The food we eat, for the most part, is driven by internal desires that have disastrous consequences, particularly for our connection to all living beings. Awareness about changing our consciousness around food consumption has yet to filter through to the North American mainstream, and the vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes an excessive ecological footprint, which is costly and damaging. Furthermore, it is not good for our health—physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
The chronic degenerative diseases common in western civilization find their origins in the toxic food we eat. Yet if we know how to eat mindfully, then we also know how to take care of ourselves, others and the environment. Mindful eating is a celebratory alternative to violence. Before eating, simply look at what is there on the table, where it has come from, how it has been prepared, and whether it will truly nourish you while at the same time protecting the environment and future generations from harm. I make a special effort to prepare and consume meals mindfully. I have an assistant—a delightful and goofy standard poodle named Moksha. I tell her that this is a mindful meal and I cannot talk to her after the bell. I set a bowl of treats on the floor for her and begin my meal. My Dharma pet always sits quietly until the bell brings the silence to an end. Then she wants to have her ears scratched and play a game of Frisbee on the lawn.
Advocacy around food consumption keeps compassion alive and creates the basis for joy and happiness. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet, because if we each bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, we inevitably bring violence to other systems—political, economic, planetary—that we engage with through our thoughts, speech, actions and senses. We prevent this arise by being fully present with the consequences of our consumption.
We consume much more than edible food. We consume with our senses, desires and cravings. This consumption feeds our consciousness, which “eats” everything we put into it. If we fill it full of toxins, violence and other negative energies, their accumulation in our consciousness will drive us. Yet if we choose a mindful approach to consumption, then a different energy will occupy the driving seat of our life, one that guides us to a life of voluntary simplicity, understanding, and insight into the reality of the moment we presently occupy. Each of our sensory doorways is bombarded with toxins that feed our consciousness. The advertising on billboards and in the media floods our eyes and minds with desire, greed and lust. Our children take in violence through video games and movies of wanton destruction and cruelty. The often vulgar and demeaning lyrics sounding through sectors of modern music create homophobia and hate. Fast food’s tastes and smells create such greed that obesity is now a serious medical issue. Eating disorders are promoted by the unrealistic norms for women that are artificially set by the fashion industry. Manufacturers cleverly design built-in obsolescence for the products we’re encouraged to buy. We’re solicited through vigorous advertising to create a disposable society that has forgotten to reuse, recycle or even question the need to buy. If we do not guard each sensory doorway, we get sick. We must warn the six senses to consume mindfully, discipline them to avoid self-intoxication and guide them to scrutinize which energies are allowed to penetrate our consciousness.
Then there are the deepest desires and cravings that so often possess and overwhelm us. If vengeance and absolute power over others are our deepest desires, then terrorists are created; if rampant consumption is our deepest desire, then we have a degraded planet. Instead of following lust, greed, vengeance and fame, we need to foster the desire to awaken at the highest level, to experience joy and happiness in the here and now, the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with and the desire to alleviate all suffering. Just as addictive consumption provides food for our consciousness, the desire to awaken and be present is also food for our consciousness.
It’s easy to understand how our consciousness is reinforced by our pattern of consumption. It shapes our lives because we feed off it. It is the ground of definition for the way our body, mind and spirit manifest, and furthermore it creates the environment we occupy. Mindfulness is our protector. We must use it to distinguish consumption patterns that nourish our organism and spiritual well-being from those that do not. By eliminating toxins from our sensory diet, we begin cultivating an alternative consumption based on wholesome nutrients—patterns of consumption that enhance mindfulness and compassion. But we cannot see deeply into the interconnection between consumption and consciousness until we first come to a stop. To stop running is the first meditative step toward the deep looking and insight that help us to recognize the toxins that pollute our bodies and mind. We then cultivate the foods that nourish us in a positive and wholesome way. We resist by waking up and by knowing what to do and what to refrain from doing.
Ian Prattis, a poet and scholar, peace and environmental activist, has trained with Masters in Buddhist, Vedic and Shamanic traditions and gives Dharma talks, seminars and retreats around the world. He is the founder of Friends for Peace—a coalition of meditation, peace and environmental groups that works for peace and planetary care and also the resident teacher of a Buddhist meditation community in Ottawa, Canada – the Pine Gate Sangha. He encourages people to find their true nature, so that humanity and the world may be renewed. As a Professor of Anthropology and Religion he teaches courses on Ecology, Symbols, Engaged Buddhism and Meditation Systems. The meditation teacher is not separate from the professor or the global citizen.