Today’s discoveries in neuroscience bring us an understanding that those practicing prayer and meditation have known since the beginning of time. There are positive effects from everyday activities like walking, noticing something of beauty, or…eating chocolate and chilie peppers that start in the brain and move throughout our bodies. There is a direct link between thinking, behavior, and how the ability to regulate mood results in better physical health.  Neuroscientists today understand more about the mechanics of this connection between brain and body, spiritual and physical, than ever before.  

On my journey to managing fibromyalgia and overcoming PTSD I have learned to identify ways to assist and enhance my body’s own natural distressing systems by tapping into this brain/body connection. I learned from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood that self-care is more than having every hair in place and lipstick on before you answer the door no matter the time of day or night. One can look fabulously gorgeous on the outside while falling apart on the inside. Somewhere along my journey to wellness I discovered that life balance is chocolate covered and spiced with chiles.

Did you know that chocolate is a psychoactive food? Meaning, it has the ability to affect the mind, mood, and other mental processes. Similarly capsicum or chile peppers “fool the mouth” into thinking it is in trouble with their searing pain, only to reward with a euphoric rush. I love knowing that chocolate and chiles have properties that increase my “feel good” hormones. I delight in partaking of them from time to time with the awareness that this is good for me – mentally as well as physically.

A while back my husband, knowing my affection for all things cocoa, brought home a chocolate cake as a gift of love and kindness to me. This was one of those artisans cakes with umpteen layers slathered over, under, and around with thick velvety fudge frosting. On top, in pink gloss frosting, the sentiment, “I Love You” was delicately inscribed. It was not my birthday, nor our anniversary. He brought it to me “just because”. This reminded me of my studies in the attributes of God. One attribute is Loving Kindness or Chesed. It’s a giving thing. It is an expression of goodness and greatness just because. Nothing I did to deserve it. It is unbounded and unmerited. It gives and gives. Chesed on its own is endless. It’s the entire cake…and more.

My first thought upon being presented with this loving kindness was “How sweet…literally! What on earth am I to do with an entire cake?” (We’ll talk another time about charity/sharing) My primal force said, “Eeeaat…cake gooood. Eat entire cake”. Yet, how many of us have the capacity to partake of an entire chocolate cake and not suffer negative physical effects? Not I! I took into consideration that my loving partner would eat a portion of the cake. But he was leaving the next day on a 3-day business trip. I would be left at home – alone – with most of that cake and my love for chocolate, just because… What chesed.

This brought to mind my friend J who is more like the Soup Nazi – NO CAKE FOR YOU! She battles the size and shape of her figure, like everything in life, through sheer determination and force of will. She plans her weekly menus, measures out her daily portions. Not a morsel passes her lips that is not on THE list. And though she looks divine, there is a punitive air about when we have girl’s night out and she says – NO CAKE FOR ME! She totally didn’t get the loving kindness part of my husband’s action. I liken her determination to the attribute of Strength or Gevurah. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law. A strict meting out of justice. Absolute judgment. NO CAKE FOR YOU! Gevurah is primarily an act of constraint and restraint.

So, how do I find a healthy place of balance for myself between my husband’s chesed and my friend’s gevurah? While I am looking for this balance between the entire cake kindness and NO CAKE FOR YOU stringency, along comes the attribute of Mercy, a.k.a. tiferet. Tiferet – which literally means beauty or glory – is the most central attribute as it mediates between kindness and strength. It implies a compromise – a “little of this, a little of that.” Herein I realized lies the beauty of genuine balance.

To apply this practically in my life I went to Trader Joe’s and purchased a tin of chocolate wedges that contain 70% dark cocoa along with chile. After work I joined my very chesed husband as he lounged out on our back deck. As we listen to the birds chatter and watched the sun set over the mountains, a wedge of the chocolate melted deliciously in my mouth. The cocoa flavor dissolved and a bite on the back of my tongue sharpened my senses. Together the cocoa and chilies went to work releasing my brain’s “feel good” hormones – endorphins, serotonin and the like. As a feeling of euphoria enveloped my body, a sigh released, my mood lifted and I thought, “Balance – what a deliciously beautiful chocolate covered concept”.