Eating with Purpose
Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, but still not find contentment—do not all go to the one place? All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:6-7
As modern consumers, our lifestyles commonly include eating on-the-run and ’round-the-clock eating . We have adapted to overindulging, catering to our cravings, and ignoring long-term consequences of our stressful culture.
Images on a screen have replaced real people at the dinner table. We prefer dining with technology. Our favorite eating companions emanate from electronics.
Wearing fine clothes,
Bearing sharp swords,
Glutting with food and drink,
Hoarding wealth and possessions –
These are the ways of theft,
And distant from the Way. [Tao Te Ching 53].
Nibbling Life Away
We sit at work or at home nibbling all day, lacking restraint and pursuing fleeting pastimes. Our pattern of continuous eating, facilitated by modern conveniences, and combined with meaningless entertainment, offers little nutritional value to our spiritual condition. We eat to live a life of frivolity and transient pleasures.
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.” [John Piper, A Hunger for God, p. 23].
Reflect on this behavior: mounds of food continually entering our stomach then becoming mounds of food exiting as feces. Incessant consumption and defecation — time spent eating mirroring time spent on a bathroom seat. Are we living to eat, or eating to live?
Is our toiling merely for the toilet? What kind of thought process accepts such behavior? Where is self-control, discipline, purpose? This is not the best way to eat and to live.
One day, Abu Sa`id with a group of disciples passed some workers cleaning the public lavatories, taking out bags overflowing with feces. This work seemed very ugly to them. They hurried to pass quickly, complaining about the sight and the stench. Abu Sa`id took the opportunity to teach them a lesson:
“Those bags of defecation are really talking to you, if you have the ears to listen. They are saying, ‘we were the scrumptious foods and delectable sweets that you humans craved, spending your attention and money on us. We spent one night with you and see what has become of us. You have no right to complain and flee from us. We should be the ones escaping from you.'” [Adapted from Under the Sufi’s Cloak: Stories of Abu Sa’id and His Mystical Teachings by Mohammad Ali Jamnia, Mojdeh Bayat, p. 110].
Eating to Live, or Living to Eat?
From a scientific perspective, we may live longer by not eating as much or as often. According to the restricted calorie theory, our lifespan is an inverse function of our metabolic rate.
Restricted calorie intake may increase our life span. Aging is directly proportional to the oxygen we used for energy, for life. In other words, the less we eat, the longer we may live.
It is widely accepted that caloric restriction (CR) without malnutrition delays the onset of aging and extends lifespan in diverse animal models including yeast, worms, flies, and laboratory rodents. The mechanism underlying this phenomenon is still unknown. We have hypothesized that a reprogramming of energy metabolism is a key event in the mechanism of CR…. [Anderson RM, Shanmuganayagam D, Weindruch R, Caloric restriction and aging. Toxicol Pathol 37:47-51].
For some, restricting food intake to prolong life would seem valueless. What quality of life would we have without the joys of a satisfied palate?
Such a perspective values physical existence and its transitory pleasures above consciousness of a Divine Reality. Ultimately, our eating must reflect and complement our purpose for living.
Sensation, as, for example, the sense of taste, is meant to be the guide to action; in this case, the choice of wholesome food, and the avoidance of poisonous and hurtful things. But if we rest in the sense of taste, as a pleasure in itself; rest, that is, in the psychical side of taste, we fall into gluttony, and live to eat, instead of eating to live. [The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bk. 2:7].
Eating with a Purpose
Divine sustenance is nutrition beyond food, delights far above worldly cuisine. Temporal pleasures are mere by-products of a life devoted to compassionate service.
Long life is desirable only with a meaningful purpose. Eating is merely a precursor to piety. When we eat to live a life of faith, we taste the joy of Divine Pleasure and enjoy a spiritual satisfaction far greater than the palate can provide.
There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other. [Confessions, Saint Augustine, XXII].
Our spiritual perspective should offer an understanding of our human condition and provide reason for our existence. Diet and exercise can maximize our ability to extend life and accommodate a Divine purpose.
From this point of view, we can redirect our lifestyle, sublimate our pleasures and purify our motives, all for pleasing God.
O CHILDREN of Adam! Beautify yourselves for every act of worship, and eat and drink [freely], but do not be excessive: verily, He [God] does not love the extravagant! [Quran 7:31]