On 4th Sundays of each month, I explore the rhythms, practices, and sacred patterns that nurture my soul.
By Myers-Briggs type, I am an INFJ (bordering on INFP). Like most folk of this type, I’m an idealist. I walk through the world with eyes wide open. Grocery shopping is hell.
As an INFJ, the salad dressing aisle makes me cry. This is why I don’t walk down the aisles in the store if I can help it. This is why I mostly shop at an organic co-op and farmers market, why I make my own salad dressing, why I get most of my food from a CSA in order to avoid the store altogether.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: For those who can run into the grocery store on your way home and pick up a bottle of Ranch dressing, bless you. May you cultivate gratitude for simplicity. For me to step onto the dressing aisle, my mind instantly takes in the visual data and filters it through a matrix in which each bottle of dressing is scrutinized:
Plastic bottles: Recycled or not? What’s the plastic number on the bottom? Is the lid too small to qualify for recycling? What chemicals are leaching into the oils of the dressing?
Corporations: What mother company owns the brand on the label? What are working conditions in their supply chain? What is my money going to support?
Ingredients: How was this produced? What impact does it have on the earth, on the workers along the way, on my body? What manufactured chemical flavors and preservatives might be cleverly disguised in the ingredient list?
Marketing: How am I being compelled by the supermarket-pastoral narratives on the labeling? How is the nutrition facts panel shaping the way that I understand my relationship to life sustaining food?
Knowledge: What knowledge have I lost that I must rely on companies to make salad dressings for me? Can’t I do this for myself? Why don’t I have my great grandmother’s recipes for this sort of thing?
Health: Should I be eating salad dressing? What kind of oils are used in these–are they old and rancid and I just don’t know they’re delivering horrible oxidants to my body because the flavor is masked with chemicals?
Energy: How much energy was used to make the bottle? How far did it travel? What part of the globe was robbed of this food in order to ship it to me? How much acreage of the planet am I staring at in these hundreds of bottles in front of me?
Economics: Am I entitled to someone else’s food? If I don’t buy it, will a small business that’s employing people go under and the market just keep drifting toward uglier giant salad dressing hawking corporations?
This is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s significantly more there that’s much tougher to articulate. In fact, it’s important to note that I don’t actually cognitively think these questions, I FEEL THEM. I can literally stand in the salad dressing aisle for 5, 10, 30 minutes, basket on the floor, mouth hanging open, tears welling in my eyes. I am overwhelmed with all that is sacred and profane about each bottle before me.
Utter INFJ-salad-dressing-option hell.
I have friends who know this; people who ask me if I’ll eat meat if they order it on a pizza, who check in before offering me store-bought baked goods. I am grateful for their kind awareness. And I’ve also found that to care for my soul–hell, to stay sane–I have to learn to surrender.
For me it is a spiritual practice to let go–to imagine the plastic package of pre-cooked, chopped chicken provided at a work function was really lovingly prepared; that it came from a healthy chicken that was treated well, was slaughtered, cooked, and sold by people who were treated justly and paid fairly; that there aren’t a slew of chemicals being poured on every step of the way; that I won’t be “eating and drinking death” unto myself by eating the meal sitting in front of me and just being grateful for how it satiates my hungry stomach (oh yeah, idealistic self, I’m hungry and have to eat!).
It is important that I surrender–not my idealism, but the hold it has over me–so that I can eat some food to care for my body and actually let myself be present with the people I am eating with. This is no easy thing. It requires practice–requires extending grace, not so much to the horrifying food system we deal with, but to myself; allowing myself to relax, eat when I’m hungry, and live to care so-damn-much another day.
So if you see me standing in the salad dressing aisle, feel free to take me by the elbow and steer me away–or just grab a dressing off the shelf (preferably a local, organic, glass-bottled, co-op kind), drop it in my basket, and tell me to move along. And if you have me over for dinner, know that I’m certainly not judging you in my high idealism, I probably just need a kind smile as you offer me a plate of whatever it is that you are serving.
My sensing deeply is not a curse. It’s a part of what makes me a great writer, thinker, and friend. It allows me to appreciate nuanced beauty of shifting light; flavors of food; emotional experiences of other people.
In a technologically connected world in which we are assaulted with information about things far beyond our control, it is easy to find myself overwhelmed and so, I have to learn to turn that sensing toward myself and ask what my own body is telling me about my nature, my human finitude, my need to settle myself into particularity of place and a limited number of relationships in which I can surrender to the goodness of a community that will value my gifts and feed me (or push me out of the dressing aisle) when I am overwhelmed.
Reading back through these words, it occurs to me that perhaps I am talking about care. As an INFJ I care about (love?), almost indiscriminately; nearly everything. Yet in order to function, to live, and to thrive, I must care for myself–or rather, surrender to the care provided to me by others–the earth and my family of friends. I have to let go, learn to receive my tears for myself (which come so less frequently than my tears for others, for music, art, film, poetry, and salad dressings), and receive care from those who care about me.
This kind of letting go is difficult–it feels too easy, like I should have to work hard to bring about something as good as acceptance; belonging. What would it be like to surrender and really believe? The difficult thing is that it’s not the kind of thing that I internally sense myself into believing. I have to experience it. I have to accept it as a gift from others.