Spiritual Dieting: Health, Nutrition and the Mind

Nutrition and the Mind

A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind. [James Allen, As a Man Thinketh, Ch. 2].

Thoughts, emotions and faith have a significant impact on the chemical processes that go on continuously inside our body. Our brain, our metabolism and our physical behavior are intimately connected. How we digest a meal often depends on social and spiritual influences that affect of feelings and regulate our life.

We know that our physical, mental and emotional disposition can affect our digestion, our metabolism and our general health. Doctors can tell us the extent to which daily stress and anxieties inhibit proper nutrition, and by how much they advance decay, disease, disability or poor health.

Doctors also agree that lifestyle plays a major role in the health of the person. But, what is the most desirable, healthiest lifestyle? If general negativity can produce degeneration, can positive mental states lead to good health? What about prayer and meditation?

Even if a condition like heart disease runs in your family, you can do a lot to break that pattern. Your choices and lifestyle make a big difference. Some genes lead to disease. “But for most people, a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk.” [Donald M Lloyd-Jones, MD/ScM].

Thoughts for Health

Can what happens in our mind bring about a disease? We know that negative thoughts, words and emotions contribute to weakening of the body’s immune system. Do faith and kindness strengthen it? Can a spiritual state lead to healing a physical condition, or to preventing the onset of a particular disease?

By means of personal experimentation and observation, we can discover certain simple and universal truths. The mind moves the body, and the body follows the mind. Logically then, negative thought patterns harm not only the mind but also the body. What we actually do builds up to affect the subconscious mind and in turn affects the conscious mind and all reactions. [H. E. Davey, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation].

What are the best thoughts, the best words, the best deeds? Can science provide direction where religion traditionally sought to lead?  What is the highest, most beneficial thought process? On what should we focus our attention to produce the most benefit for our emotions and our health?

He [Abraham] said: “… the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds; Who created me, and it is He Who guides me; Who gives me food and drink, And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me; Who will cause me to die, and then to life (again); And who, I hope, will forgive me my faults on the day of Judgment.” [Quran 26:76-82].

Faith, Certainty & Emotions

In the past, guided by religious doctrines and cultural influences, we could agree on what was taboo, or extremely uncivilized and objectionable behavior. And, we could also agree on what was benevolent and humanitarian. We relied on our sacred traditions, particularly the ageless wisdom of Scripture, spiritual leaders and sages.

The law of the LORD is  perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD  is sure, making  wise the simple. [Psalms 19:7].

Today, popular inclination is to avoid religious prejudices, and to assert that no behavior is inherently beneficial or inherently detrimental. But, how far can this relativism take us in guiding our emotions and structuring our daily lives? Can our mind find shelter in such a vacillating ethical environment? Can lack of certainty and direction affect our health?

The life of faith, and the instinct of faith are one and the same. It is an enjoyment of the goods of God, and a confidence founded on the expectation of His protection, making everything pleasant and received with a good grace. It is indifference to, and at the same time a preparation for every place, state, or person. [Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence].

Spiritual Nutrition

Our temperament and disposition can enhance or detract from nutrition. This means that certain mental states produce better nutritional outcomes than others.

Similarly, our immune system functions best when we are content and confident, and is weakened by negative emotional conditions and lifestyles. We also know that these effects are cumulative. When we continually experience negative or positive mental conditions, the body slowly and imperceptibly manifests the results — whether bad or good.

True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear or the opposition of enemies. [Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, Sect. VIII].

The controversy between faith and science has become personal and passionate. These are no longer abstract, philosophical questions objectively considered. They are now fraught with far-reaching political and economic implication that can prejudice our judgment.

However, even from a purely secular perspective, we can observe the practical benefits of “elevated” thoughts, positive actions and benevolent lifestyles. Faith in God is the active ingredient in our ethical and moral values, and the spiritual coating on every motivation of our personal psyche.

I look again at the lives of these apostles, and I find them distinguished by magnificent force of character … And the second element in a forceful character is heat, the fire of a quenchless enthusiasm … The disciples had been baptized with fire, with the holy, glowing enthusiasm caught from the altar of God. They had this central fire, from which every other purpose and faculty in the life gets its strength…. Nothing could stop these men! Nothing could hinder their going! “We cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard.” “We must obey God rather than man.” [Dr. John Henry J. H. Jowett, Things That Matter Most, p. 251].

Our modern secular culture provides increasingly fewer mechanisms to support us spiritually, while our technological dependence offers little emotional relief. Thus, while our material abundance and physical comforts are increasing, our homeostatic balance and intuitive resources are deteriorating.

When we embrace a lifestyle whose primary purpose is Divine worship, we alter our consciousness and change our perception of reality. Our brain then functions in harmony not only with its environment, but with all of creation. Our mind is not only nourished, but satisfied.

So patiently persevere: for verily the promise of God is true: nor let those shake thy firmness, who have (themselves) no certainty of faith. [Quran 30:60].


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