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?
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.
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.
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 and realizes that salvation does not 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 of us exists as an effect of our thinking, not as 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.
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.
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.
To that end, be kind to yourself. Remember the guidance of Lesson 294: the body is “of service for a while and fit to serve, to keep its usefulness while it can serve, and then to be replaced for greater good” (W-pII.294.1:11). Don’t endanger yourself or others in the name of spirituality. Eat well; eat in a way that minimizes guilt; eat in a way that extends love to your brothers and sisters. We gain nothing by depriving ourselves of calories, nutrients, water and the simple joys that attend eating. Wherever we are at with respect to food, our eating – the whole gestalt of it, from growing to preparing to eating to composting – is yet a way to remember that together we are Love.
Note: As this post has been read and commented upon over the years, I have become increasingly sensitive to the importance of respecting the food and eating choices of my brothers and sisters. The course is silent on the subject of what to eat; beyond that, food is like everything else – a means to forgive (that is, to see in a loving and holistic way) the world and all its contents. It is necessary to give attention to life as it arises; it is not necessary to adopt rigorous diets, undergo intense fasts or otherwise attack our bodies.
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