Don’t smoke. Don’t take drugs. Eat five portions of vegetables, drink eight glasses of water and enjoy alcohol only in moderation. These tenets of consumption are drummed into us from a young age, and for the most part, we oblige with little hesitation. We mindlessly reject the bad and ingest the good, in the hopes of avoiding suffering. What if we could be mindful and take the same approach?
Consumption extends way beyond the physical things we eat, drink, inhale or inject, and if we take the time to look a little deeper, the patterns of suffering caused by the things we consume become much clearer. The Buddha deconstructed consumption into four nutriments: edible food, sense impressions, volition and consciousness. In order to protect ourselves from absorbing negative nutriments, we can use mindfulness like a second skin. Read on to discover how to mindfully manifest a more joyful, positive and meaningful New Year.
Modern Mindfulness and the Four Nutriments
Mindfulness has become a buzzword of the modern world, but not everyone is aware of its Buddhist roots. Thich Nhat Hanh - Vietnamese monk, teacher, author, and peace activist - is renowned for modernizing dharma through his Mindfulness Trainings. Offering a contemporary twist on the Five Moral Precepts of Buddhism, the Mindfulness Trainings provide a guide to living the best and most joyful life possible, irrespective of culture or creed.
The fifth precept of Buddhism encourages abstinence from intoxicants so as not to cloud the mind. Understandable, right? Anyone who has ever moved onto their second or third glass of wine will be well acquainted with that familiar fog that blankets the brain. Yet for Thich Nhat Hanh, intoxication doesn’t end there. The fifth mindfulness training expands the boundaries of the fifth precept, encompassing the Four Nutriments to define intoxication beyond the drink and drugs we are already well-schooled on.
Nutriment One: Edible Food
Given the health conscious world we live in, the first nutriment is pretty obvious: edible food. You are what you eat, as the old saying goes, so it’s important to ask yourself if what you are ingesting is causing suffering to yourself or others. I won’t patronize you on dietary details – we all know that too much bacon can block arteries and that three McDonalds a day will eventually make your trousers tight. (Learn more in 3 Reasons Why Yogis Love Plant Based Diets.)
Although educated decisions on food are, of course, of great importance, mindful eating is about so much more than the choice between a steak and a salad. Mindfulness encourages you to engage in a positive interaction with the food and drink you consume; especially important around the holiday season, when we’re prone to swallow guilt with every forkful.
Eating with mindfulness is to eat with joy and gratitude; to be present with each mouthful, to bring awareness and enjoyment to every sip. When we create space to reflect on our cravings and desires, we come to notice our true feelings and are empowered to make better choices.
Nutriment Two: Sense Impressions
Consumption tends to bring to mind only the food that we eat or the products we buy, so it’s easy to forget the countless other things that flood into our awareness each and every day. We consume not only with our taste buds and fingertips, but with all five senses, each of which feeds the mind and stimulates emotions.
Our eyes and ears are more vulnerable than you might think. The fifth Mindfulness Training highlights how toxic certain TV programs, websites, magazines, podcasts and even conversations can be – if we let them.
What do you allow into your life? How does the way you scroll social media shape the phrases in your mind? Are your conversations watering the good seeds within? With awareness, we can fine tune what we allow in, helping us to cultivate compassion and positivity for ourselves and our loved ones.
Nutriment Three: Volition
It’s not just external factors that can be shaped by mindfulness. Volitional thoughts are those that motivate and direct us, reflecting our deepest desires and intentions in life. And yet, volition is not always pure. In our incessant need to do and achieve, to control and conquer, it’s easy to become driven by craving, greed, selfishness and fear. In societies motivated by money and power, it’s no surprise that misery is endemic.
Look deeply at your own volition – is it helpful and inspiring or does it cause suffering? With a brand new year ahead, try setting a wholesome intention that guides your volition toward happiness rather than success. When you nurture altruistic thoughts like kindness and generosity, it’s likely that success will take on a whole new meaning.
Nutriment Four: Consciousness
Our consciousness is clearly moulded by a myriad of influences; the food we eat, the programmes we watch, the desires we are driven by. It’s not difficult to understand that our interactions with the people and environment around us affect our thoughts, ideas, perceptions and beliefs. Paradoxically, we’re not always aware that the reverse is also true; our individual consciousness contributes to a collective consciousness that shapes the world around us.
When we engage in careless consumption, the onus isn’t solely on us. We are inextricably interlinked with our friends and family, our ancestors and future generations, our society and the earth we all call home. If we re-think consumption in a way that preserves peace and compels compassion, not only do we protect precious resources, but our actions will spark a ripple effect that ensures wellbeing – both individual and collective. Awareness of the interconnected nature of all consciousness is the first step. With only a little dedication, there truly is scope for collective transformation.
Cultivate Compassion, Wellbeing & Joy
Practicing mindful consumption allows us to observe and reflect without getting tangled in judgements or worries. By paying attention to the way in which we eat, drink, watch, listen, talk, think and interact with others, our ability to focus improves. In turn, we are able to tune in to the present moment with ease, allowing us to look deeply, to find insight. From insight, wisdom is born. We come to understand how and why our choices make a difference, empowering us to make wholesome decisions and avoid toxic nutriments. Mindful consumption ultimately prevents us from feeding our own suffering and that of the world around us, creating space for a new year of compassion, wellbeing and joy.