SPIRITUAL NUTRITION PART II
The mental connection
In the first part of this series on Spiritual Nutrition I discussed the topic of what constitutes real food for the human body. The revelations might not have been comfortable to many, but the facts are out there, and one cannot run away from the Truth. I recounted primarily my own journey through such encounters with the Truth. If you missed this first part you can access it here.
These initial revelations, as also what is discussed in the present article, were the easier parts of a long spiritual journey that has been through some rough storms and far more difficult times further ahead, much of which is beyond the scope of this discussion. However that may be, the point is, it doesn’t mean we all have to stop eating processed foods, soft drinks, meat, dairy, or grain right today. The matter of health is a personal choice. What would serve us well, though, is to keep these facts in mind, especially when we get in trouble; and try to reduce our intake of these foods even otherwise to see the difference it can make to our health and overall sense of well being.
The subject of proper nourishment does not begin and end with raw plant-based foods. If it were as simple as that, Life would be much easier! We cannot understand physical health without getting into the subject of emotional health, and the subject of emotional health would not be complete without a discussion of the spiritual thread that links what we are to the things we do.
Our physical health does not depend only on the foods we put into our bodies; it depends also on the thoughts we put into our minds. If the connection between the body and the mind is not clear, one only has to close the eyes and imagine one’s favourite fruit or other food. If one gets into this visualizing with some intensity, it won’t be too long before one begins to feel the mouth filling up with saliva. One can actually increase or decrease one’s body temperature simply by visualizing oneself deeply at a hot sunny beach or climbing a snow-covered peak.
So coming back to the topic of thoughts—what constitutes mental “food”? We all know that events and people evoke specific emotional states within us—feelings of happiness, joy, contentment, or sadness, frustration, anger, fear, shame, guilt. Less apparent are the subtler feelings of restlessness or tranquillity, insecurity or stability that might arise when we walk into a room or meet a specific person, unless we are closely in touch with our emotions. Most of us are not really in touch with our emotional state to that extent. In other words, we are not constantly aware of how events or aspects of our environment affect us at a “gut” level. Most people have the pretty obsessive habit of watching the daily evening news on TV, little realizing what an impact it might have on their physical and emotional health. In many industrialized countries of the world, calamities, shootings, rape and murder form the bulk of the daily news, with graphic video footage to boot.
From the TV company’s point of view, the focus is on viewership—the more viewers they can get to hook in to their channel, the more money they can make from advertisements. And the tried and tested way to get more viewership is to present shocking, astonishing, or at the very least some form of disturbing news to the public, and get the adrenalin running. It works because that’s precisely what the public wants—sensational news.
People crave sensational news because of a restlessness within that they have not yet learned to recognize, or if they have, not yet learned how to deal with it or even what it is about. So most people get a temporary satisfaction, or more accurately, a “fix” with that hour of “news” that’s little more than useless gossip at its best and a horror movie at its worst, with all the graphic visual and details and auditory messages that sometimes imprint themselves deep in our psyche without our ever being aware of them—down to the commercials in between the news items.
The temporary (and sometimes longer lasting) sense of satisfaction people get from knowing and talking about some trivia or other is not very different from the “fix” that drug or smoke addicts get from their intake.
More importantly, when we fill our brains with such information, it is not very different either from filling our stomachs with junk foods—with very much the same effects on our system. Junk “thought” foods accumulate as chronic stress in our bodies, a form of stress that is not as easily detectable as the acute stress that results from a traumatic event in our lives. In fact, it is the more compassionate and good-natured people (in the common sense of the term) that are the most affected by this socially accepted form of unwitting intoxication—the junk news peddled on television programmes.
Just the weather forecast that follows in the end is a great example of a seemingly benign piece of junk news, if you think of how much of that information you actually end up using, and if you do, whether the weather really turned out to be what was forecast in the first place three, two, or even one day ago. Yet we listen to it with great attention to see how Nature is going to shape up in the next week, and in the next 48 and 24 hours, only to listen to a changed forecast in the next news forecast!
The damage done by junk information is three-fold. First there is the physical effect on our digestive and metabolic systems, with long-term effects on health. The body undergoes biochemical changes that reflects in elevated levels of cortisol and other hormones associated with stress. Since these are not sudden and short-lived changes, our forgiving bodies adjust to the new levels of stress-hormones and their resulting metabolic changes, continuing to function under the compromised set of health parameters. A regular blood test will not detect such changes—because they occur over a long period of time and the levels may still be well within the “reference range”—a misleading statistic that is used as standard for comparison in blood test reports, a topic that I have discussed in detail elsewhere.
A second effect of junk information is the emotional effect that sets in with time, a lasting general environment of fear, hopelessness, and other negative emotions associated with our physical world and society. I have come across so many people that don’t have anything more useful to contribute to a conversation a depressing and pessimistic take on our lives today. They start with the latest “natural” disaster, massacre, or other sensational event that has occurred in some remote corner of the globe from where they are; they then go on to how unpredictable the weather is these days, how thoroughly unscrupulous our politicians are, how the prices of commodities are ever-rising, and how some friend or relative is suffering from some situation or health problem. It would appear that they really don’t have anything positive occupying their minds anymore. Can we expect their bodies to be functioning at optimum health under the circumstances? Lissa Rankin, MD., in her priceless book Mind over Medicine, narrates a documented account of how a doctor’s negative prognosis could lead a patient to his or her death—even without the actual disease being the cause of death. How much more powerful is the slow poisoning that we are subjecting our brains and minds to, with the depressing and sensation-producing news items on Television! The worst part is, there is no way of undoing this action; there is no “delete” button we can hit on our brain-computer to trash the information we’ve put in.
This brings us to the third, least acknowledged but equally if not more important, effect of junk information we ingest: it is the unrecoverable loss of valuable time in our lives doing something senseless and useless. Take just 2 hours spent on news and other TV programs per day that we have little use for; that’s over four years of life lost over the five most productive and useful decades of our lives! The Vedic texts don’t mince words on the matter: to fill our minds with junk is to waste our opportunity to evolve, to find that peace and happiness that we all seek. It took me less than a quarter of this time to completely reverse my physical ailments and half that time to get started and make great progress on a deeply spiritual journey.
When I gave up the newspaper subscription over two decades ago, after reflecting on how much of the paper actually presented information useful to me, I felt as if a great mental burden had been lifted from me. I realized I had been feeling guilty about not having the time to take in all the information it had in all those advertisements and news items; having a sense of enormous wastage that I was contributing to. Then, just a few years later when I threw out the television set, I noted some startling changes in my body and mind. That very night, for the first time in a long time, I had sound sleep and woke up in the morning feeling refreshed. Now, a decade and a half later, I can really appreciate how much I’ve achieved in the time I would have lost in those activities had I continued them. Now I cannot think of doing anything without first considering in what way it contributes to my spiritual growth.
Does it mean that I’ve discarded news altogether? Certainly not. With the advent of personal computers and the Internet, the first thing that became possible was the ability to become selective about the kinds of information we are interested in. I subscribe to selected sites that send me news on social reform, environmental conservation, the treatment of animals, and on diet and nutrition. To be sure, a lot of the information on these aspects is depressing; in fact, if you watch some of the video footage on the treatment of animals, the effect can be devastating. I would actually recommend that everyone watch at least some of that footage—because we all have a responsibility to know the truth about what we are doing to animals as a society, and our personal responsibility as part of that society. It will change your perspective on life, and inspire you to try and become human again. And if you have considered the fact that plants, too, have life, then some of the footage on environmental events will have the same effect. Finally, if you consider yourself as a citizen of this world, you do have a responsibility to know what we are doing to our own species.
All the depressing news in these categories is worth watching until they have the desired effect of spurring you into action. This does not mean you have to become an activist and engage in illegal activities. Nor does it mean that you have to watch every single video on farm animal torture that comes your way, as some activists do. That can make you go into a deep depression or become violent yourself. Once the message has entered our psyche and the desired effect is achieved, we stop watching or reading such news; they have served their purpose and we don’t need them on a daily basis anymore. Every once in a while a “refresher dip” does the job of maintaining momentum and inspiration in our own chosen path.
We make a mark simply by changing our own lives, by reforming our personal selves.
Before the reader rushes to the conclusion that I’m a saffron-clad swami sitting in an ashram, let me assure you that I’m far from it. We don’t have to be swamis to worry about our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is actually our only purpose and foremost responsibility in having come into this world and a mortal life, that society makes us forget very early in our lives. When we reconnect with this purpose and related activity, we find our life-problems dissolving and the road to lasting peace and invulnerable happiness appearing in our sight.
Another pertinent question that might pop up in your mind is whether such a diet as I have described is necessary for spiritual growth. And the answer is: most definitely not. There are many paths to enlightenment and liberation, and I do not want to pretend that a raw vegan diet is necessary for enlightenment. In fact, there comes a point in spiritual attainment when one will see the utter uselessness of the physical body, at which point the subject of diet becomes irrelevant. But most of us are not at that level of enlightenment! At the mundane level, it is my experience that such a diet does raise the level of spiritual consciousness.
If there is one single piece of advice I can give to anyone, it would be this: to throw out the sources of junk information and fruitless activities from your life and fill up that time instead with information and activities related to your spiritual advancement. The rest of necessary activities relating to livelihood and daily life can not only continue, but they will be only enhanced by this move. Just this simple substitution will result in significant and notable changes in your physical health and general well-being. In addition, if you were to develop some good habits such as exercise and proper diet, you can achieve mastery over your health and discard the very concept of having to depend on “therapists” of any kind for a fulfilling and highly rewarding life.