Skip to main content

What to Feed Your Mind


As is the case of so many everyday catch phrases, "you are what you eat," contains an important message—though wrapped in a trite idiomatic saying—that the food we take into the body eventually becomes and sustains the body. If we are to maintain health, its beneficial to consume a nourishing, balanced diet. Now, we might find such a message obvious, but it asks us to perceive experience in a manner that’s both essential yet not easy for many of us, namely taking into consideration the long term results our actions. The Snickers bar tastes sweet, the Red Bull provides a quick energy boost, but they don't provide path to lasting health and vitality. When we suppress thoughts about the long term ramifications of a cheeseburger and milkshake, we’re living as actions don’t have results; like an infant covering its eyes to avoid a scary situation, we act as if what we don't acknowledge can't hurt us.

It was quite clever, then, of the Buddha to use appetite and digestion as a metaphor for the larger issues of creating suffering in life, for the underlying processes are similar: What we focus the mind on and ruminate over (thoughts, memories, sensory perceptions and on) eventually turns into the future mind states. We have to live in minds influenced by every idea we’ve mulled over from our darkest, unacknowledged intentions and obsessive fears to our most refined thoughts of generosity, virtue and appreciation. The Buddha’s theory of stress origination (paticca samupadda), along with his choice of words, are unmistakable. In each new situation in life we harbor underlying, largely somatic feelings, breathing patterns and mental energies that, working in unison, urge as to how we should proceed. Perhaps someone gives us a hostile look; our underlying feelings of discomfort urge us to disengage and end the interaction. If a situation provides us with an opportunity to gain a feeling of security, we feel comfortable about the experience, and develop what's been translated as  'craving.' Yet the word the Buddha actually used—tanha—doesn't mean "craving," it really means 'thirst' or appetite. And so the mind gets a small taste of something and wants to taste, or experience, more of it.

Next in the sequence is upadana, which has been translated variously as clinging, grasping or attachment. Yet upadana really means 'to feed on' or ingest. So the Buddha was expressing that encountering an immediately positive experience, we get a taste of underlying ease and crave more. The mind starts to seek sustenance from pleasant events, and as the conditions fade away, we keep them going in the mind as thoughts, memories or plans, mulling them over, ruminating, feeding off (clinging to) a now imaginary experience (note how we often ask for time to think something over as "let me chew on it."). Much of what the mind tries to digest isn’t real—we’re mentally feeding on long dead and rotten memories or completely hollow fantasies, hoping they’ll sustain the mind. This is like trying to sustain the body on a diet of fetid roadkill and cotton candy.

Just like there are healthy and unhealthy foods, there are beneficial and unwholesome thoughts, moods and perceptions. As sugary snacks tastes good in the short term but depletes the body down the road, thoughts of greed, self-righteous anger and envy often taste good in the mind at first, as they provide a sense of illusory power (dopamine and adrenaline rush). Alas, down the road such thoughts create week and agitated states of consciousness. The Buddha helpfully provided a list of the four types of harmful content the 'run of the mill' mind likes to focus on:
• conditional experiences that bring short term pleasures (shopping, intoxication, compulsive sex, people pleasing and on)
• views and opinions about how the world should be and everything that's wrong with life
• routines we've ingrained through habits and repetition that we defend as "the right way to do things"
• self-absorbed thoughts, especially those that try to define our true nature, predict our future, or compare us to others
Each of the above types of mental content are terribly addictive (ie lead to obsessions), as they provide fleeting experiences of security and happiness, but the good times don't last, and we're left with even greater appetites.

So the goal of the buddha was the middle path, not one of completely giving up on consuming nutrients, but feeding in a way that doesn’t create addictive thoughts. Just as he instructed practitioners to focus on eating enough to sustain a healthy body, we should consume enough information and digest enough ideas to sustain the mind, to keep it active and engaged. But we want the mind to feed on nutrients: thoughts of appreciation for supportive friends, awe at life’s wonders, gratitude for our skills and abilities, recognition our virtues and generosity of spirit, acknowledgement of our impermanence, discerning which actions bring us long term happiness and which bring suffering. Once we learn how to feed the mind and exercise it, we finally need to be patient for the results, which will appear, though not necessarily to our time table. Just as its foolish to expect muscles after one’s first week at the gym, so to does mental development (bhavana) require time to take hold. But when it does, its worth every bit of the effort.

Comments

  1. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Idea to Help Dieters Lose 15 Pounds within Just 21 Days!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Is There Life on Earth?

Our ancestors knew that physical proximity, being seen in the eye of others via direct, face-to-face contact was, and is, the core foundation of mental and physical health. Without the emotional co-regulation that community provides, our sympathetic nervous systems never switch off, we’re forever on guard. 
Remember: The human species survived and thrived because we lived in tribes where individuals labored not just for themselves, but the benefit of others; we didn't survive by outrunning predators, for we are without wings, shells or claws; we survive because we are pack animals, wired to connect, our primary means to survive threats and heal our wounds; without connection chronic stress is the inevitable result.
     Loneliness is not a spiritual state to seek, it’s a health risk: the bonds of community, emotional mirroring, acceptance heal our wounds, help us grow, produce states of ease and confidence. People in communities live significantly longer, healthier lives.
     Withou…

Integrating the Head with the Heart

Integrating The Head With The Heart
Summary of Insights Winter 2016 - Josh Korda


~

I’m an empowered Buddhist dharma teacher, which means I spend a lot of time addressing groups of students, in the course of annual retreats and two or three weekly classes around Manhattan and Brooklyn; however, the focal point of my life’s work involves providing one-on-one spiritual and psychological mentoring to individuals. What’s of central importance to my interpersonal work is emotion integration, by which I mean the practice of bringing one’s underlying, spontaneous, instinctive feeling states into ongoing conscious attention and decision making. Now, you may well wonder, why would anyone need help perceiving or assimilating emotions? Aren’t they readily apparent? However, I’ve found, over the course of working in depth with hundreds of individuals, that many of us live at estranged distances from our authentic feelings, depending on strategies of denial, numbing, and other repressive tools to main…

Imagination And Creativity as Spiritual Practice

It’s worth noting how few of childhoods’ freewheeling exercises—the entertainments that were once synonymous with youthful delight—journey through to adult life. To a great degree, we’ve moved, en masse, toward consuming entertainment via television, video games and social media rather than creating our entertainment: drawing, making pottery, dancing, singing, and other inventive endeavors. Those same kindergartners who sing, draw, dance, and engage in all kinds of play, will, in only a few years’ time, be streaming their content via iPad screens, which requires less imagination and effort. 
Consider the mind’s two dominant cognitive networks: the first is the default mode network (DMN), a mental state wherein we can visualize possibilities or solve problems, but where we often wind up speculating about unknowable future outcomes or ruminating about interpersonal conflicts. DMN is largely activated by subregions associated with inductive reasoning centers of the brain (the dorsal and m…