How to Start the Day Right

On ChurchYear. Net’s new subsite, ChurchYear.Net Basic, I have added a prayer for the day. Every morning, I try to start the day off in the right mindset, and prayer always helps with this. Individuals from other traditions, or those who are not believers, can meditate or just do some relaxation techniques to get a similar mental effect. Most Christians tend to prayer the Our Father Prayer, while Catholics use that, and the Hail Mary Prayer. Of course, Catholics are also allowed to make up prayers as well.

It is interesting that science has recognized the benefit of prayer to calm people, and even though it is disputed, some studies even suggest that prayer for another person across great distances benefits people. If true, this shows that there is some sort of nonlocal reality out there, that many of us consider to be part of what we now call the spiritual realm.

Have I Ever Enjoyed a Meal??

Over the last few months I have tried to analyze my relationship with food. Why is it so troubled? Ever since I was around 11 or 12, I can remember being driven by food. Food. Food. And More Food. In 5th grade I took a great field trip all over the area, visiting steamboats and historical sites. I even got to drive a steamboat for a minute. However, I barely remember caring about any of that. All I cared about was where we were eating on the trip. My brother and I went over the itinerary in our minds before, during, and after the trip, and all that continued to come up was the food. I can still remember where we ate: Western Sizzlin Steak House, and the John Henry Restaurant (both long-closed).  This was the same year the cafeteria cooks knew me on a first name basis, because I was such a great customer. In 8th grade the process continued. We took a school trip to Florida, and all that seemed to matter was that I had 30 (yes, 30) packets of sprees for the trip. I certainly wasn’t “packing light” for that trip!

You would think that all this obsession with food, which I admit continues to this day, would mean I actually appreciate food. Those who overeat know this isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the time when I eat, I go into an altered state, a kind of food trance. I do not savor anything. Rather, I scarf down food as quickly as possible, with as little enjoyment as possible, and I can literally feel my body tensing up as I eat. When I finish, the tension gets relieved somewhat, and I feel bloated and my mind becomes foggy. This is not enjoying food. So, what  is the answer? Well, I think one possible answer is mindfulness.

I have been reading about mindfulness lately, after I picked up Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are. Mindfulness is simply being present and aware, non-judgmentally, in the moment. It is, basically, living in the present to the fullest extent. This got me thinking about the whole idea of mindfulness and eating. Why do I go into a narrow-focused trance state every time I eat? Why do I scarf down meals but don’t really enjoy them? Why can’t I appreciate the whole experience of food?

I decided to buy a book called Mindful Eating. I highly recommend it. I am working my way through it and the result has been pretty much revolutionary. It has made me realize I probably haven’t really enjoyed a meal in a long, long, time. According to the author, Jan Bays, mindful eating is basically being aware of the experience we have while eating. It is being attuned to our own hunger and experience of food. Mindful eating has us asking questions such “why am I hungry” and “how am I hungry.” It has us paying attention to the tastes, textures, flavors, colors, smells, and experience of a meal. In essence, mindful eating has taught me to slow down and actually enjoy a meal, and to live in the experience of eating a great piece of food or glass of liquid. Yes, we can even savor water! According to Bays, mindfulness is the best seasoning!

I have been using the techniques and I am very excited about it. Lately I have been saddened that I just don’t enjoy coffee like I used to. I grab a cup in the morning, at work, and in the evening. I gulp it down while I surf the net, talk to my wife, or drive. Even though we use good Arabica bean coffees (such as Starbucks Pike’s Place and Thanksgiving Blend), all the coffees were tasting the same to me. Recently, I decided to be aware of the experience of drinking coffee. Just aware. No thinking, no judging, and no rushing. I was amazed. I hadn’t enjoyed coffee like this in a long time! I have said how much I love coffee a lot over the last 3 years, but honestly, I haven’t really meant it, until now that is.

Last night I decided to eat dinner the same way. Bays mentions that it is okay to play with your food, so instead of eating at the table or in front of the TV, we decided to “have a picnic” in front of the fireplace. We put a blanket down and faced each other. The cat sat in between us, while the flames kept us warm. My wife made spare ribs with a tomato sauce, over whole wheat noodles. We enjoyed our meal slowly, and became aware of the experience. We talked some, but left plenty of time for just being aware. The flavors and experience came alive! Each bite was a little different, and the blend of spices and texture made it a great experience. While doing this, I became attuned to my stomach, and realized that I was full fairly quickly; I even left some food for later. As I looked up out the window during the meal, I noticed a strong orange and blue hue shining in, as the sun was setting outside our house. I realized that THIS is the way a meal was meant to be. The alternative, staring at a TV screen while inhaling the meal, now strikes me as a virtual waste of time.

I am planning on eating at Chipotle on Friday, and I literally cannot fathom how I will eat the whole thing (even though I usually scarf it down). The thought of eating that quickly makes me a little sad actually, looking back at how many meals I mindlessly ran through. Instead, I will mindfully enjoy it, and whatever is left, I (or someone else) will eat later.

I also think this will help my battle with weight gain. One principle of Mindful Eating is to recognize different types of hunger, and satisfy them. Some types of hunger can be satisfied with things other than food. For example, eye hunger (desiring a food because it looks appetizing) can be satisfied by looking at something beautiful. Who would have thought that if a piece of nicely decorated cheesecake on a dessert tray at a restaurant is calling your name, a simple glance at the sunset outside might satisfy your hunger? As someone who has struggled with food for years, I am starting to think that this mindfulness thing might be the answer. And I can tell you that living mindfully in other areas of life has transformed me as well.

More on “The Little Things”

Jonathan recently posted about the “little things” in his life, and I thought I would copy his idea. During the winter months, the little things matter more to me, because I am not a huge fan of the winter. My winters are generally not too bad, but I often struggle with them, because I like being outdoors.

About 5 years ago, I was going through a lot of stress, and that was probably my worst winter ever. One day I walked out of the house and the cloudy sky just made me feel trapped, a sort of claustrophobia caused by the dreary winter. I vowed to never have a winter like that again! So for me, it always helps to focus on the little things during winter. Note that these are little things that I am focusing on; I am not necessarily elaborating upon the big things like family, belief in God, etc, things that are foundational to my life.

Coffee – Like my brother, I enjoy the winter trips to Duncan Donuts for hot, creamy, coffee, but I don’t have one in my area, so usually I usually go to Tim Horton’s, which I like just as well. Most Fridays at work, we make a “Tim Horton’s run” where ones of us “buys” and the other “flies.” Jennifer and I also have gourmet Starbucks coffee that we got for Christmas that we brew at home, so I get a lot of good coffee. In the summer, I get more excited about iced coffee.

Work – I like my work. I live about a 1 minute drive from work, and work from about 7:30 until 3:00. This gives me time in the late afternoon to schedule appointments, take care of business, spend more time with family and friends, and go to the Y before dinner time. I am friends with my co-workers, and I have a good group of students.

Prayer – I enjoy my daily prayer. I often pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the daily, liturgical, prayer of the Catholic Church. I try to pray morning prayer and night prayer with my wife. It helps orient and structure my day.

Sauna and Hot Tub – Lately I have taken a more relaxing view about the Y. I do my full workout every other day if I can, but afterward I usually sit in the hot tub and then spend a little time in the sauna (steam or regular, depending on my mood). Recently, I have been going to the Y some on my “off days” just to walk a little and relax, because the weather prevents us from walking around our neighborhood like we do in the spring, summer, and fall. Afterward I hit the hot tub and sauna, and it is just what the doctor ordered this time of year!

Facebook – I am not on Facebook all that much, but I do enjoy keeping up with old friends and new ones. Outside of Facebook, I just have no way of meaningfully knowing that much about what my friends, old and new, are up to. Facebook provides that connection.

Working Out – I am finally seeing the kind of gains I have wanted for years. By this, I mean things like defined abs, low body fat percentage, etc. I am not always motivated to go the the Y, but once I am there, and run about a mile, I am ready to give myself a great workout.

Fitday – I have gone from Fitday being a necessary chore to an enjoyable habit. I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and I like having a record of my diet and exercise handy so I can track changes in mood, weight, etc, and see how my diet and exercise contribute to this.

Random Stuff: Autumn and Stress

Today is the first day of autumn. Here the weather is already pretty chilly at night, although the days are still pretty hot. We haven’t had to use our air conditioner for a few weeks, which is pretty nice, saving us some nice money. I love the fall. There is football season, mild but chilly weather, colorful leaves, Halloween & Halloween parties, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Advent, Thanksgiving, pumpkin flavored everything (especially pie), and a certain smell of dried leaves and foliage that mixes well with the cool fall air to create something you have to experience. There are probably many more things I am forgetting. I also kind of like being able to wear sweaters, and usually by October this is possible. However, I will miss a lot of what I liked about the summer. I won’t be able to run outside as much as the weather gets colder, and things like golf become less feasible, but there is always next summer.

A study done by the supplier of the supplement maker Relora shows that Americans are more stressed out today than they were a year ago. According to the study, the major stressors (in order of effect on Americans) are financial issues, work-related stress, lack of time, health concerns, family problems, and relationship issues. And our ways of coping aren’t exactly healthy: eating comfort foods and watching TV were the top methods of relieving this stress! This study was mentioned in the print version of the recent Natural Products Insider.

Image taken by me last fall

Going All Pumpkin Like

This past weekend, the stores seemed to be getting ready for autumn, so naturally we obliged and bought a few pumpkin flavored products that we usually buy this time of year: Edy’s Pumpkin Ice Cream, Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and canned pumpkin (to make Jennifer’s super lite, sugar free, Pumpkin muffins). It has been cold enough in the mornings that it really does feel like Fall! Nothing beats enjoying a cool breeze while drinking Pumpkin Spice coffee.

Our Compost Pile Is Up

Dad bought us some wooden stakes and some chicken fencing at a hardware store yesterday, so we could finally take the pile of grass clippings in our yard and turn it into a real compost pile. Our city doesn’t accept grass clippings in the weekly garbage pick-up, but we can take them to the city compost pile for free. Rather than deal with wet grass clippings in our car, we decided to just start our own pile, and in turn have some fertilizer for our plants next year. It’s nothing too exciting, but it is one of the first things I have built for our home. Mind you, it is very, very, simple, and not too pretty to look at, but as I told Jennifer, “relax, we’re building a pen for waste…how nice does it have to look?” I happen to have a few “Do-It-Yourself” type books on my wishlist at Amazon, so I can maybe try my hand at fixing/making a few things in the future. I’ll be honest, being a homeowner has already been changing me…I never understood until now why my dad actually gets a real thrill from looking at, buying, and using tools! Anybody else feel this way?

So why compost? Well, besides providing fertilizer for next year’s plants, composting helps keep waste management costs down because compostable materials don’t end up in landfills, filled in garbage bags made of plastic. If enough people composted there would be fewer garbage trucks on the road, saving oil and gasoline.

Doctors for the Healthy?

Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31 RSV)

Jesus used this saying in a symbolic sense, to justify his associations with sinners. In other words, people who needed him most were those who were spiritually sick, not the righteous. However, his words reveal a a literal truth about medicine in the past and certainly in the contemporary Western world: doctors are for the sick. As I listened to this verse in the Gospel readings at mass recently, it got me thinking: why aren’t doctors trained in a way to advise the healthy in staying that way? I think this illustrates what is wrong with our entire healthcare system. We have elaborate structures and policies designed to treat diseases, but preventing illness is a lonely endeavor with little or no structure or support. My insurance program has all sorts of rules and programs to treat illnesses, but very little to promote actual wellness. I have a great doctor who is open to wellness, but I know of people whose doctors have literally walked out of the room when they mentioned alternative treatments that were actually working! It seems to me that as long as doctors, insurance companies, and most health institutions ignore wellness, our healthcare system will continue to spiral out of control.