The Paleo lifestyle is perceived as being related to the physical aspects of our lives, including what we eat and how we move and train. Is there a spiritual aspect to the paleo lifestyle? What exactly does that mean?
I admit that this is a hard post to write. Spirituality is a complex and elusive subject. Combine it with the paleo lifestyle and the number of interpretations it has, and you’ve got yourself in trouble. However, the relation of paleo and spirituality is way too interesting to just ignore.
I think that in order to start answering this question, we need to define what exactly spirituality is. I know that I’m getting into a rabbit hole here and that there is a very wide spectrum of definitions of spirituality. To me, however, the root of spiritual life is the investigation or search for one’s self and finding the true nature of who we are. A religious person might call it the search for God.
When it comes to nutrition, for many in the West, spiritual life is associated with vegetarianism or veganism, probably because some Eastern philosophies that promote these diets have a very significant influence on how spirituality is perceived in the Western world. Eating meat, according to some of those philosophies, automatically ranks you lower on the spiritual ladder. I’m not going to get into the moral issues regarding that. I’ll just say that I believe this approach is way oversimplifying issues of spirituality as well as morality.
For the majority of people in the West it’s a matter of a flat image; a skinny vegan yoga teacher in a lotus pose will always be considered a symbol of spirituality. A muscular CrossFitter doing deadlifts? Not so much.
It Starts with Your Intention
To live spiritually, regardless of your diet, starts with what intention you put in your dietary choice as well as in your training and pretty much in every aspect of your life.
Why do you do whatever it is that you do? What stands behind your choices? Whether your diet is vegan or heavily based on animal protein, the intention and awareness you pour into your choices makes the whole difference.
For example – if your motivation for training is just to look good in your swimsuit, well, although its a great by-product, you’re kind of missing the point. If you train to be healthy and do it as part of a general approach to improving yourself and your surroundings then you’re leading a spiritual life. Training is part of your practice. The key is in the awareness that everything we do is part of a bigger picture. When we realize this, anything we do can potentially become part of our spiritual practice.
“We Are All One” Is Not Just a Hippie Cliché
The paleo case is based in deep science. Many of the leaders of this movement are scientists or, at least, science geeks. Science likes to isolate and compartmentalize information, but it seems that the more we know about health, the more we understand the interrelationships and dependence of single components on each other.
Eastern philosophies don’t make the separation between body, mind and spirit. Nutrition and physical practice have been central to many traditional Eastern spiritual philosophies. Nutrition in Ayroveda, the traditional Hindu medicine, is one example. Nutrition is also a huge part of traditional Chinese medicine, and it is a highly complicated and detailed healing system.
When it comes to physical practices in the East, yoga comes to mind. Physical practice is just a vehicle in the yoga philosophy to evolve spiritually. The fact that you can get more flexible and stronger practicing it is great, but it’s not the main goal. Chi-gong, tai chi and pretty much all Eastern martial art philosophies are all based in the physical practice but are intended to improve your spirit.
To me, it seems like the same approach is rooted in the paleo movement. Just look around and see how many functional-medicine or integrative-medicine doctors who approach health holistically, are part of the paleo community. The body is a system of systems, and each system is depended on the others. For example, the quality of nourishment you give your body has a critical effect on the clarity and functionality of your mind. The same goes for the way you manage your stress in life. Once you understand yourself as a holistic entity, you start to see the connection of paleo and spirituality.
Going further, you also start to understand the relation of yourself with your surroundings. We tend to experience ourselves as separate entities defined by our bodies. But our bodies are not where we end and something else starts.
I love the term “Holon” that was coined by journalist Arthur Koestler. Holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and part of some other whole. If you look closely, you’ll find that everything is a Holon. The cells in our body have some autonomic existence, but they are also part of and dependent on a bigger system. We are also independent individuals, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We are part of a bigger entity.
Community is the first entity that we are part of and is a huge component of living spiritually. The significance of community to your life is derived from a deep understanding of the interdependence of individuals and collectives. We are Holons in the community. When you take care of your body and mind’s health, you radiate it outwards. You influence others. You don’t have to be a professional to do that. Helping, healing and doing good for others became a natural path for so many people who changed and healed themselves. It’s common sense. Healing yourself is healing the community. The environment is the next larger circle we are part of, and obviously, healthy choices individuals make, support the environment.
Living a healthy life by eating a nourishing diet is a practice that requires persistence and discipline. Training your body to its full potential is no doubt a practice, too. These are two basic material elements of the paleo lifestyle, but they are tightly connected to the spiritual aspects of life because they directly serve them. Physical practice, with the right intention behind it, elevates your spirit and strengthens it wether its Yoga or lifting weights.
If living spiritually is about connecting with yourself and knowing yourself (or the illusion of the self), what techniques can you use to strengthen this connection?
Meditation is the simplest and most immediate way to do that. There are countless meditation techniques, but the main principle of all forms of meditation is to sit quietly and do nothing other than breathing. Look inside and meet yourself. In our daily routines, it is so easy to get carried away in the endless stream of fears and worries about the future on one hand, and regrets and sadness regarding the past on the other. There is also the stress of never-ending errands, to-do lists and work. The beautiful thing about meditation is that it defines a sacred space and time in our day, time and space that are reserved for being in the moment and introspective.
Religions around the world created sacred spaces for spiritual work in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. They also defined and set the time for prayers. But spirituality can exist without religion. Find your time and space for yourself and meditate there. It can be the living room sofa or an isolated spot in nature. The health benefits of mediation are, by now, a consensus, and the amount of science to back this up is massive, which shows us again the feedback loop of health and spirituality.
The more you practice meditation, the more you can apply the meditative state to anything else you do. It’s called mindfulness. That brings us back to the intention principle. When you’re fully engaged in what you do at every moment, when you act mindfully, you are meditating. Weather you’re working, eating, training, playing or just spending time with family or friends, do it with awareness. Be in the moment and own it. This is how spirituality touches every aspect of your life.
Although spiritual practice should be defined in time and space in your life, living spiritually can be something that is deeply ingrained in every moment in your life. The paleo lifestyle in its holistic meaning gives you the perfect platform to live spiritually. Maintaining a healthy body and mind supports us in finding purpose and meaning in life. Every choice we make can support our spirit or suppress it. It’s not necessarily about what you want. It’s about what you need. So tune in. Listen carefully. Be aware.