by Teresa Blumenstein
Teresa is serving as the AmeriCorps Wellness Coordinator at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
There is a distinct difference between being full and being nourished. Examples of this phenomenon are in no short supply at the community health clinic where I work. Of all the health problems for which patients at the clinic are treated, the vast majority are closely linked to diet. It did not take much time at the clinic to learn that most patients suffered from some combination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and mild to morbid obesity. This suffering from surplus was a strange thing to behold, a kind of poverty wildly different from that faced by the poor of most other nations. On the surface of their health problems, our patients could not be more different from the poor of a developing nation whose muscles and tissues waste away due to a lack of food. Upon further consideration, however, the illness from which they suffer is the very same: malnutrition. At the end of the day, health is not concerned with how well one was able to fill herself. What counts is how well she was able to nourish herself. As I got down to business at the clinic, eager to learn all I could about nutrition and to begin sewing seeds of dietary enlightenment, I found myself drawing many parallels between diet and life. We are, after all, beings who spend our lives seeking to satisfy many appetites. We hunger for social interaction, solitude, exercise, sleep, meaningful work, city lights and stars, chaos and calm. In life, as in a diet, many, or perhaps most, of us look for fulfillment in the wrong places.
Turning this line of thought on myself, I recognize that I entered my volunteer year as an individual with admittedly intense and imbalanced appetites. My physical diet (which featured protein bars, pretzels and cereal heavily), my athletic yen, and my work appetites were never left wanting. Throughout this time, sleep was something that happened to me, a state of failure to be awake. Spirituality was often relegated to an hour of Mass each week. In more honest terms, it was confined to the 10-15 minutes of Mass in which my thoughts escaped preoccupation with the amount of homework I had yet to do, or the number of hours of sleep I would absolutely require in order to face my 6K time trial the next day. When I did have the opportunity to choose sleep, I would often elect to do it in slightly uncomfortable places so as to ensure I would be able to rouse myself in a few hours. More often than not, my tremendous and incessant efforts to keep my life full- with schoolwork, school friends, and exercise-that I often failed to keep my whole person nourished.
My time as a Loretto volunteer has allowed me to start examining ways in which I could cut out some of the fat, salt and sugar I have grown accustomed to throwing on top of the genuine, fulfilling substance of my life. I found that many of the principles with which I have learned to govern my diet, could be applied to my life as a whole…
When it comes to seeking nourishment, seek balance and quality and avoid extremes.
Allow for just a smattering of little things purely for short-lived pleasure, the deep-fried simple sugars of material possessions. In excess, the time and energy cost of their upkeep requires isolation from others, my passions, and my true self.
Avoid pouring yourself into meaningless work for the sake of keeping your hands busy or your nose to the grindstone. Reserve the salt of your sweat as a complement to dishes that already provide life-giving nutrients. Otherwise the only thing you will gain for your effort is an increase in blood pressure.
Fill your days with people, both those whose conversation and companionship go down easy, and those whose challenging perspectives take time to digest. Take the time to understand who they are, where they come from, and what paths have brought them to you. Those people are your protein and fiber. They will make you stronger and help clear out the prejudices and biases that narrow your heart and mind.
Fill yourself with the fruits and vegetables of intentional displacement, of attention to the struggles of others, near and far, and to your role in those struggles. Once boiled down or stripped of their thick, attractive rinds of privilege, these unassuming nutrients allow for the conversion of raw values into a force for justice.
Wash everything down with the waters of quiet and stillness, which allow recognition of the disquiet and chaos within. Drink in spiritual exercise, discernment of your deepest needs, and gratitude for the ways in which those needs are already being met.
Enjoy what you have before it spoils. Savor everything as you take it in. Fill your body, mind, and soul with what and who make them run, jump, dance, and soar.
Fill yourself with these, and be not only full, but also, nourished.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.