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Faith in Things Unseen

So I haven’t written in awhile, I’ve been so busy going back to school. However, an event today spurred me, since it is too long for a Facebook post.

I put a pond in about two years ago.IMG_4334

This is what it looked like in the beginning of summer, after I got two koi to add to my gold fish. The little colored specks are the fish. I get very attached to them. The light colored one towards the back, that’s Blondie. I really didn’t think she’d made it through the winter. Every time I thought she was gone, she fooled me. Other ones did die, I bought 6 more goldfish at the beginning of this summer, along with the koi.

All this time, I’ve wanted to deepen it. I felt we were too hasty to get it done and didn’t dig it deep enough. Especially since I kept finding dead fish in my pump, which I kept in the deepest part. I felt the fish were trying to get in there to hide from predators.

Well, I hadn’t seen a fish in weeks. Yesterday I put water clarifier in, the pond was very green. It must not have been enough, it only lightened the green, it didn’t make it disappear the way it did previously in the above picture. Today, I was convinced the fish were gone, and I thought “Now’s my chance to dig it deeper, with no fish to worry about.”

Can you guess where this is going? Oh me of little faith. Not only was Blondie and one of the koi alive, but someone had been busy. There were at least 5 goldfish that I had never seen before. Very little goldfish. I couldn’t have been more proud if I had hatched them myself.

empty pond, looking awful.

See that little muddy hole? There was still one more fish in there after I scooped all the others out. I never found him till I was done and started putting everything back.

Of course, I have to give credit to my helper.My long suffering husband. I'm sure this is not how he expected to spend his Sunday afternoon. Once my husband saw I was determined to do this, he came out to help.

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It was all worth it in the end.

I even made a new hiding place for them. Now they don’t have to commit suicide in the pump to get away from bad guys. Moral of the story: Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it is isn’t there. And it might just be better than you thought. And you can make all the spiritual allegories you want. I will, and do.

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The One you Feed

Alert- this  post features Christian thought.

So our Sunday school lesson this morning is on Psalm 119:9-16. I was struck by these verses, “9  How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”

I was thinking how hard it is for me to memorize bible verses, and what it means to hide God’s word in your heart. It made me think about the story of the Two Wolves, an old Indian legend about the war in the human heart being a war between two wolves, one good and one bad, and the one that wins is the one you feed. Reading God’s word is feeding the good wolf.

I don’t know how many of you know about neural plasticity, the idea that our brain actually reshapes as we learn, a blessing since we don’t grow new neurons, and damage does occur. When we learn things, our brain makes new physical connections between the neurons. When someone has a stroke, other parts of their brain can “rewire” to take over for the damaged parts, making connections to cover those lost areas. We can see this happening for physical tasks, like walking, talking and feeding yourself. This also true of the more nebulous things like feelings, personality and remembering phone numbers.

This time of year is difficult for me, I get sad and maudlin. All the negatives in my life, from childhood to mistakes in raising my own children rear up and assault me in the emotionally charged atmosphere of holidays. Last night I did not allow those thoughts to take over, instead, I found the things that gave me pleasure, and focused on those. I have not had an alcoholic beverage in over 20 years, and I was musing on how quickly a bad mood  of such magnitude could arise as to cause fleeting thoughts of it to pass through. Through long experience I knew other choices to make, and made those instead, reinforcing the positive pathways in my brain.

Feelings come and go, we can stoke the good ones, and tamp down the negative ones. Our decision making ability is the one thing under our control. We can’t control emotions springing up, but, like water, we can channel those emotions so they can become positive things. We can choose what thoughts we allow, and where our thoughts will go. Thoughts are what trigger emotions. If you don’t believe me, just think about whether you turned the stove off, or if a bill is overdue!  If we spend time in God’s word, or around positive people, or reframe our experiences for the positive, we can remake our thoughts. Reframing means changing the context of a thought. For example, I can think “my friend didn’t call me because she is angry with me”, causing a cascade of negative feelings, or I can think “my friend didn’t call me, because like me, she is busy and had no reason to call”, causing no feeling. In other words, don’t go borrowing trouble.  If any of you are suffering from depression, I don’t mean to make it sound easy, I have been there, I know you need help getting a foothold on that ability to reframe.

Which brings me to my last thought. Every time I read about a person changing their life, it comes down to making up their mind to do so.  But most of them had tried changing more than once. Most of the people who succeeded had failed previous attempts. I really think it is like Dumbo’s magic feather. For those that don’t know, Dumbo was an elephant whose enormous ears allowed him to fly, but he didn’t believe he could, so his friend gave him a “magic feather” and convinced him it gave him the power of flight. I think most of us just need a magic feather. You have to have faith that you aren’t in this alone, that you can do what it is you are attempting, and that it will work. Without that faith, attempts fail. I had tried to quit smoking numerous times before I succeeded. Someone said to me “don’t smoke, even if your butt falls off”, and that thought carried me through. It reframed the situation for me. Instead of thinking “can I get through stressful situations without a cigarette?”, it became “nothing is more important than quitting.”

Of course, as a Christian, I believe God is the ultimate object to have faith in. If anyone is familiar with 12 step therapy, you know that they frame it as a higher power, which can be anything outside yourself. Sometimes you need a “subcategory” of something to have faith in, like the fact that others have done what you are doing, or that the process is worth it.

I wrote all of this to pass on what it has taken me years to learn, and what benefits me on a daily basis, as someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, who did go down the road of addiction and come back. I hope my explanation is clear, and that you might get some benefit from it.

Relative Risk and Reward

Not everyone who smokes will die of lung cancer.
Not everyone who eats Fruit Loops and Yoo Hoo for breakfast will get diabetes.
Conversly,
Not everyone who believes in God will have an easy life.
Not everyone who prays will get the answer they hope for.
Not everyone who exercises will have a long life.
However,
Everyone who smokes has less health, smells bad and is wasting money.
Everyone who eats  bad diet has less energy and health.
And,
Everyone who believes in God has an access to a source of help and that would not otherwise be available, not to mention an Eternal reward.
Everyone who exercises will be better off than if they didn’t.

People have an interesting approach to odds. Since the bad things associated with things we want to do don’t happen to everyone, or happen later in life, people discount the odds. Later, if the bad things  happen, people appear to have a fatalistic attitude of why or how it happened. conversely, not everyone who does the right things gets a reward. We will still do the bad things assuming the bad outcome won’t happen, and we won’t try the good things to see if the good results will happen. Or, we try the good things, get the results, and abandon them anyway.  Operant conditioning training by using rewards and punishment, isn’t real life. Certainly not in the immediate sense. Humans operate under forces far more complex than chickens or dogs.

As a personal trainer, I try to get people to see past the immediate gratification of the donut, to the long term satisfaction of looking and feeling better. What  I hear is “I don’t eat them that often” “Once in awhile won’t hurt you”, or “You still have to live.” Ok, then don’t complain about your weight, your aching knees and back, or how terrible you feel. If it really was “once in a while”, it would be ok.  Except once in a while means once a week. With a muffin the next day. A hamburger with fries the next. Pizza the next. Or, my personal favorite, starve yourself all day, then “reward” yourself with the donut.

Instead of telling yourself what you’re “not going to do”, start telling yourself what you are going to do. Decide today what kind of healthy breakfast you are going to have, and prepare it ahead of time, so you aren’t rushed. Pack a healthy lunch, with snacks, so you aren’t the least bit hungry at 3 pm. Did you know that 1/2 cup plain yogurt, a banana, a cup of grapes and 4 strawberries has only 260 calories. Put that up against the candy bar and see which one takes you further!

The complaints I hear about how hard it is to do the “right things” have some validity. Our society has made it so easy to do the wrong thing, and we are reaping that harvest. So many people talk about not wanting to follow the crowd, making good choices would be the perfect way to be a rebel and follow your own way, and end up healthier and happier to boot.

Some Thoughts on Religion

There. I put it right in the title, so if it isn’t your cup of tea, skip it and we’ll get back to fitness and nutrition shortly. I’ve just heard some things lately that bug me and want to air them here, because I do think some of the world is rational.

First, the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. The stated purpose is to sell them as wives, aka sex trafficking. This is “an Islamic extremist terrorist organization”. How often do we hear that? Are the non-extremists terrified into silence? If there is a main stream Islam that isn’t extremist, can they do nothing to turn the direction that their faith has gone in? How can any group claim any right to access their higher being in the name of violence and degradation? I don’t know about all religions, but the ones I do know about espouse the same things- seeking for the higher side of our natures, sharing over selfishness, giving rather than taking, cherishing God’s creation. Whatever your definition of God is, I can’t see how it could be a being that glories in harming others. If so, than that being must always be happy, we are so inventive at destroying each other.

Second, banning prayer in public places. I was listening to Albert Mohler talk about the court case in Greece, NY. They made a sincere effort to get many faiths involved, but they didn’t want to end the practice of praying before council meetings. The point was made that such practices have gone on since our founding father’s day, and congress still opens in prayer. I think banning any kind of speech is dangerous. Any time you say there is only one kind of acceptable speech, you are getting into serious government intrusion. I happen to be reading “The Book Thief”, reminding me what  attempts to control others leads to. I also think it is ridiculous to think that prayer, and invoking God, is somehow dangerous. For those who think a secular world is safer and more rational, need I remind you about Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot? They were no friends to religion, and their efforts for a better, secular, rational world led to more blood shed than all the religious wars put together. Rhetoric is far more dangerous than prayer. Well, I guess that depends on if you think anyone on the other end is listening….

In any case, if my praying out loud, in public, makes you so nervous you can’t bear it, then can I ban all music that has misogynous references, glorifies shooting, and uses the f- bomb? While we’re at it, add Two and a Half Men and Two Broke Girls. If I can’t have my prayer, you can’t have your sexually explicit conversations.

There, I’m done. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

Another Post on the Contemplation of Spirituality and the Physical

I always warn you if I’m going to talk about God and the bible, so you can tune out if you might be offended. So here is your 5 second delay to hit the back button.

Ok, the rest of you with me? All right then. “”You know the story of the talents?

Mt 25:14 ¶ “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property;
15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more.
17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.
18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’
21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’
22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’
23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’
24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow;
25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?
27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.
29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

Well, you know that is a spiritual allegory, and that the literal reference is to money.  But those verses keep coming into my mind when I think about physical fitness. I just spent most of the day with people over the age of 65. Those that were athletes or at least kept a higher than average level of fitness, enjoy a greater abundance of health in old age. those that didn’t apply themselves to their health when they were younger, get less able to do the things for their health when they get older. If you don’t exercise when you are younger, you can’t when you get older. If you don’t like to move when you are younger, you can’t when you get older.

Fortunately, just like the parable, it doesn’t have to be “5 talents”. Even if it is 2, or if you put any effort in, you will reap results. One lady I’ve been working with has gone from being barely able to exercise for 5 minutes, to being able to do 15 minutes. Another gentleman went from barely able to do a plank at all, to doing over a minute.  I’m watching pounds and years roll off of people. However, like the parable, if you refuse to do anything. If you say “I can’t”, and despise the body God gave you, you will reap the results.

The Mind Body Connection

In the world of physical fitness, the mind body connection most often refers to yoga, as if that is one of the few things that bring about a connection between the two. However, there  is no actual disconnect. Your body does nothing without the control of your mind, and you are a result of the million decisions you make each day: what to eat, wear, how much to sleep and every habit you have. What people  are really talking about in the mind body connection is making that connection more conscious and purposeful. Add the dimension of the spirit, and the conversation gets even more murky- where does that fit in? For actual yogis, yoga is a religious practice, not an exercise option.

As someone who has come rather late in life to a cordial relationship with her body, and that through karate, another practice which explores the relationship between mind, body and spirit, I often think about these relationships. As a Christian, I also try and see what the relationship between my heritage and beliefs are, and those of the eastern religions. I’ve written before of how I don’t see a difference between physical discipline and spiritual. Self control is one of the gifts of the spirit, and it leads to others. How can you have peace or joy if you are in the grip of an eating disorder, your finances are out of control, or any other addiction is running your life?

Ga 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

The main thought I’m striving for in this post is illustrated in 1 John:

1Jo 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.

The physical is a mirror to the spiritual. I don’t know if there is a spiritual thing you can do that is not also physical, because everything we do is expressed by our physical bodies. even our thoughts come of a chemical and electrical brain. (Don’t bring up hormones    –   just don’t go there.)

Right now, since I am practicing fasting for the first time and it certainly is a discipline, that is the focus of my ruminations (pun intended). It is denying the physical in favor of the spiritual. Adding to my contemplation is the fact that my mother was anorectic, and I flirted dangerously close to it as a teenager. Eating clearly shows this mirror to the spiritual. Balance has to be maintained for optimal health, that either extreme falls out of spiritual/mental/physical health. To be clear, I am being pragmatic about this. I am fasting certain meals and reducing my food intake over all, rather than doing a 100% fast. I do believe in the spiritual benefit, but not at the destruction of the body. I am already at the lower end of body weight, and am very active. If God wants me to sacrifice my body, it will have to be for a far greater cause than an exercise in discipline!

In any case, eating occupies a unique place in our life, It is one of the basic human needs we can temporarily abstain from, but one of the few pleasures that can slide into abuse that we cannot refrain from. Our alimentary canal cannot be ignored, it derails the most spiritually minded, bringing them back to earth. We may think we’re too cool for school, till we burp or fart, or just the funny noises our stomach makes in the quietest times. God obviously cares about our food, as I’ve posted about before, there are 163 verses mentioning feast, and 140 with the word food in. Fasting is about penitence, mourning, seeking, a reaching out to God. Feasting is about celebrating and enjoying communion with Him. God would like us to do both, in season. Now that we know how important our digestive tract is to our overall health, it makes even more sense why God is so concerned with our eating. One of the first things he tells Adam and Eve is what to eat.

The symbolic and cultural importance of food cannot be ignored either.  Watch a gathering of people with and without food. With food, people linger longer, relax quicker, act more sociable. Without it, they quickly get their business done and disperse.  Food encourages socialization. To willingly abstain from food puts a person at odds with the society at large. To have a unique diet does the same, but nowadays, that seems to be a popular trend. In the face of the overabundance we have now, people are selectively shrinking their choices, in order to regain control of their eating.

Sorry, this post rambled a bit. It’s hard to quantify some thoughts. Thanks for bearing with me.

Fasting

prayer and fasting

Double Minded?

I do enjoy irony, even when I am the source of it. I was just trying to convince a girl at the gym to eat more on Wednesday, and today I am making preparations to join our church on a fast. It did bring to mind that the same activity can have totally different meanings, depending on your purpose.

Fasting is one of those very complex disciplines. It is physical, but has been practiced for spiritual reasons throughout human history. Most, if not all major religions use it to allow their adherents to get their minds off of earthly things and focus on the spirit. Eating is one of our most basic needs, yet it is the one we can do without. You can’t stop breathing for more than a few seconds, and without shelter, hypothermia and exposure can kill us quickly. Fasting is a way of saying there are some things that are more important than even our physical needs.

Eating, or not eating, is the focus of much of our attention each day. We usually eat many times a day, and then there is the planing, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after. Taking all of that time and devoting it to meditation and contemplation of the spiritual is very beneficial. The bible says:

De 8:3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

By fasting, we can take God off of the “back burner” and make him the center of our lives.

Most of the time, I’m not a big fan of fasting. My mother was anorectic, which contributed to her early demise. I have seen what eating disorders do, and how they develop. I am a big fan of being as strong and healthy as possible, which requires adequate nutrition. I think people who fast to lose weight are setting themselves up for failure, since it isn’t teaching them to eat properly.

The activity of fasting can either be a tremendous spiritual journey, or a carnal nightmare, as tied up to messed up body images and earthly desires as anything you can think of. Fasting is NOT about punishing your body, or beating it into submission. It is almost impossible to separate the physical from the spiritual, since weight loss is a result of fasting, so even if you are fasting for right reason, you will have physical result that you may desire. I suppose it isn’t a bad thing to have a physical benefit to a spiritual practice. I just think if those two motivations are too closely linked, it can blur your focus, or twist a positive into a negative. I think the biggest deliminator is prayer. Prayer takes fasting out of the physical and moves it to the spiritual. It allows you to pay attention to your motivation and stay on track.

My final statement on this is that I am only doing a complete fast one day a week. During the week I will be fasting certain items, to pare my eating down to what is essential, but I am extremely active, and a complete fast could be detrimental to my health. I have enough trouble holding weight. You can fast in all kinds of ways, by denying yourself earthly pleasures.  Whatever you fast, sweets, meat, or favorite activities, it is prayer that takes it from simple self denial to a spiritual discipline.

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