

Today is International Women’s Day. (For a terrific list of ways to participate in this day, check out UpWorthy’s article.) As a woman, you would think I’d have heard about this or known about this sooner than yesterday, but I didn’t. My supervisor (a woman) brought it to my attention yesterday when she requested that I and other women on our staff do not skip work today. We didn’t.

For much of my life, I have wrestled with feminism, longing to feel part of an important movement for change, but disliking any efforts that tear others down in order to build one group up. Too many feminist efforts appeared to me to be focused on negativity and hatred towards men or “the establishment”. However, as I shed my tendency toward all or nothing thinking, I begin to see a middle ground in which I can participate in feminism in a way that feels comfortable to me. I can do so by increasing my awareness of empowered and impactful women across the globe. I can do so by advocating (through my blog, through letters to my representatives and senators) for women’s rights to make choices about their bodies. I can do so by celebrating women of all sizes and shapes and confronting those who denigrate people of size.

And, I can do so by honoring and acknowledging the women in my life who have positively impacted my self-esteem. That’s how I want to spend International Women’s Day. Here is a very brief list of the dozens and dozens of very special and wonderful women in my life:

  • My mom, whose deep integrity moves me and whose courage to face her fears inspires me
  • My former counselor, Pat, whose words “be gentle with yourself” still ring in my ears, a decade after she started with me on my recovery journey
  • My current counselor, Donna, whose empathic understanding and validation helped me gain awareness of my feelings, tolerate them, and express them appropriately
  • My spiritual director, Sister Julie, whose humility and Presence reveal to me the love of God every time we’re together
  • My former boss, Myrna, whose actions and words built up my self-esteem and professional identity early in my career
  • My friend, Mary, whose centered and patient presence encourages me to look within myself for answers and for peace
  • My friend, Christine, whose creativity and authenticity inspire me
  • My friend, Cynthia, whose unconditional love for me has been more healing than she knows
  • My friend, Meg, whose ability to laugh at life has saved me from despair many times
  • My friend, Becky, whose profound care for others challenges me to look outside myself for opportunities to serve
  • My friend, Karen, whose willingness to share her anger about injustice has inspired me to find my own voice
  • My friend, Faith, whose openness to the Divine and continued search reminds me of the greater value of asking questions than finding answers

There are so many more women I could name, but this list will do for now. This International Women’s Day, I hope you’ll take some time to think about or thank the women in your life who have had an impact on you.

Peace, joy, and inspiration,


A Different Kind of New Year Resolution

I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent increase in TV, internet, and radio ads promising a “new year, new you”…as long as you shell out big bucks for a patented weight loss program that tells you how much to eat, what to eat, and when…or as long as you buy the latest extreme exercise program designed to force you to mindlessly push through pain and physical distress. As someone who often made (and failed at) resolutions to lose weight or tone up, let me urge you to see these types of resolutions for what they are: one-way tickets to disconnection from your True Self. The True Self — that is, the divine spark in all of us — is not nurtured by losing weight or changing shape. Your True Self is nurtured through connection with self, others, the natural world, and God.

When I began my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder in 2005, I didn’t understand the importance of connection. At that point, I thought I was just changing my behaviors. I was trying to binge less often, exercise less compulsively, and eat more regularly and less restrictively after a binge. I didn’t realize that the steps I took to change those behaviors involved increasing my connections — first to myself, by noticing the difference between emotional/spiritual hunger and physical hunger; then to others, by opening up about my struggles instead of hiding behind a veil of secrecy and shame; then to the natural world, by widening my view from the circumference of a dinner plate to the infinity of the universe; and finally to God, by reengaging in worship, prayer and other spiritual practices.

The more we connect with self, others, nature, and God, the more at peace we are. The more at peace we are, the less worried we become about the values of the world: thinness, lean muscles, or the ability to run a marathon. Sometimes, when we’re at peace, changes in body size or shape or ability do happen. But if they do, they happen at their own pace, not one designated by the diet and exercise industry.

So, as you consider changes to make in 2017, consider making a different kind of resolution: Resolve to be gentle with yourself. Resolve to be vulnerable with others. Resolve to engage with the natural world. Resolve to open yourself up to the goodness of God, Spirit, or a Higher Power. Choose connection.

Peace, joy, and health in 2017,


The Gift of Freedom

Two years ago, my counselor recommended I buy a little book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh called “Gift from the Sea”. She believed its wisdom, though written over 60 years ago, would benefit me on my journey. I ignored her suggestion and forgot about the book.

A year later she again mentioned the book. That time I wrote it down on a notepad…and promptly forgot about the notepad and the suggestion.

A month ago, I cleaned out my purse and the little notepad fell out and opened to the page with the reference to “Gift from the Sea”. I made a mental note to stop at Barnes and Noble to pick it up…and then forgot to do so.

Last week I went out with my best friend, someone with whom I can talk about all things personal, professional, and spiritual. We exchanged Christmas gifts and as I opened the bag she handed me, I saw “Gift from the Sea” nestled in there among the tissue paper. My jaw dropped and I put my hand over my heart. I told her the story and added, “It seems I am meant to read this book!” She was delighted. She had no idea the book had ever been suggested to me.

I started it two nights ago and find myself wanting to savor it instead of devour it. Its wisdom is both comforting and disturbing, a simultaneous confirmation that the spiritual path I’m walking is the “right” one for me and a call to further conversion and deeper commitment to my faith.

Perhaps what was most striking was that the first chapter of Lindbergh’s book speaks of freedom or “indifference” to the outcomes of life, a topic that I’ve studied in grad school and one that came up in my spiritual direction session a week ago. My spiritual director encouraged me to consider my attachment to one outcome over another and how that may be impeding my spiritual growth.

In this first chapter, Lindbergh writes of the myriad gifts of the sea, but the need to wait patiently and with indifference for what may be deposited by the waves at our feet. As she so eloquently puts it:

“[These treasures] must not be sought for or — heaven forbid! — dug for. No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.” (Lindbergh, 1955, p.11)

I read that passage over and over again Sunday night. I reflected on how my desire for certain outcomes in my life (marriage over singleness; a higher paying job over my current job; a house instead of an apartment) may be an indication of “not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith”. This is the essence of the spiritual concept of “indifference”. Remaining “empty, open, choiceless” allows us to go where God leads when God calls. My attachments to certain outcomes make it difficult for me to be truly free to respond to God’s call and belie my lack of faith; as if any outcome I can think of is better than what God has planned.

I’m not sure yet what this means for me personally, professionally, or spiritually, but I am in awe of the God whose perfect timing and orchestration allowed for this little book of wisdom to come into my hands this Christmas. And I’m grateful for the gift of my counselor who suggested the book, my friend who gave me the book, and my spiritual director who guided me to these new questions. Gifts are all around us. May we all be truly free to see them and embrace them.

Peace, joy, and health,


Person of the Year

Time Magazine named Donald Trump its “Person of the Year”. I understand their decision to do so. He has captured our nation’s attention for the entirety of 2016, for better or for worse, and thus has had a big impact.

But Donald Trump is most certainly NOT my “Person of the Year”. As 2016 draws to a rapid close, I reflect on the people who have had the biggest influence on my life. And the first person who comes to mind is my spiritual director, Sister Julia (“Julie”) Grey.

I can easily label 2016 “The Year of Spiritual Growth”. From discerning a call to become a spiritual director, to beginning my own spiritual direction sessions, to maintaining a mindfulness practice, to being stretched and challenged through participation in the parish profile committee at my church, to starting a new practice of daily centering prayer…this year has opened my heart to receiving God’s immense love which has allowed me to give more love to others than I thought I had in me to give.

By living the “little virtues” of gentleness, kindness, humility, and patience, Sister Julie has allowed me to grow and flourish. The light and love of God are evident in her quiet presence and her desire to help me see God’s involvement in my daily life. I’m so grateful for the doors that opened and drew us together as director and directee, and I look forward to continue my spiritual growth in 2017.

On my facebook page yesterday I encouraged my friends to share with each other the person who has had the greatest impact on their personal or professional life this year. I hope you’ll take some time to do so, as well. Share your thoughts with that person, if you can, or with others. Focusing on those positive people in our lives is like throwing water on the wildfire of negative self-talk that otherwise might consume those of us who struggle with disordered eating. Eating disorders thrive on disconnection from others. So take some time to notice and thank those positive people who have made a difference in your life this year. (And share your thoughts with me by commenting below!)

Peace, joy, and health,