Tuesday, January 30, 2007

an emotional diet

You are what you eat. Or so the saying goes. It's a recognition of the fact that what we consume affects us, affects who we are and what we become.

But as Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out (in his book "Anger"), this notion does not apply merely to food. If we surround ourselves with anger and conflict, spend our days thinking angry thoughts, we will grow the anger and sadness inside of ourselves. But the reverse is also true -- if we fill our lives with those who are peaceful and loving, if our thoughts and actions embody peace and love, then we grow love and happiness inside of ourselves.

I really like the metaphor Thich Nhat Hanh uses here -- that our inner world is a garden, a garden with beautiful plants and weeds. And every thought and action will water something. So we are constantly watering either the flowers of love, peace, and compassion -- or we are watering the weeds of anger, sadness, and despair.

If we take seriously the notion that every thought is important in the creation of our inner world, the issue becomes how to make changes in our thoughts. They are often based on powerfully habitual ways of perceiving the world, and cannot be simply "turned off." But what we can do is to be mindful of the dialogue, and to examine how we choose to respond to it. So often I think we act as our own worst enemies -- condemning ourselves, putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves.

Were others to say such thoughts to us, we might respond with understanding, compassion, and goodness. Yet when the thought is our own we respond with such negativity.

I wonder if much of the key is learning to respond to our own inner dialogue with the kind of compassion and understanding that we wish to show to others. After all, which is more likely to create an inner world of peace and joy?


Liz said...

I try not to feed my ego. I know when I get angry, that feeds the ego. I know when I am around negative people, that feeds the ego. Kindness, compassion and empathy for self and others starves the ego. It took me years to figure that one out.

bowieacolyte said...

I became a complete vegetarian because of Hanh. Prior to just a few months ago, I was an "on again, off again" vegetarian. But, anyway, I read "Anger" and I realized that I could achieve more inner peace when I don't eat animals. Weird, but he says that when we eat chickens, for example, we are eating the meat of angry chickens...fueling our own inner anger. Today, chickens are a mass production. They are raised on farms in cages where they have no freedom to roam at all. They have to stand all day. Hahn says "Imagine that you have no right to walk or run. Imagine that you have to stay day and night in just one place. You would become mad. So the chickens become mad."
These farmers even cut off their beaks so they do not peck each other to death. If you eat anger, despair and frustration, that is what you become.
I think that practicing compassion to yourself, foremost, you create inner peace that just automatically transfers onto others. When I am around a person who has calm and peace, I feel more peaceful. When I am around a person who is hostile and angry, I feel tense and uncomfortable. More people....all people need to practice love and compassion for themselves. I would love to live in a world like this.

bowieacolyte said...

Okay I just realized after reading my post that I basically just said what you did, steve. I guess I just needed to get that out, perhaps? Loved your post, by the way

steve said...


I'm impressed by your commitment to a vegetarian diet! I have yet to summon the will to make that step, but I do find myself looking carefully at the other things I "ingest" during my day to day living. Thank you for your comments!