At my recent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh I was reminded about mindful consumption. Typically when we think about consumption we consider food. However, there are other forms of consumption that we don’t reflect upon and have become desensitized to. In the Buddhist tradition consumption has been broken down into four groups; 1. Edible food 2. Sensory (hearing, seeing) 3. Volition (deepest desire) and 4. Consciousness (our individual or stored consciousness). In this week’s blog I thought I would explore these four areas.

When we consider the word consumption food is often right at the top of our list. We eat many times throughout the day with very little thought about what we are consuming. In the western hemisphere, we have become conditioned to believe that whatever we need to eat we can always buy from the grocery store. Many will grow their own food during the summer months but for most westerners we take our grocery stores and their bountiful stocked shelves for granted. There is an increasing awareness of the quality of the food we eat. Organic foods have become very common in the last 10-15 years. At the same time, dieting has become a western industry as we have such abundance that many overindulged leading to obesity. Considering the quantity and sustenance of what one eats more regularly would be beneficial for us on an individual basis, as well as for the planet at large.

Another factor around the consumption of food is how we eat. Many eat the food quickly not pausing to enjoy each mouthful but rather shoveling in the food we have on our plate. We typically are not conscious that we are eating when we eat. We talk through a meal not paying attention to the food being consumed or we eat while watching TV. Eating our food more slowly, chewing and enjoying the flavours, eating quietly and with gratitude changes one’s perception of their food and overall satisfaction. During my retreat, all of our meals were in silence. We were encouraged to chew each mouth-full while putting down our eating utensil. For many, this seemed odd but it certainly brought a greater awareness to the bounty of food and joys of focusing upon the experience of eating.

How we prepare our food and the gratitude that we feel about what we have is equally important. If you prepare food while feeling anger or upset, your energy goes into the food for all who eat it to consume. Being present, mindful and loving while preparing food changes the dynamic of one’s eating experience. When one adds in gratitude for the abundance and nourishment provided by the food and all those how worked hard to make it available, one feels truly blessed to have nourishment which sustains our day-to-day existence.

The second form of consumption is our sensory perception. Just like eating food, what we consume through our eyes and ears is nourishment for our soul. Our perceptions and thoughts are influenced by the books and magazines we bring into our lives. Reading about unrequited love while looking for a relationship only intensifies our suffering. Watching TV shows or movies with violence and abusive language brings this energy into our consciousness and lives. While I am not advocating censorship, I am suggesting being selective about the stimulation we provide for ourselves in what we read, look at and watch. One of the challenges I have personally is watching the news. I love to watch the news and see what is happening in the world. However, how many times do I need to see and hear stories of warfare, violence and hatred. The overstimulation of these stories causing people to feel depressed, pessimistic and overwhelmed. Our stress levels increase. We are unable to sleep and feel recharged as we are constantly bombarded with stories of suffering. Choosing to watch non-violent entertainment helps to create a greater sense of joy in one’s life.

The conversations we have and are party to is another form of consumption. When we are party to negative conversations about others, we are creating and reinforcing this energy in our lives. The way in which other people speak to us or the words we choose to use with others impacts our level of stress throughout the day. Choosing to create conversations based upon loving-kindness rather than negativity increases the degree of love in our lives. This in no way implies we should not speak our truth but we can do so in a way that is done with loving-kindness. For example, in providing a colleague with feedback, one should pause and consider carefully words which will convey respect and compassion. In our personal relationships, we can foster love by being loving towards the important people in our lives. There is no greater gift that you can give to another than loving-kindness and compassion.

The third form of consumption is volition, which is our deepest desires. The things we tell ourselves about our desires can create suffering or loving experiences. For many of us, our deepest desires are focused upon love, sex, food and power. There is a great deal of unconsciousness to our deepest desires. We have strong emotions and feelings associated to those things we keep secret and often hidden from others. In some cases, we are embarrassed by our own thoughts and wants. We believe others don’t feel the same. Being conscious of the words and beliefs we have about our volitions can liberate us from our own cravings. Shining the light of awareness upon these feelings can remove some of the perceived control these volitions have upon us.

The final form of consumption is in regards to our own consciousness. In our minds, we regurgitate things we have said, done and believe about ourselves and life. Through continual reprocessing of the things we have said, done or perceived about the past and future, we remain stuck in our past or future fantasies unable to experience the joy of being in the present moment. Holding onto our individual thoughts increases our stress levels. We relive our past or we are continually preparing for a future that never comes. Either way, we are always in our head thinking and processing while missing the moment, such as the sound of the birds, sunshine or simply enjoying breathing.

Our consciousness is also a part of our familial history, cultural norms and society at large. We are programmed simply by being who and what we are. How we are raised and the culture we are brought up in has an impact upon our thinking and perceptions. We are the culmination of those who have come before us and we will have an impact upon those who come after us. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the analogy of a flower to convey this interconnectedness. The seeds of future flowers are found in the blooming flower and the nourishment of previous flowers has enabled the existing flower to grow. Furthermore, the sun, rain and earth are all in the flower for it to be. This he refers to as inter-being. The cells in our body came to use from our parents. The elements of the earth and cosmos were necessary for us to exist and are contained within us. We are the culmination of everything that has come before and will be a part of all that will come after. In this way, there is no death and birth. There is an inter-being in all and everything. Therefore, our consciousness impacts and influences what is and what will manifest. We have the ability, through our actions, words and deeds, to influence all and everything. Thus, what we consume in our own consciousness impacts all and everything. Being aware and mindful enables us to create loving-kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, plants, animals and our earth.

How we nourish ourselves in all of our consumptions speaks to what we will be creating for ourselves, and others, moment-to-moment. During this coming week, observe your own consumptions. Notice what and how you eat? What are you reading and watching? Observe your deepest desires and consider what impact your family has had upon your consciousness. Pause for a few moments, breath in slowly and simply be in the awareness of what is without judgement. Treat yourself with loving-kindness and compassion. In doing so, you will be able to treat others in the same way and changing the world one moment at a time.

Thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh and all the great teachers for sharing their insight and experience. May you have a blissful week.