The Missing Ingredient

2013-07-12 15.13.10A RECIPE FOR COMMUNITY

We are—by our very nature—communal. Our bodies are a wildly complex ecosystem that reflects the vitality and diversity of the landscape that feeds us. Somatic food practices invite us to fully and empathically engage in the connection between the life we live and the life that feeds us. To begin these practices we must tease apart and identify what we care about and how those values inform our choices in how we answer to our hunger. This can be an arduous and challenging process, because every aspect of being human is cellularly shaped by our primal experiences of being fed and loved. These two fundamental needs fit hand in glove: they are the prime ingredients for creating a sense of well being that supports our potential to imagine, engage our curiosity, explore, invent, and create. But first, we must eat to stay alive!

Marshall Rosenberg brilliantly articulated the human duality of me/we, and our striving for both autonomy and community, a sense of belonging. The premise of his articulation of universal needs is that it is possible for everyone’s needs to get met. Marrying this idea to somatic food practices when so many are going hungry on this planet, we are participating in a revolutionary process: to answer to our hunger in a manner that is life-serving, around the planet and across all species.

Within a global food system in a global economy our food choices impact all life. This most personal human act has profound public ramifications like no other time in history.

Our personal health and the health of the planet are bosom buddies. They suckle from the same teat. We are as inextricably linked as the roots of the apple trees in the earth that holds/feeds them to produce those delicious apples that we put in our children’s lunches or in the pie that we put on our table for dessert. The health of our internal landscape is in direct relationship to the health and vitality of the community of life that fills our plates and bellies. To nurture and reclaim the health of our bodies is to restore the health of the earth.

Somatic Consensus and FoodIMG_0450

Somatic consensus provides a foundation from which we can begin the journey and practice of aligning “head-over-heart-over belly” as a generative practice to inform our food choices. The following is an example of what this process might look like:

Belly: I’m hungry!!!! Feed me. NOW!

Heart: O.K. Settle down. You’re not starving…let’s go out to the garden, pick some veggies and make a beautiful meal. We can invite your friend over!

Belly: I can’t wait! I’m hungry!!!!

Head: We need to make sure we get something healthy into our body. Some protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a little bit of starch.

Belly: There’s a Taco Bell! Let’s stop!

Head: Well, they do have a salad bar…maybe that will work. But, none of it will be organic or local.

Heart: Ah, come on…you know that isn’t the same as cooking something all together and sitting down at the table to share it. Let’s go home and make a salad! I promise we all will feel much better if we do.

Belly: O.K Can we make it quick though?

Head: I’ll gather the salad mixings while you two make a dressing and set the table.

To reclaim our health in somatic terms, we must first embrace the enormity of the importance of community. Spiritually, we hunger to belong. Intellectually, we understand the importance of it. Physically, our health depends on it—food security is by definition biodiversity, which is the abundant community of life that feeds all community—the community of life that is on our plate, the human family/communities that we belong to and the communion of earth, air, water and fire that comes together in cooking for ourselves.
How we relate to food can become a daily empathic practice for deepening connection to all life.  Empathy, our first language and birthright, puts us in touch with the wider horizons of our collective living.

A truism of modern neuroscience is “use it or lose it.” In a culture that values thinking over feeling, our empathic faculties have become somewhat atrophied. Revitalizing our innate empathic abilities takes practice–the more, the better–and since we eat several times a day, our relationship to food presents possibilities to cultivate connection, joy, creativity, and meaning.

When I first feel pangs of hunger, I am aware that in the simple act of turning my attention toward eating and the anticipation sparked begins the process of feeding myself. Hormones are released, my excitement is ignited, the conversation with my body as to what color, what flavor, what texture, what taste is being asked for is the practice of trusting the wisdom of my body and loving that it knows exactly what it needs.   In my delight, I walk out to the garden. Greeting all the colorful and diverse plants there, I invite the intimate conversation my belly so easily divines with the plants.  The following thoughts came out of a walk through the garden to make my lunch.

I walked out to the garden

To listen to the plants whisper their healing message

As I followed my hunger for life.

Red orach screamed purple for passion, beauty, family, community.

Parsley spoke the taste of bitterness, and the ability to transform it to strengthen the beating of my heart.

Arugula—not too much, she said—appreciate spicy medicine and know when to be more gentle on yourself.

Chickweed spoke of living fully within my skin, old and wrinkly as it may become.

Dill smiled and offered the delight of nuance and accentuation.

Spinach was open and abundant, offering nurturing, tenderness, succulence and nutrition.

Mizuna spoke of delicateness and how it can dazzle in the right light.

I came back to the kitchen and spoke my gratitude to each as I placed them in my bowl.

To renew.

To become.

To share with you…………

As a somatic practice, ask direct questions to your body to nurture and build trusting the wisdom of your body. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, the body never lies.

It might unfold something like the following:

“What color?”

“Orange!”   So, Buttercup Squash goes into my basket. “Something green!” I pluck the kale and add it to the basket. “What texture?” I might ask.

“Something crispy and sweet” and Kohl Rabi joins the ever expanding harvest.


“Golden Purslane!”


Even before I walk out to the garden, the rush of anticipation noticeably releases happy hormones into my bloodstream as I respond to my hunger with wide-open arms.


Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest delight the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.  I am not alone and unacknowledged.  They nod to me and I to them. Our meal begins and nutrition added when we respond to our hunger with appreciation that our body knows exactly what it needs.  Our bodies never lie.”


IMG_0393A Somatic Food Practice
Stand in a  vertical stance–head above heart, above belly.  Take a deep relaxing breath and then ask yourself the following questions.  When asked, invite your senses and imagination to listen for answers that you might not otherwise hear. The following loop of identifying stimulus, needs, and strategies provides a formula for changing habits to better meet your needs. These kinds of questions exercise your felt sense, the same faculty that you engage for empathy!

First: Identify the Stimulus
Before you eat, ask yourself:

  • “Am I hungry? —-How do I know I am hungry? — What happens in my body that tells me this?”

Be specific. Notice and distinguish the difference between the actual physical feeling of hunger and other feelings that trigger strategies to meet a need other than sustenance, such as boredom, nervousness, anxiety, fear, anger, or excitement.

  • What is my first response to those “feelings” in my body that are telling me I am hungry?  

Do you ignore it?  Grab the first food in sight?  Think about what you would like to eat?  Think about what you think you should eat?  Get in the car and drive up to a fast food window?  Go for a run and wait it out?  Make yourself a beautiful meal and invite a friend over?

Second: identify Your Needs

  • What do I care about and value the most when feeding myself? 
  • “What am I hungry for? Sustenance?  Connection?  Excitement?  Love? Empathy?  Ease?  Rest?”

Third: Choose Your (new) Strategies
If you are actually hungry for sustenance, ask yourself:

  • “What would sustain me perfectly right now?”  (Be as specific as possible—Sweet.  Sour.  Starchy.  Chunky.  Smooth.  Purple.  Orange.  White.  Pink.  Red.  Soft.  Hard.  Crunchy.  Silky.  Cold.  Hot.  Cold and hot.  Cooked and Raw.)

Actively engage each act of preparing your meal.  In this vein, some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • “When I cut this carrot, what shape would be most pleasing as I place it on my tongue?”
  • “How would this meal give me pleasure to look at on my plate, or in my bowl?”
  • “Would I like to eat alone or with somebody?”
  • “Would I like music or silence?”
  • “Would I like to sit at a table, on the couch, or on the floor?”

Use your imagination and wisdom to broaden your attention and listen to what may be the most nourishing strategy for meeting our common needs when feeding yourself.


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