Are you what you eat? Or, are you what you think?
We have all heard the saying— “You are what you eat”. It’s easy to visualize how our body absorbs the food we eat, assimilates it, and delivers its nutrients to all of our cells. This idea encourages us to eat healthy. It also helps us avoid spoiled, badly prepared, unappetizing, or super-refined foods. But the saying isn’t totally accurate. Your body is what you eat, but not your mind. While the cells in our brain are nourished by our diet, our mind is much more sensitive and subtle.
Our mind remembers past experience, receives sense impressions from the world around us, and generates thoughts of all kinds, all the time—even the thought that we are thinking. Its movement through all of these mental activities generate emotions, physical sensations, and ultimately, action. And, if we are mindful of what we eat, our minds will move a healthy body!
Gaze at an infant—look into her eyes. Her mind and spirit are totally pure, without the impact of experiences. Over time, she absorbs the culture, language, and knowledge. She experiences pleasure and pain. Her mind sifts through all of her memories and stores them. They are part of who she becomes.
The important point—nourish your mind and be thoughtful about what you put into it. Like a white linen, your mind will absorb whatever color it is dipped in. And unlike our body, it’s reaction to bad input will not be immediate, like an upset stomach. Instead, it’s impact is subtle. You may not even be aware of its effect.
Our minds are also provoked by our very own thoughts! Have an unhappy or worried thought—it will quickly be followed by other unhappy thoughts. Notice your body tighten and your breathing quicken. Have a happy thought. Notice what follows both in your mind and your body. Mental experiences have a big impact on our body.
Of course, our minds are uncontrollable! Our thoughts are like a monkey swinging from branch to branch. They rarely linger long on one branch.
So how can we nourish and influence our wild minds?
- Be very careful about what you expose your senses to. R-rated and X-rated movies may not be any better for adults than they are for children. Violent and negative images leave a trace in your unconscious that you may not be able to wipe clean. What has become “entertainment” in our culture may be like toxic fumes—they seep into the cells of your body and mind.
- Spend time in the beautiful Northwest outdoors. We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place! Natural sensory images are like a breath of fresh air for our sensitive minds. They foster peace and relaxation. Read uplifting novels, hopeful stories, and inspirational works. These messages nurture our mind, spirit, and ultimately, our bodies.
- Focus on the positive. Pay attention when your mind is going in a negative direction. Note this direction (this is what we call “mindfulness”), and focus on something positive. Soon, your negative thoughts will dissipate, like smoke into the sky.
- Don’t indulge in negative or angry thinking. Simple awareness of our thoughts helps us focus on something more pleasant or constructive.
- Don’t gossip or say negative things about others. Just as your thoughts impact you, so does your words. Negative statements bring about more negative thoughts. Like my mother used to say— “if you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all”.
That doesn’t mean don’t express your feelings—it means, think about the value of your words before you utter them.