Every time we eat or speak, we make a personal decision, which affects ourselves and others in either a positive or a negative way. Void of discipline and left unchecked, unbridled emotions will dictate what we eat and say, often with devastating results.
“What we eat” can be broadened to mean anything our body or our mind consumes, whether it’s literally food and drink, or even information we consume. It’s all connected. I believe our mental state, what we think and say, is largely influenced by what we read, watch, and who we hang around and talk to. And, I think what we eat and drink is inexorably linked to how we feel and think, which is equally tied to what we say to others and how we say it.
That’s why I think these activities and events create a type of “nexus” of self awareness and action. In as much as the word nexus is defined as a connected series or core of a situation, this is where the pure energy of awareness is transformed into force and power. This is also where that power is either consumed or transmitted. All of these processes are driven by our self awareness, regardless of its depth or quality, and ultimately controlled either by emotion or by compassion.
Compassion as an Action
Contrary to what most people think, compassion is not so much an emotion or state of being as much as it is an action. When we make a decision to consume something or speak to someone, if we make that decision from a state of active compassion, we will receive different results than if we make that same decision from some sort of emotional state. That emotion can be anything from hatred and greed, to joyfulness and lust, but ultimately the results will still be negative. Only the equanimity of compassion guarantees a decision with positive results; whether that compassion is for others or for ourselves.
We simply cannot eat whatever we want, whenever we want and claim we have compassion for others or ourselves. We cannot consume negative, mindless, or hateful information and expect it to not affect how we view the world and interact with others. We cannot say the first thing that crosses our minds, whenever or wherever we are and not expect it to have negative consequences in the lives of others as well as our own.
Few educated people living in developed countries are unaware of the personal and societal problems associated with obesity. Fighting obesity and maintaining a healthy weight is essentially a spiral advance of sleep, metabolism, caloric intake, and mobility. If one of those four components gets out of balance, it can really be difficult to stay healthy.
I have found that if I don’t sleep enough, I will wake up too late to eat a healthy breakfast, which causes me to choose unhealthy snacks and meal times all through the day. It also causes me to eat too late in the day when it’s much more difficult to burn off calories. This in turn causes me to stay up too late at night, which causes me to get up too late for a healthy breakfast. Without time for proper exercise, my health dives in a downward spiral, adding unnecessary and dangerous weight to my body. Eventually, this all causes a negative mental state that can lead to depression and the belief that the downward spiral is impossible to reverse.
But, I have also found that even though spiraling back up is not as easy, it is just as simple. I started by forcing myself to wake up earlier than I did before. That was the first and most important step. I committed to some form of exercise during that extra time as the second step. That set me up for the third step of eating a high-protein, medium-carbohydrate breakfast, a breakfast large enough to keep my BODY (not my emotions) satisfied until a healthy lunch in the middle of the day. This gave me an alternative to the donuts and other unhealthy snacks I had been consuming in the middle of the morning which often caused me to skip lunch which caused me to snack in the afternoons. I had essentially trapped myself in a negative spiral of few healthy meals and lots of unhealthy snacking. But, I broke out of the trap.
I believe just getting started with those first three steps really helped me and could give anyone a fighting chance to avoid or reverse obesity. Primarily because those three steps puts a person in a better position both physically and mentally to make healthier eating choices during the day and to get to sleep earlier in the evening. The resultant higher quality of sleep does wonders for ones mental health, too. Waking up early, physical activity, and a solid breakfast, kicks off an upward spiral of positive activity for the rest of the day.
In the Buddhist tradition, there’s something called “The Noble Eightfold Path”. It describes a method to end suffering. It includes things such as “right view”, “right intention”, “right effort”, and “right speech”.
Right speech is divided into four simple categories. Don’t tell deliberate lies or speak deceitfully. Don’t slander or say malicious things about people. Don’t use harsh words that offend or hurt others. Don’t gossip or chatter in ways that have no purpose or depth.
I take all of this as being the exact same things I learned from my parents as a young Christian; tell the truth, be friendly, be gentle and don’t be full of hot air. I have failed miserably at the concept of “Right Speech” my entire life. But, at least now I’m aware of what it is and what I need to do to change.
Of course, I’m not just now hearing about all of this. I was raised correctly, but I have spent most of my life asleep and unaware. But, I woke up. I understand it now. And, going forward in my life, I’m going to do my best to practice Right Speech and share my ideas with others who ask for help.
The Nexus of Self Awareness
I have found that eating and speaking follow a similar moment in which a decision is made. Just before I decide whether or not to eat, and when I decide whether to make a comment or to remain quiet, I experience a very similar internal discussion. In what is usually a fraction of a moment, I’ll find a mental state which influences my decision. That mental state can completely drive the decision or be one of multiple components of the decision, but it will always be a primary influence.
Left unchecked, various emotions will fill that imperceptible space, and dictate my decisions and choices. If I’m experiencing happy emotions, I might decide to celebrate with a few beers, or a big BBQ dinner with all the trimmings. If I’m sad, I might decide to drown my sorrows with many beers, or a half-gallon of rocky road ice cream. Since the decision space is so small and usually hidden under unchecked emotions, I can potentially go for years without even thinking about why I do the things I do.
Likewise, whether my emotions are hateful and greedy, or joyous and gregarious, if they are filling up the space/moment in which I decide to speak, my words will be like letting air out of a balloon – no direction or control, and at best a delusional expectation of a positive outcome. But, if I fill that space and time with equanimity and compassion, things will change – for the better.
Equanimity is a fancy word for mental calmness, composure, or an even-temper in a difficult situation. Though the word compassion is used more often, it’s also often misunderstood.
Compassion is a component of Love (“big L” Love not “little l” love), but is in essence a combination of empathy and sympathy. In my opinion, compassion isn’t just one of the objectives of all the world’s great spiritual traditions – it is the objective of anyone subscribing to the concept of ending suffering for others.
When we embrace and practice equanimity and compassion, it means we’re providing a calm, understanding and empathetic space in which we decide to eat or speak. It means injecting the primary component of Love into our decision-making. Love for others, but more importantly, love and appreciation for ourselves.
If we do not love ourselves, we are incapable of properly loving others. If we do not stop ourselves from eating when we know it is our emotional ego that is craving something rather than our body requiring nourishment, we are in effect saying we do not care about ourselves, nor do we care about the people who care about us. Our words may say we care, but our actions are driven by emotion and ego and tell everyone a different story.
Also, when we speak to make ourselves look better or to make others look worse, we are killing a part of ourselves as well as making others defensive, holding them back from working to better themselves. When we speak just to be filling up space, we’re missing out on a quiet moment that might otherwise produce something incredible and life changing if we were to just be quiet.
And, when we speak to vent our own negative emotions, we send out a ripple of energy as real and as powerful as if we connected someone to a wall socket and shocked them with electricity.
Like a power-grid, our negative words can reach across networks of people and impact others we will never meet with consequences which last for years in the future. Positive words can also have non-positive outcomes simply because of the overzealous moment in which they are spoken.
The bottom line is that speaking before we think usually has unintended consequences. Slow, calm compassion injected into the moments in which we speak changes lives for the better.
Change Happens in the Here and Now
Whether it’s eating or drinking to excess, compulsive information consumption, gossiping, or simply not being kind to our friends and family; the decision which drives our behavior all happens in the present moment, a split-second filled with either emotion or compassion.
The hard work of change occurs just before the moment in which we decide to eat or abstain. It happens within that split second just before we decide to retort or refrain.
First, we have to expand that moment. We have to slow down and realize we’re not radio DJs being forced to fill up dead air. We must be mindful about what we do and say and give ourselves time for the power of our will to take hold.
Nothing will change without using the power of our will to replace both negative and positive emotions with Love and Compassion. We must stop our initial impulses in the name of love and admiration for ourselves and others. Then we’ll have the room and the presence of mind to choose an action which will spiral up with positivism instead of down with negativism.
We cannot help but have a positive impact on our own physical and mental well-being as well as those of our friends, family, and strangers if we replace emotion with compassion as the guiding force for our decisions and actions.