We spend a lot of time talking about what foods we should or shouldn’t eat in order to be healthy. What we need to consider is that food is not only what we put into our bodies, but also what we watch, what we listen to, what we think about and what we are saying. We need to think of our senses as organs that receive their “food” in the form of impressions. It is vital to our mental health and happiness that these “foods” nourish us.
As a society, we have 50,000 times more experiences in our lifetimes than we did just 100 years ago. I’d wager that the bulk of those experiences are done without thought or regard to how they might affect us mentally, maybe not even physically. With pressure constantly mounting from society’s version of being successful, attractive, productive, etc., we are less and less satisfied with how our lives stack up against these impossible standards. This deficit we perceive in ourselves is at the heart of the staggering fact that the use of prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and other serious mental illnesses has risen over 400% since 1990. It is impossible to deny that the nature of these experiences are leaving detrimental impressions on our senses that are degrading our happiness and often even our mental health.
For over 5,000 years, the mind has been said to have 3 distinct qualities: a clear/lucid quality that enjoys life and is considered to be our true nature, an agitated/restless quality that cannot relax, and a dull/listless quality that is unclear and confused. In today’s modern world, we are operating mostly from the agitated mind that is endlessly pursuing and grasping, which leads to the dull and confused mind when those objects/conditions fail to bring the lasting happiness we were sure they would. Eventually, operating for so long from the agitated and dull states and not enough in the clear quality of mind, the mind can’t handle it and the door to mental illness is opened.
Living this way has made us forget our true nature as human beings, which is joy, harmony and wisdom. When we are ignorant of these innate qualities, we start to identify with things we think are permanent and important, like money, image, our belongings, all of which are actually impermanent and trivial. Whenever we have experiences they leave a layer of film over the lens with which we see and judge the world. Over many years, we have so many layers clouding our lenses that it’s impossible to see what is real. Without being able to see for ourselves anymore, we turn to the outside world to tell us what is right, what will bring us the happiness we desire. This thinking is dangerous, because everybody else is also blind to their true nature.
The good news is, we can start to clean off this lens with “right living”. Just becoming open to the idea that the film is on the lens is a huge step toward cleaning it off. “Right living” is where the importance of the quality of the “food” we nourish our bodies, minds and spirits with comes in. This includes only consuming things (food, entertainment, relationships) that are in sync with harmony and wisdom. This includes clean eating of real foods (ones that come from plants, not made in plants), trying to find more positive things and people to dominate your thoughts, making sure to get some movement with meaning, all of which leads to restful, renewing sleep so you can start it all over again tomorrow.
We also need to accept that we aren’t going to feel happy all the time. Our medical world wants to medicate all the negativity out of us and teaches us that suffering isn’t normal. Suffering does NOT equal depression. Through suffering, we learn and gain an understanding of life. If we didn’t suffer we wouldn’t enjoy the times when we aren’t suffering. In order to feel compelled to help those who suffer, we have to have suffered ourselves to know we need to help. Suffering builds humility, strength, awareness, compassion, wisdom, gratitude and hope. (Of course, there are those of us whose suffering never ends and they do require medication).
To help us clear off our smeared lenses and remember our true nature, we need to develop a practice that allows us to turn inward and learn how to tolerate being alone. In our culture, we are taught that it is never good to be alone. We are so busy striving and grasping in our society, that we panic when we find ourselves alone in the silence. Now we have an entire world of distraction in the palms of our hands to fill even the briefest moments of time so we never feel alone, as if our own minds are something to fear. Our minds should be thought of as our best friend, “Hello Mind, you are my favorite person to be with!” Take some time alone and ask yourself, “Which way are you going? What do you want to become? Is what you are currently doing going to get you there?” You don’t have to follow the crowd; follow your own inner instinct, but you do have to be quiet to hear it speaking to you.
Sit. Relax. BE with yourself….this is the key to a long, happy, healthy life.