“The Fifth Wonderful Precept:
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations….I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and the transformation of society.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
These words were given to me this past week by a counselor, who thought they might speak to me. She was right.
My personal challenge of the week may sound strange and shocking (it did to me at first, too). It is reading deprivation.
Yes, I am depriving myself of reading for one week. Because I obtained this challenge from a book that was written in the 70s, I’ve edited and extended the challenge to consumption of all forms of media. I am not allowed to scroll mindlessly through Facebook or Instagram, spend time watching Netflix or Snapchat or Instagram stories. I can’t read any of the books I bought recently, including ones that I have to start reading for my grad program. I can’t consume any written words, aside from those that are unavoidable and those I write myself.
I made an exception for this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, because I’m an adult with free will.
But, aside from my favorite medieval gore-fest, I am totally off the written or mass-produced word. It was shocking to me, because the book I got it from is a book about how to be a more liberated artist. I thought that other art could only serve as inspiration for my own, which I still think it does. But, as it turns out, the key to being an artist is listening to your inner voice.
Sound familiar? I just wrote a post about this in the context of intuitive little Baby Anne.
So this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about consumption.
We live in a culture of consuming. We consume food, we consume entertainment, we consume products that improve our lives. We consume precious resources and irreplaceable energy reserves.
My own food-consumption journey has undergone one primary, overarching change: it has become more mindful. Gone are the days of opening a bag of chips and a pint of ice cream and wolfing it down so fast I hardly taste it. I select it, I prepare it, and I consume it. I try to savor every bite (but it’s not a perfect world over here, either – sometimes I just gotta eat).
Many people have said to me: it must take so much time, doing all that for every meal. How do I have that time to spare?
In truth, being more mindful has given me back my time. Rushing to consume food at mealtime goes faster, yes, but it’s also time that disappears. I often had the experience of forgetting that I’d just eaten something. Not realizing an hour had gone by. Spending days going from one thing to the next without really realizing where I was at any moment.
In this week without Instagram stories (which I honestly didn’t think really posed a problem in my life), I have more time when I get up in the morning. I have more space to breathe throughout the day. When I can’t check my phone, I’m more present in my surroundings and less immersed in a world that’s less immediate. As a result, I’m less stressed about my time.
Cooking and consuming also becomes a ritual. It is a sensorial experience: first we feel the food as we prep it, then we smell it, then finally we get to taste it. It’s calming and reassuring and nourishing, and it pays off to sit and just savor the time I have to eat. I have time to realize I’m full and stop eating, then maybe pick it back up again after a moment’s digestion.
I think this can extend to the written word, as well. Often, I feel like I’m in a rush to consume as much new information as I possibly can. Especially because I’m a lifelong student (seriously, I’ve even progressed to being in three schools at once this year! I’m a crazy nerd). This week has made me realize that what I consume affects what I think about. And even how I think!
My favorite line of the Buddhist precept at the beginning of this post is: “I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.”
I think. most of the time, I consider many things I consume to be just neutral. When I’m consuming social media, I don’t really notice the effect it has on me. When I consumed food in the past, I ignored the effects on my system. Sometimes these effects were negative, sometimes they were probably positive, but I didn’t really think about the feelings as they came. It was like a time-filler, something mundane to do as I waited for the next thing.
I love the idea of instead intentionally consuming what brings me joy, peace, and well-being.
I’ve learned that I can’t say that Facebook or Instagram ever bring me “joy,” or really even “peace” or “well-being.” Connecting with friends does, especially through messages and photos. That’s why I’ll keep them. But I like to think I’ll be more mindful about watching or scrolling just for the sake of having something to do. And, I’ll think more about exactly what I see, and how it feels.
I won’t stop consuming, but I’ll continue consuming mindfully. This year, and really in all of life, I’ll need all the peace, joy, well-being, and time to breathe that I can get.