Food and A Course in Miracles

A lot of people ask about ACIM and diet – are we encouraged, as students of the course, to eat a certain way? Avoid certain foods? Do we fast at this or that time of year and so forth? Does A Course in Miracles forbid eating meat?

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Garden tomatoes from this past summer . . .

I think those are natural questions amongst seekers in general. Lots of religions have rules and regulations around food. When I was an aspiring Buddhist most of the men and women with whom I sat and studied were vegetarians. It was an extension of compassion – a way of demonstrating kindness to all life.

In part because of that model, I was a vegetarian for many years. I have fond memories of those years, particularly  after I met my wife and my cooking really took off. Chrisoula and I had – and still have from time to time – some incredible veggie dishes. Edward Espe Brown’s Zen-inspired cookbooks (especially The Tassajara Bread Book), Deborah Madison’s work, the various texts spiraling out of the Moosewood Collective . . . I still turn to those recipes.

When I was Catholic – especially as a child – we refrained from eating meat on Fridays (a point somewhat lost on the fish we sometimes consumed). As I grew older and more committed to Catholicism I did a fair amount of fasting – avoiding meals, limiting what I ate, and sometimes going for many days with only juice.

Nor are Buddhism and Catholicism the only traditions where food is regulated in some ways. Jains, Hindus . . .

But when we commit to practicing A Course in Miracles, we leave that behind. Well, we leave it behind in the sense that we no longer associate a formal way of eating – of embracing or rejecting a type of food or food preparation – with salvation. The course has a single goal – to heal the mind that believes it is separated from God. Its references to behavior are scant at best. That is because correcting behavior does not necessarily heal the mind, while healing the mind will always affect behavior – though often in surprising ways.

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Our little orchard was prolific this year . . . these were the blossoms in Spring.

The idea that we can be saved – can end our separation from God, can enter Heaven, et cetera – by changing habits of behavior is an old one. But if it were that easy, we wouldn’t need to have religious and spiritual practices. We’d just adopt certain regulations of behavior, set up some punishment/reward system to reinforce the desired behavior, and police one another.

That does not lead to inner peace. In truth, it doesn’t really lead to outer peace either.

What is helpful is making contact with the part of our minds that believes if we can only tweak the external – get the right partner, or the right spiritual practice, or the right diet, or the right prayer – then we will be happy and never struggle again. But it doesn’t work that way. The separation is an inside job – a problem of thought, not circumstance – and so it has to be addressed internally. What is going on outside is not unrelated but it exists primarily as an effect, not a cause. We can learn from it, sure, but the fundamental shift is still going to be at the level of mind.

Thus, you can be a devout meat eater – taking down a meat lover’s pizza every night and a rasher of bacon at breakfast – and be a student of A Course in Miracles. You can also be a vegetarian. Or a vegan. You can be – as Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes once said – a dessertatarian and be a student of the course. There is no right or wrong way to approach food. As Krishnamurti once said, here paraphrased: eat meat or don’t eat meat but get on with it.

In other words, the healing the course contemplates has nothing to do with our bodies. We can’t eat or fast or exercise or dance or walk our way to inner peace. It’s all in the mind.

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Prize-winning eggs from our flock of layer hens.

That said, it’s important to not be cavalier about the issues that can come up around food. For many of us, it is an area in which we need considerable healing. Forgiveness is always appropriate. If someone is addicted to food in some way, then their practice of the course is going to involve forgiving – seeing with Jesus or the Holy Spirit – that relationship. And that forgiveness – which, remember, happens in the mind – will probably have some effect on the outside.

Our practice of A Course in Miracles is deeply personal. The course never looks the same from one student to the next. We are called to heal in very specific ways. I know course students who are very passionate about not eating meat. I respect that. My own practice with food has been to deepen my relationship with it at the level of production – Chrisoula and I (and the kids) grow a tremendous amount of veggies and fruit, raise pigs for meat, chickens for eggs and meat, buy beef from local farmers. We have even kept bees and a goat for milking. I don’t think anybody’s practice of the course has to mimic that – indeed, it probably shouldn’t. But it is neatly tied into forgiveness for me – a kind of simplicity, a kind of self-reliance, a kind of healthy diet. The question is always: does it work? It is it helpful?

It is important that we not be bullied into thinking that we have to practice a certain way. A Course in Miracles meets us where we are and helps us move from that place ever closer to inner peace and coherence. In that light, what is “right” for someone in an external way is not going to be right for somebody else. It’s okay to find our way.

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Apple harvest! Always one of the great joys of homesteading . . .

Ultimately, the course is about changing our minds, where “change” means “heal.” Sometimes that change shows up in the world. Obviously my home and living arrangements look different than other students who aren’t as devoted to homesteading. Obviously, my relationships are in many ways shaded by my family’s commitment to growing, raising and preserving our own food and nurturing a network of like-minded consumers and farmers. But what really matters is the mind in and through which all of this lovingkindness takes place. I  eat and relate to food in the most loving way that I can. If the goal is love – healing the mind – then whatever follows will be helpful.

14 thoughts on “Food and A Course in Miracles”

  1. Sorry I totally disagree with you. The course in Mirackes is all about love and rejecting all that us violence . Eating meat and all animal products stems from violence, Veganism is the most loving way to live and totally aligned with the teachings of ACIM. You love all, period.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Mike. It is true that in these bodies we have to make decisions which reflect our understanding of the unconditional Love inherent in A Course in Miracles. Clearly, for you, veganism is a loving decision by which you bring ACIM into application. To that end, I am both appreciative and admiring.

      However, it is important to keep in mind that A Course in Miracles does not dictate specific or particular behaviors for its students. Read and study are about it; beyond that, the application becomes very personal and intimate and it is really impossible to dictate to another what they should “do.” Indeed, to become invested or attached to one form of love or peace, is to confuse form with love. Essentially, by insisting that the body behave in this specific way – celibacy, veganism, vipassana meditation etc. – we are making the body (ours and others) and the world real. There is no right way to live here that will render what is illusory real.

      It is easy to slip into a space of believing that whatever choices with respect to form that we have made ought to be applied by everyone everywhere. I’m honestly kind of baffled that Emily Dickinson isn’t required reading for all people who are devoted to awakening. That instinct – that everyone should behave like us – is tribal and systemic and human. But is not really loving, in the most inclusive and unconditional sense of the word. It is certainly not consistent with ACIM, which so clearly discerns between form and content, and urges us to go beyond the confines of “this” but not “that.”

      So far as the rationale for Veganism as the most loving choice . . . I have never found the moral argument for veganism/vegetarianism especially persuasive, given the hierarchy it imposes on life (a tomato’s life is worth less than a cow’s – that seems the specific opposite of “loving all”). Emerging scientific consensus re: the life of plants and in particular Michael Marder’s work on this subject of consciousness should really give any vegan pause. There isn’t really a moral high ground in the world, Mike!

      Thank you again for sharing, Mike. I appreciate your thoughts & your passion for the choice you have made. Good luck!

      Sean

      1. Common sense and teaching about the body comes from the divine. There is absolutely sense involved in what we put into our bodies. Our bodies are finite, and will not tolerate chemicals eaten just to prove a point that they are not harmful. The guys in the fiery pit were a rarity, and had little choice in what happened so a miracle happened Eating drano, msg, bad foods, and depending upon something like a miracle when in fact, we need to be prudent, is ridiculous. Blessing our food, when we are eating the only available resource, is a positive things.

      2. Hi Sean,
        It seems like a lot of people who support eating animals like to compare eating apples or carrots to eating an animal, as if it is the same thing. Animals are living breathing, feeling, conscious, sentient beings like us. But an apple? Apples are none of these. Apples do not have a brain or a central nervous system therefor not capable of being aware, feeling pain or suffering.

        Animal bodies are illusion just as ours, but they have mind just like us and too and are part of the Sonship, yet mankind is responsible for inflicting the horrific injustice of pain on suffering on our brothers in animal form just to satisfy our taste buds.

        1. Thanks for sharing, Denise. I haven’t read this post in a long time.

          Focusing on central nervous systems – and thus sentience – as the dividing line between what we can eat and what we can’t (or shouldn’t) is anthropormorphic. Yes, a pig is more “like” a human than a tomato is with respect to sentience. But why is “like” a human the standard? Why should the sentience levels of homo sapiens be more important than a tomato? And – importantly – why should the sentience level of a pig be more important than a tomato?

          Plants are intelligent; plants want to survive and reproduce. They communicate with one another. They feed off of – and back into – their local ecology. They are autonomous living beings – put one in your mouth and you end its autonomy and life as surely as when you shoot a pig and bleed it out. To live is to eat the other; and the other never wants to eaten. It, too, wants to live.

          So deciding that plant life is less valuable than organisms with with brains requires one to make a judgment about life that is not ultimately sustainable.

          I think the focus is better placed on the care we take with our food – to be “worthy of our meat,” to paraphrase Wendell Berry. How is it raised, how is it harvested, how much is given back to the earth, how it shared at the table and in the local economy. For example, we raise our own pigs and chicken for meat, and for eggs, we barter for local beef, we have a large – 6,000 square foot – garden for veggies. We have a small apple orchard & raspberry bushes. Our compost operation is enormous and nurtures many local gardens, including our own. Of course not everyone can do this but care can be taken in many ways, at many levels.

          I have no objection to folks who are vegetarian. But I don’t think it is the moral high ground a lot of folks would like it to be.

          In terms of illusion . . . I would not use that word today. I find it one of many that Helen used that is misleading. “Mind” is not really embodied – it is not contained in a brain – and I think it is inaccurate to suppose plants are not also “Mind.” I wrote a bit in that direction here if you are interested.

          Thank you again, Denise. I appreciate your thoughts.

          Sean

        2. If I was new to a course in miracles and many were callous meat eaters then I would believe that taking the Acim as not contributing to a better world I chose it because many are vegetarian. There is a lot more in ACIM than food but compassion should be nearly as important as tolerance. I think as a person spurity ally evolves they should become like a Janist or strit vegan because speciesm
          Is done by relatively unconscious souls however we must forgive carnal minded people as Vegans are only 2 % of the world’s population
          I am a vegan for humanitarian, environmental; health and spiritual and karmic reasons. I pray someday people will have compassion on all life including humans trees animals etc

          1. Thank you for sharing, Don. As you know, outside of its directives for doing the daily lessons, the course is mostly silent on the question of behavior – you have to eat this, your sex life has to be that, et cetera – for a good reason. The healing it contemplates is not of the body but the mind. Trying to reverse that – healing the body, then the mind – leads to a lot of confusion.

            As I pointed out earlier, human beings eat in order to survive. And to eat is to end the autonomy and life of something else that is alive, whether it is a pig or a chicken or a tomato. There is literally no way out of this, save to starve oneself to death.

            There is nothing wrong with choosing this or that mode of being that one feels is most resonant with their spiritual values at a given juncture. If being vegan or vegetarian plays that role for someone, then fine. Go for it. But if you are convinced that you are more “spiritually evolved” than folks who made a different choice, then you are still confused about what it means to be human being learning and growing in love. You are still trying to fix the body at the expense of mind. It’s not a crime against nature, but there is a better way.

            It is helpful always to give attention to the distinctions that we make in our lives and to the values we assign those distinctions. Are they sustainable? Are they loving?

            One thing we often learn in that process of giving attention is that we have a tendency to subtly reinforce our separateness and specialness by emphasizing our behavior as spiritually/morally/ethically superior to the behavior of others. This is a form of lovelessness – “I get it and you don’t.”

            When we reach the level of mind – and as I have said elsewhere, the course is only mildly helpful in this regard – the behavioral stuff, including the behavior of others, tends to take care of itself.

            Thanks again for sharing.

            ~ Sean

        3. Denise I agree totally with you and I left my own comments denouncing animal holocosts occurring on this earth plane
          Do you take the course of miracles like I do. I have great respect for much of the course but spiritualizing away cruelty and violence really trouble me and I can’t understand why Christians are 95 % cruel meat eaters and won’t budge from their positions.
          Is the ACIM flawed like the youtube teacher Mark Passio discusses at length or is it just human egos perverting ACIM not able to discern true love in all its complexities. Do you have any thoughts as I am deeply concerned about this heresy in all ideologies except Janism and buddism

  2. I knew from small that there was something up with eating animals and then on and through adult life went through vegetarian stages. However it was upon finding ACIM, and quite early on, that it was crystal to me that animals are part of the sonship and I couldn’t justify eating meat. The whole point of ACIM is to become conscious- it is hard to believe for me, as it’s not my experience, that you can be both a student of ACIM AND eat meat. That’s how it was for me

    1. Thank you for sharing, Sarah.

      Of course one should follow their internal sense of right and wrong. If becoming “conscious” means you don’t eat living animals – but do eat living plants – then okay. As I have pointed out in previous comments and in the post itself, the distinction is largely arbitrary. However, we are embodied and those bodies survive by ending the autonomy of other bodies. If you find drawing the line at animals a helpful division of the so-called sonship, then go for it. But be aware of the inclination to conflate that division with some objective given truth.

      In other words, the problem isn’t eating meat or not eating meat. The problem is the belief that the distinction matters in some absolute and binary way.

      p.s. Along those lines, you might also want to look into the belief that “the whole point of ACIM is to become conscious.” Thanks again for reading & sharing. 🙂

  3. I try and protect animals from human abuse particularly found in factory farms. As far as I am concerned no human has the right to steal , imprison , torture and muder other beings. These conditions are rampant in commercial farming. Never the less we generally do not require meat. I am a vegan because of compassion towards animals but I receive many health benefits from it.
    I am taking the course of miracles at lesson 75 in 2 separate house groups but it bothers me that you and some others who claim to understand the course and teach it to others have given up compassion towards other beings simply because the course doesn’t explicitly condemn it. I never read in the course yet any indication that murder , rape, adultery, theft, drugs, drunkeNess are undesirable directed towards humans or animals. In our hearts we know that these things are totally unexceptable for those seeking to reunite with God.
    You cannot be offended by my statements if you follow the course and will practice total forgiveness as the course relentlessly talks about.
    Why would you stop being a vegan when you took ACIM. I hope I am not judging you but I am very concerned that ACIM may have error in it. It makes me doubt any religion or philosophy that embraces Christian termonology. Christians comprise Aproximately 95 % meat eaters and any Christians I talk to refuse to show compassion to any animal other than cats and dogs and a few others
    There are 950 thousand species of sentient beings on earth and many more uncatalogged. Human egos are causing extinction of forests and animals and religious people other than Hindus and Janis and Buddists are destroying our planet and inflicting suffering. Suffering is real and I don’t think we can spirituality it away by saying that nothing is real. I think this is a perversion of the course and an excuse to live in carnal pleasures that hurt humanity and maintain the separation we all so badly wish to end forever.
    God wouldn’t want cruel beings who always excuse their actions by perverting forgiveness and continuing to practice cruelty and other atrocities.
    I want an answer why we can’t follow liberation back to God and be moral at the same time. Forgive me please but I need an answer or I will eventually have to denounce all Christian ideologies as part truths. I was hoping serious ACIM students and teachers would encourage compassion as well as good health practices.

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing, Donald.

      We all make judgments about the world and how to live well in it. It is part of the human experience. For you – and other commenters on this post – it makes sense to be vegan/vegetarian. You also believe that that this stance is moral and more in accord with ACIM than eating meat.

      I am happy for folks who are vegan/vegetarian. I have no objection to those for whom it is morally resonant and helpfully facilitates their ongoing learning.

      In ACIM terms, by choosing to eat plants and not animals, you are dividing the sonship along the lines of animals and plants and suggesting that eating one is moral while the other is immoral. One is right and other wrong. In essence, you are suggesting that a chicken has a greater right to life than a tomato, or that a chicken’s life is more valuable than a tomato’s life.

      As a serious grower and eater of both chickens and tomatoes, I think you are confused about this!

      If you are a careful observer of plants, and a student of growing them, then you know that plants, too, live and that when you harvest them, they die. That which enters your mouth has lost its autonomy so that you might continue to enjoy yours.

      Again, it’s okay to draw a distinction – you have to draw it somewhere, by virtue of being a living human being – but pretending that the distinction you’ve drawn is the only moral one isn’t rational. Plants are also part of the so-called sonship! Your life isn’t more valuable than a sunflower’s life, and a pig’s life is not more valuable than a kale plant’s life.

      It’s important to keep in mind that A Course in Miracles has one goal, and that is to introduce you to your inner teacher, which it calls the Holy Spirit. That’s it! It’s not about making you more compassionate or more Christian or more righteous. It’s certainly not about aligning your behavior with some worldly standard (veganism, celibacy, capitalist, christian et cetera).

      When you and your inner teacher are in 1:1 correspondence, then the course will fall away (really, spirituality will fall away), and the work/play and the experience of it will change.

      The conflict that you – and others – experience when reading this post is not about being a vegetarian vs. eating meat. It’s that you believe you can be right in a way that makes Sean wrong.

      There is another way, my friend! The course is not the way, but it can help you find the way by introducing you to a teacher who knows the way (or at least knows the silliness of ways altogether – but that is a different dialogue 🙂 ).

      Again, eat meat or don’t eat meat. But do look deeply into your capacity for judgment and see if you can discern the fundamental lovelessness that inheres in it. If and when you perceive this lovelessness, your inner teacher will literally bound to your side and guide you to a peace that allows – but is not contingent upon – the appearance of right and wrong.

      Good luck with your continued practice of A Course in Miracles. Please feel free to keep in touch if it is helpful or interesting.

      Sean

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