The incredible momentum of initiative

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“We are living creatures possessed of a limited freedom, a power of initiative which increases every time we use it the right way; we are trained and developed by being confronted with the alternatives, on which tremendous issues hang.” – From The House of the Soul by Evelyn Underhill.
 
There is something to be said about simply starting.  Yesterday I was leaving the house to exercise and I told Kerri that I didn’t feel like running at all. Her suggestion to listen to my body and to go for a walk instead was quite appealing. But it wasn’t my body that was offering the resistance, it was my will.  I had lost my connection with the “why” I choose the disciplines I do.  But I chose to run – and it was the right choice. I started off sluggish, but at the end of the run, I had run one of my farthest distances in record time.  I felt great about myself and the choice I made to do it.  
 
Getting over that gap – that abyss – can be an incredibly challenging thing.  Balancing the  physical reality of rest vs. work is not an easy task, but I’m beginning to see the will as a muscle that needs trained.  I cling to the words of Underhill that the “power of initiative” increases every time we use it the right way.”  Choosing the right things for our bodies will produce a momentum of reciprocal energy.  These good choices, whether it be what we eat, drink, do, or don’t do, give back in other ways. Failing to execute the right choices for our wellness will obviously lead us to self draining, life-stealing habits.  They steal back in other ways.  
 
Getting in touch with this truth will allow for strength when the body is able, but the will is weak.  Whatever indulgence of the flesh we may be so caught up with will pale in comparison to the character and strength that is built on the other side of initiative.  I don’t miss the indulgences the day after, but I always benefit from discipline. 
 
Has anyone else experienced the “increasing” power of initiative in the area of wellness simply by using it the RIGHT way?

There is a mome…

There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as dark and silent as any moment of our lives. – From Clinging-The Experience of Prayer – By Emilie Griffin

Griffin goes on to describe that for some it is a split second – for others it can last decades.  This is true not only for the soul, but the body and the mind as well.  I always find great fulfillment when I align myself with my intentions to be well, but I stand in my own way at times.  – Kick through the wall of resistance today, right now, this instant! What are we waiting for?

How to Grow Healthy and Stay Healthy

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As a gardener, it is often quite obvious what type of time I’ve spent in my garden.  The weeds are what give it away.  Growing food is hard and requires weekly, if not daily attention.  But I can approach gardening in a few different ways. Just as in any hobby or discipline, there are different garden “tribes” and “camps.”  We all do this… we classify and label everything we do. So I am an “organic gardener” that “layer mulches” or “double digs” – finding ways to incorporate “permaculture” into my gardening practices. This gives me goals and keeps me on a specific garden plan.  But there are challenges to this type of gardening.  I must routinely add organic matter to the soil or I end up needing to weed, A LOT!  This compost does two things: It prevents weeds while feeding the plants I am trying to grow.  This intentional cultivation stands in direct contrast to a reactionary approach that sprays for weed suppression and fertilizes when needed (my bias is showing).

But the same is true for our wellness. Our physical life is something that requires intentional cultivation.  But what drives us to make choices for our own health?  What is at the center of our desire to be well? The truth is that the physical life is very cultural, very personal, and very spiritual… and all three have a role to play in our journey toward wellness.

1. Cultural

We live in a culture that is constantly glorifying the superficial physical values of wellness.  These superficial values (how we look in a swimsuit, the status symbol of a waist line or dress size, how athletic we are) are tied to products and programs of every flavor.  The magic piece of gym equipment, the latest thing we MUST eliminate from our diet, or the latest running shoes are all sold using fear.  A culture of fear would have us practice wellness by exclusion and reaction.  Even the language of “prevention” is sold using fear.  As a result of this fear we are ready to do whatever it takes to avoid the social and cultural consequences…for a week. Although these values can be a catalyst for change, they are extrinsic motivators that burn up like a pile of dry leaves! Break out the quick fix! Sign me up for the 10 day plan. Surgically implant motivation.  Finding the passion to swim against this cultural tide is directly connected with a full awareness of these values as superficial.  They are the cultural equivalent to empty calories.

2. Personal

There is not much more personal than our physical life.  I tend to be more open and honest in public about my physical life than others.  Conversations about food, cravings, pleasure, addictions, and hygiene are not hard for me to approach with friends new and old.  It can get awkward fast!  Why is it so personal? What about this personal nature of wellness inspires or motivates us to change?  It is true that personal struggles with lethargy, eating disorders, and addictions have left many with guilt, shame, or insecurity.  With little to no space for these conversations publicly, we are left to fight these battles alone.  Personally, these stories have served a catalysts for change as I have driven steaks in the ground in anger and disgust at my own lack of self-respect.  I find telling these stories to others and crafting new stories with others in community to be liberating. Finding someone to tell your story to can be life changing for you and others.  I recently sat down with a friend at his request to talk through some health struggles he was facing in his journey.  After we met, we were both light and exuberant.  As we were leaving, we hugged and he said, “thanks man… dudes just don’t talk about this kind of stuff.”  So true!  Be bold enough to break the silence.

3. Spiritual

Our physical and spiritual nature cannot be separated.  Historically there was a teaching that wanted to separate these two.  They were called Gnostics.  These philosophers refused to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ or that Christ was actually human at all.  Their reasoning was simple. The material world was considered evil and should be shunned and the spiritual world was considered God’s.  As God, Christ could have nothing to do with an evil physical world and was therefore a kind of “ghost on earth.”  The orthodox church rejects this teaching as heresy.  But a lack of good teaching and respect for our physical bodies could lead the modern day church back to a form of gnosticism.  Ignoring the spiritual aspects of wellness is a recipe for heresy.  When we embrace the cultivation of our physical wellness as a spiritual discipline, we allow for our bodies to become subject to God’s reign. As His creation, we are acknowledging him as our first food and our true source of sustainance.  In our wellness, we give glory to God.  This is the full realization of “sustainable wellness.”

 

So how about you? In what ways to you medicate? In what ways do you cultivate wellness?

Resistance

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art

This week I had the opportunity to help a friend build a swing set.  At first, it was my intention to contract this job out and simply watch it go up. But as the project progressed, I realized that my friend needed a hand.  Eventually, my older boys and I were helping out.  My contractor friend was slowing down noticeably and we found ourselves in a discussion about health. For the contractor, it was a shameful subject. You see, he had not become who he had hoped physically in life, and it was affecting his entire outlook – and even his occupation.  As we began the discussion, his shoulders drooped, his face became sad, and he looked to the ground as he leaned against his truck. He confessed that he has no confidence in himself and goes to bed feeling defeated most evenings.  In his late 20’s and feeling 50, he even lacks the confidence to talk to women.  His body hurts most days from carrying around the extra weight.  This self-hatred has begun to spill into other destructive habits and patterns.  He has become his own resistance – allowing the narrative in his mind to dictate his future.  A powerlessness has overtaken and he has lost sight of the full life he always hoped to live.  As a Christian, I asked him how his spiritual life was.  This too, was suffering. This lead to a healthy discussion about how the flesh and the spirit are truly connected.

I know about this resistance.  I too find it crippling at times.  I know the hopelessness that creeps in when I fail to act out my intentions.  The truth is we won’t experience true wellness if we are not honest with ourselves about these feelings of hopelessness/powerlessness. Who we want to become as individuals will not happen on accident.  Accidental progress and growth is an illusion.  Intentional, focused, planned growth is what is sustainable. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Our core intentions and “who we already are” must be called out again and again.  These intentions need communicated to ourselves on a regular basis, or the narrative gets dark.  My contractor friend has asked me for help.  He’s ready to be his true self.  I’m excited for how we might learn from one another on his journey back to wellness.

“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.” ― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art

 

Keeping Perspective on Wellness – 2.0

I’ll admit that the term “Sustainable” is trendy and overused – green initiatives, corporate social responsibility, budget reform… I’ll even admit that the term “Wellness” has a cultural stigma – day spas, yoga studios,  essential oils, aromatherapy.  Add these words together and it sounds almost elitist.  With any form of mindfulness or intention, there comes the risk of elitism or an overly self-confidant demeanor.  Arrogance sneaks up and before long, you are one of a few that “get it.”  Others don’t “see what you see.”

Humility is so incredibly tied to wellness.  Wellness has much to do with your good choices and choices should be made from an attitude of humility! Many have read the book by Jim Collins called Good to Great.  In it Jim provides these truths to keep in front of you when making decisions:

  1. Arrogance that leads to success will always eventually lead to failure.
  2. As a leader, ask two questions for every statement you make.
  3. Everyone needs “quiet-tude.” It’s a place to think and reflect without email or a phone.

Why do you think we struggle making good decisions when it comes to our wellness?

Keeping Perspective on Wellness

Some quick thoughts this morning about Wellness. Wellness is not…

A Scale

Useful as it may be at helping you set a goal to shed some LB’s, weighing in on a daily basis can often reinforce negative messages in our culture today.  The idea of impulsive weight loss and yo-yo dieting is the direct result of a cultural obsession with body image.  Weight loss can be a healthy byproduct of intentional living.  When we listen to our body and find the joy of making a healthy choice, body type and the size of our waistlines take a backseat to optimism and simple living.

Counting Calories

I’m a big proponent of reading labels.  But real foods – simple whole foods – do not come with labels on them. I once had someone question me when eating a banana, “do you know how many calories are in that one small banana?”  I didn’t.  Come to find out, Chiquita has produced a label for banana’s to quell the curiosity of the calorie counting. Calories are something people had to start counting when food “evolved” into what it is today.  Michael Pollan calls them “food products” rather than food itself.  Did our ancestors count their calories, keep track of points, or weigh their food?   These things are not bad, but they miss the mark on centered wellness. This obsessive monitoring is a prescribed, temporary fix for a larger issue.  If the root causes of codependency and emotional brokenness are not addressed, centered wellness and vitality won’t be achieved. 

Cramming Nutrients

On the flip side of the calorie counting epidemic is the obsessive compulsive behavior of nutrient loading.  Super foods, super juices, magic fruits, carotenoids,  Omega-3’s, spirulina, poylphenols, antioxidants…the list could go on forever.  The amazing scientific discoveries of God’s Creation will continue to be uncovered and announced.    Entrepreneurs and marketers will inevitably line up to capitalize on the research.  The key is to be amazed by the former and not get carried away by the latter.

But this list could go on: An isle in the grocery store (or a grocery store), Miles run (or how fast), Hurrying to the gym, beating yourself up for being lazy.

What IS wellness?  Wellness is …

the joy in a healthy choice,a walk, meditation, prayer, a deep breath, a smile to start your day, planting a seed, reading to children, going home for dinner, enjoying the first bite, a deep stretch, giving thanks.

Boiled down, wellness is living your core intentions with a sense of conviction.  It’s calling out your core intentions over and over again.  It is making the most of every opportunity to live a fully alive life.

6 Simple Rules for Mealtime

Ready, Set, Devour the family meal! With four kids and two hungry parents, there have been evenings where we can hardly remember eating dinner.  Meal preparation far exceeds the time we allot for the actual eating of the meal.  On our good nights, we slow down, enjoy conversation, and have what my grandparents called “manners.”  So here are 5 manners that inform our meal and why they matter.

1. Prayer

Prayer seems to settle our minds.  It refocuses us and reminds us of our true Provider.  It slows down the first bite. I am reminded about a movie Jim Henson film called “the Dark Crystal.”  Honestly, I’m still a bit creeped out by it, but there was a scene my father related to our meal time as a child.  The Skeksis all gather around a banquet table and engage in a gratuitous display of lust and greed for their food – ignoring utensils and leaving wasteful scraps.  Needless to say, the Skeksis’ did not pray before their family meal. Prayer delays the barbaric urge to devour the meal that someone has spent hours planning, shopping for, and preparing.  In our prayer, we make sure to thank God for the cook’s time investment and creativity.  Most importantly, prayer refocuses our imagination on the oneness or “inter-be-ing” of food, our bodies, and the earth.

2. One person talks at a time

There is no doubt that our family loves to meal together!  The level of excitement in returning home to the table is at times overwhelming for my personality.  If not reigned in, the chaos can spiral out of control.  When one person talks at a time, it calms the atmosphere and honors each persons story.  Each of us has had experiences apart from one another and we all bring a days worth of emotions and feelings to the table. We take time at the family meal to honor those experiences – allow each to share in a safe place.  I can think of two of Riley’s (11) friends who have experienced this at our house and later begged their own parents to come back for another meal.  One boy sheepishly asked to stay for dinner when plans had been made for him to arrive home for diner.  This listening to one another encourages GOOD conversation.  (When we fail to do this, the talk is nonsense at best.) Listening to stories makes meal time take longer because we are paying attention to something other than our appetite.  Our desire to be a family supersedes our need to consume.

3. Stay clear of confrontation

At times, we have allowed the tone of conversation to become heavy – scolding one of the children – and the “meal” takes a backseat to a whole new set of emotions.  I think this is a mistake.  Allowing shame and control to enter the table has made many-a-meal a battle of the will between parent and child.  Protecting peace and harmony at the table allows the family table to be a safe place.  Additionally, meal sharing is nearly impossible with someone in the midst of unresolved conflict.  The ultimate act of reconciliation is to invite someone to the table.  This is clearly illustrated by Christ and the deep symbolism of the Eucharist.  The meal is a celebration!  Celebration is a vital part of wellness.  Therefore, the shared meal is no place for confrontation or discipline in any way.

4. Posture matters

The posture we assume at the table speaks louder than words about our intentions.  As I mentioned above, food itself is often why we gather around the table.  But food should be the “secondary food” we seek during meal time.   When communion with others is our “first food” our posture is very different.  We take breaks in between bites to make eye contact.  Forks are allowed to rest while we chew and then respond to a question.  I think of how we might eat if we were invited to the White House.  Should we not eat with that sort of posture every time we eat?  I don’t feel the need to explain what it looks like – I think we all have a similar mental image of that posture.

5. Compliment the chef

It is important that we take time to allow the chef to talk about their work.  Complimenting them in someway invites this discourse.  This is time to talk about what went into the meal. Is something from last years harvest? Is anything local? What went wrong? How was it “rescued?”  Our kids think their mom is a hero for what she accomplishes in preparation for our meals together.

6. Asked to be excused

This is something we are just now giving emphasis, but I am starting to see why Grandma and Grandpa insisted on it.  Staying the full course of the meal brings an “end” or benediction to the family meal.  We might even try to introduce a final reading or thought.  Some Ideas of what to read: The Mennonite Central Committee Cookbook series have some great stories about cultural food traditions and family food ways.  The Bible has story after story about agriculture and shared meals. What about picking a fruit or vegetable from the meal and read about it in our Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.

These are not the only rules we try to keep at mealtime.  By no means do we keep them at every meal – but they are six easy things to commit to as a family.