The Spirit of Food
by Nan LuIt’s a deep question: Why is food medicine? Food is sunlight; it is water and earth in condensed form. The sun, the moon, all the planets and stars—the elements of the universe come together to create food. So in the very highest sense, food is pure Universal medicine. We’re just not taught to look at it this way, from a spiritual perspective.
Every food or herb that appears on this planet exists for a specific purpose. They grow from a tiny seed to the fullest peak of their energy. You can say that at this point they have fulfilled their destiny. They are ready and capable of transferring the message of Universal love to anyone who eats them.
We can connect to the spirit or essence of food because we come from the same source: Nature. In our genetic code, we all have the memory—passed to us through many, many generations—of how to use the foods and herbs in Nature to nourish our bodies and keep them healthy. Our bodies are so intelligent. They have the wisdom to recognize and process the loving energy of foods and apply them for healing purposes. Quantum physics confirms what Chinese medicine has known for millennia—everything is connected. There is an underlying inherent unity in this reality and being separate is an illusion. At this invisible level, our bodies know the unique language of food. And the energy or consciousness of food can help stimulate the memory of our own healing ability that lies within everyone’s body.
Throughout time, this is the relationship humans have built up with natural foods and herbs. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has used this special energy connection for healing by prescribing food as medicine. It has long understood that the spiritual aspect of food—the true healing “ingredient”—goes far beyond physical properties like nutrients, calories and vitamins. Each food has an energy essence that travels to and through specific meridians, or energy pathways in the body, to heal particular organs. Through their incredibly deep connection to Nature and high level of personal practice, ancient practitioners were able to perceive exactly how each food and herb moves in the body and “see” just how each one affects the body, mind and spirit.
To give one simple example, watermelon, a popular summertime fruit in the West, has been used for very specific healing purposes in Chinese medicine for millennia. It has a cold essence that enters the Liver*, Heart, Bladder, and Stomach meridians, relieving thirst and decreasing internal heat. Watermelon also releases toxins from the body and is very beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, kidney infections, liver disease, and heart conditions, including high blood pressure. So you can see that it has capabilities that extend way beyond being just a refreshing fruit!
Chinese medicine classifies two categories of healing foods: one includes foods that are typically part of our everyday diet: vegetables like broccoli, celery and carrots; fruits such as apples, pineapples and pears. The other category includes foods and herbs that are not eaten on a regular basis and are prescribed in certain amounts, often for specific periods of time: ginseng, goji berries and germinated or malted barley (sometimes called “Chinese barley”) are examples of these kinds of foods.
One major principle of Chinese medicine is that we are part of the universe and always connected to Nature. The healing power within Nature is available to us as a great gift to use during our lives here on Earth. Its energy and changes impact us, as we impact it. If we are so deeply connected to this unlimited power source, why can’t we always make full use of this tremendous healing potential? Why do we get sick? How do we become overweight?
The truth is that to get support from the universe our bodies must be in balance and function well; all the organs must work together in harmony. When things function in harmony there is a continual, unconscious exchange between them. This automatic energy transfer happens naturally within our bodies and between our body-mind-spirit and Nature. So if we want to maximize the healing potential within food, and be truly healthy, we must first be in a state of balance and harmony. We need to be open and able to receive from our side of this miraculous connection.
From the Chinese medicine perspective, without a strong digestive system, no matter what you eat you will not be able to receive the maximum benefit. In other words, you will not be able to extract and then process even the physical nutrients needed for healing. And when Chinese medicine speaks about the digestive system, it means several organ systems that must work in harmony. The Stomach processes foods, and its partner organ, the Spleen, extracts the nutritive essence and sends it to the Lung, which in turn sends the essence to all the other organs. Many organs are involved in digestion and they themselves also depend on good digestion to gain the right amount of energy to function properly. If one organ is weak or out of balance, the entire process can become impaired. The organs are that interdependent in terms of function.
How do we fall out of balance and harmony to begin with? The answer lies within each person who asks themselves this question. And the answer is always accessible—if you believe you can find it. Faith and perseverance also help find it. Many people have heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” This statement about food is true, yet there is another level operating that many people are unaware of: “You are what you think.” Sometimes we feed ourselves a steady diet of negative thoughts and emotions which we then associate with our body, our mind or spirit. It’s important to know that our thoughts feed our spirit; our emotions impact our body and health. We can ask ourselves how we really want to feel. And we can create what we want in our lives.
Chinese medicine has many natural, safe and effective modalities that can address issues of the body, mind and spirit. Healing programs like Traditional Chinese Medicine’s long-running Dragon’s Way® Program teaches people how to apply in their daily lives ancient principles of Chinese medicine and natural law, to approach food from a spiritual perspective, and to use self-healing systems like Qigong to build energy, lose weight, manage stress and balance the body so that the body-mind-spirit connection can deepen.
If we look at food from the spiritual point of view there is no need to force anything, to feel guilty about what we eat, to deny or ignore the important messages our bodies are trying to send us through symptoms or dis-ease. This approach to food changes our relationship to food— and to ourselves. We can use this kind of thinking as a special technique to gain maximum support from the universe for our own healing journey. Eating this way—eating for healing—creates many benefits, especially on the body-mind-spirit level. Food is medicine because it is Light, and ultimately comes from the source of all and the source of all true healing.
* In Chinese medicine, when the names of organs are capitalized, they denote a broader definition of the organ, one that goes beyond solely physical characteristics to include spiritual, emotional and mental aspects.
Nan Lu, OMD, LAc, is the founding director of TCM World Foundation and its sister organization, Tao of Healing, both based in New York City. He is clinical associate professor at the School of Social Welfare, State University of New York at Stony Brook. Dr. Lu holds a doctorate from Hubei College of TCM, China, and is a Lac. In New York State. Classically and university trained, he is a master herbalist as well as an internationally recognized Taiji expert and Qigong master, and is a best-selling author of three TCM books published by Harper Collins. Dr. Lu’s specialties include women’s health, cancer and immune system disorders and he frequently partners with doctors of Western medicine using a complementary approach. He advises and lectures extensively on TCM, preventive and integrative medicine and has been an invited speaker at major conferences, (www.tcmworld.org; www.tcmconference.org; www.breastcancer.com). Contact: Kristen Park 973.378.8864. firstname.lastname@example.org