The ideal spiritual diet. It is not what you may think.
All creatures, except humans, live off food provided by Nature as is, which we would likely call bland, uncooked and unseasoned. Humans run a restaurant within Nature’s ‘restaurant.’ Taste has a significant influence on us, and we cannot comfortably live without food cooked, processed and seasoned to suit our palate. How we approach food, one of the essential pillars of survival, is a reflection of our relationship with existence. Every grain of rice has energy that can nourish the body. A simple act such as eating food, when done mindfully, can help us grow into oneness with the rest of existence. Spirituality is growth and food is representative of growth. The journey of life starts with the body, and then inwards from the mind to the rest of our interiority, as well as outwards into the world.
When the body which is the essence of the food we eat, is in harmony with the mind, inner awareness and the world we live in, it becomes easy to foster spiritual growth. On a strong foundation built upon the body and the mind, we can create a lasting spiritual legacy of which we will be the primary beneficiaries. It becomes a bank we can draw from during challenging times. Before anything else, the health of the body and the mind should be the primary concern. When one or both are weakened by disease, disuse or misuse they cannot support the growing roots of spirituality.
When we are mindful while eating, the body can extract more nutrition and the mind a deeper taste from any food we eat. The body can get by as long as the necessary macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) are provided in an optimal amount and ratio. But the mind extracts pleasure through taste, and it cannot be easily sated. The challenge is finding food with optimal nutrition and taste. It may not always be possible to source such food. Since bodily health depends mainly on the quality of the nutrients in the food we eat, it would be beneficial to lean towards healthier fare.
Role of the mind
Mindfulness can make food may taste different than when we eat mindlessly. When attention is not on the food we may be chewing, but on another thought, only the dominant flavor or texture may break through that barrier of distraction. It may take longer to saturate the taste buds. But when we stop and focus on the act of eating, it takes much less flavor to activate the taste buds. Furthermore, less food may be required to satisfy the taste buds since the mind’s energy is not scattered and it becomes easier to get its attention.
Before the advent of extensive industrial-scale farming, regional and intercontinental variance in the type of food eaten reflected harmony with the natural surroundings. The staple diet was based on what the land could support. Nowadays, the menu does not necessarily reflect local conditions. Fast food is really ‘lazy food,’ coming from factories and machines and not from the land.
As the food we eat moves away from natural to the unnatural, we also distance ourselves from the protective influence of existence. This is evidenced by the proliferation of lifestyle illnesses that currently afflict humankind. Since the mind is so intimately involved in our food choices, it is logical that the food we eat should also impact how the mind functions.
The volume and frequency of thoughts coursing through the mind make it a bustling place. No wonder we are always craving peace and calm in our lives. No matter where we go, however peaceful the surroundings, we fail to realize that it is the same mind that comes along. Paradoxically, the mind can become busier when external surroundings are quiet. This is because there are no external distractions to pull our awareness from the happenings within the mind.
At times the mind may become a battlefield on which we are forced to take sides, fight desires, urges, harbor complaints about the world and other people while trying to enjoy experiences of the world. There is no clear winning formula when it comes to the mind. Sometimes we feel we are victorious, and at other times we may suffer a sense of defeat. All of this adds to the constant stress of wanting to ‘get ahead,’ which then spills into our daily lives. The tendency to ‘get ahead’ is has a built-in quality of aggression which may lead to plunder and conquest in the outer world. Even forcing our opinion on others is a form of conquest, albeit verbally. We also plunder the world for experiences through our eyes.
Role of awareness
Existence has provided resources for us on the outside through Nature and on the inside through the power of awareness. Just like the air we breathe keeps the body alive; awareness is the mind’s life breath. When we establish balance and harmony between awareness and Nature representing the inner and outer environments respectively, what lies in the middle, which is the body and the mind, will fully blossom.
Like the earth which provides the soil for plants to grow, awareness is the ground on which the mind takes root and grows, eventually overshadowing awareness itself. And, just as the sky provides water in the form of rainfall to a forest, the world offers a ‘rainfall’ of experiences which turns the mind into a forest of thoughts. Too much rain and fertile topsoil may be washed away. Similarly, if the ‘sensory rain’ is excessive, it can erode the base of awareness within. Too little rain and the ground may dry up rendering it barren.
Similarly, if we deliberately starve ourselves of sensory information in the name of austerities, there is a hidden danger that we may ‘wither and dry up’ on the inside. Transcending the charming pull of the world through understanding is very different from suppressing desires and urges. When we suppress thoughts, we are also suppressing a portion of our awareness linked to that thought.
Through right interactions with the world, we can help ‘irrigate’ and help inner awareness grow until its essence, which is independence, can be harvested. Till such time, we will remain dependent on the world. All our daily interactions, such as how we talk to and treat people, provide instant feedback to us on whether we are living in awareness or acting unconsciously. When we are conscious and aware, it will be accompanied by great sensitivity in our being towards others. By continuing to remain watchful, it becomes easy to spot and rectify our shortcomings. The world is not an uphill struggle against external forces. It becomes an uphill struggle when there are internal negative forces at work. These negative influences from within cannot be overcome through the outer world. Nature isn’t bent upon making life hard for us. It is there to help and support all growth. We create our obstacles, and we also can clear those hurdles.
When we look upon the world as a mirror and not the source of all our difficulties, it gives us a way to rectify our internal flaws. For the world to become a mirror, we must first be watchful about how we respond to difficulties without self-judgment. Initially, our reactions to a challenge may be instinctual and impulsive. When we watch and introspect, we may see the negative results of such an unconscious response. The more we wait, the less instinct and impulse can influence our interactions. Instinct and impulse depend on the element of surprise. By taking time, we remove the surprise element. Slowly, the field of awareness will grow.
Every moment is a new seed. From that seed a fresh mind can sprout, leading to a new way of living. In full awareness, each moment becomes very fertile. The world will no more be a place where we compete with one another. Living reflectively and not reflexively is constructive living. Through inner reflection, the seed of the mind grows in harmony with awareness and the external world.
Soil may support a plant, but the plant can also nourish the ground and keep it fertile, so future growth is possible. Similarly, awareness helps the mind, while the mind, in turn, impacts the field of awareness. When we let the ‘fruits from the plants of the past’ die, that energy will be freed and recycled into the bed of awareness, helping it grow. When new thoughts and ideas sprout on a strengthened bed of awareness, the fruits will be that much better. Just as others enjoy the fruits from a tree and not the tree itself, our good thoughts and actions springing forth from awareness should also be freely given for the enjoyment of others.
Every day, we ‘eat’ the world through our senses. Not just through the tongue and taste buds, but also through the eyes and other senses. Every sensory impulse is food. When the mind is closely aligned with the bed of awareness on which it resides, ‘sensory food’ we consume will be more natural, without contamination of the ‘processed mind’ full of desires, past impressions, and future worries.
Just as we are gravitating more towards natural, organic and healthy food to maintain the wellbeing of the body, we should also move towards ‘natural and organic’ awareness on the inside. Nature will take care of keeping the body healthy and youthful, while awareness will do the same for the mind. This creates a perfect balance between the body and the mind.
When inner awareness, a healthy body, a relaxed and supple mind, and Mother Nature line up, it becomes the ideal recipe for the growth of spirituality.