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Interfaith Voices: The importance of learning to chew with purpose

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I recently heard a man with Parkinson’s disease describe the necessity of having a sense of purpose when eating. “Chew with purpose! Swallow with purpose!”

He cautioned that casual or distracted swallowing for someone with Parkinson’s can lead to the nuisance of having to hack up errant food from the trachea or, in more severe cases, to material making its way to the lungs resulting in pneumonia.

The peril of pulmonary aspiration, colloquially known as something “going down the wrong pipe,” is but one of many resulting from a lack of purpose in movement for a person with Parkinson’s or other disorders.

Even in the early stages of my own journey with Parkinson’s, I understand all too well the need for purposeful movements, in tasks including swallowing, walking, speaking, typing, opening jars, and much more. Absence of such purpose in these simple tasks can result in frustration, embarrassment, or even injury.

Living with Parkinson’s has helped me to further refine the idea of moving, and living, with purpose to include a singleness of purpose. Doing multiple tasks simultaneously dilutes our ability to do any one of those tasks meaningfully. Focusing on one task, with a singleness of purpose, is the best way, and sometimes the only way, to fulfill our purpose.

This idea of purposeful movement extends to other aspects of our lives as well. What’s my purpose in going to work each day, in raising my children, in talking to my parents, in waking up in the morning, in living life at all? Society, for the most part, answers these questions of purpose by offering us a platter of materialism, consumerism and self-gratification — suggesting that our purpose is to obtain as much of these as possible.

Anyone who has tread this path for any length of time knows that the alluring joys it presents are ultimately fleeting, leaving us empty and searching for our true purpose. The search for true purpose inevitably involves questions of spirituality, so we turn to the source of spirituality for answers.

One of the daily obligatory prayers revealed by Baha’u’llah and which is well-known to Baha’is begins, “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.” Thus, we have the fundamental statement of our life’s purpose: to know and worship our creator.

Because we, the created, can never comprehend the essence of our creator, we turn to God’s manifestations, or prophets, to gain knowledge of God and to receive instructions on how to worship Him. These manifestations (Baha’u’llah, The Bab, Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, and others) attempt to describe the indescribable in language we can understand and give us guidance on how to fulfill our life’s purpose in knowing and worshipping God.

While knowing and worshipping God may conjure images of cloistered monks or mendicant dervishes isolating themselves from society and seeking the Divine, a modern understanding of worship involves living a life much more integrated with our fellow humans. Private, individual prayer is certainly a part of knowing and worshipping God, but the other crucial part is service to others.

The necessity of both of personal growth and service is expressed in the Baha’i concept of a two-fold moral purpose — namely, to develop one’s inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society. Baha’u’llah ties societal transformation directly to our purpose by stating that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”

Let us encourage each other in finding a singleness of purpose, whether that purpose be chewing, swallowing, praying, walking, talking or serving our fellow humans.

Joe Fradella is a senior instructor in civil and construction engineering at Oregon State University and lives in Albany with his two children. He is an active member of the local Baha’i community.


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