The Difficulties of Consuming Mindfully

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the five mindfulness trainings and focus our discussion on mindful consumption, the fifth training.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating 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 intoxicant or to ingest foods or 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 with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

On the surface this training is a straightforward proposition: We are aware of the ways our unmindful behavior creates suffering for ourselves and others, and, therefore, we commit ourselves to “good health by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.”

However, there is also a lot in this training under the surface. As those of us who have taken this training know, it is often not an easy training to practice. And for those who have not taken the training, often this training rubs the wrong way. In our discussion, we will begin with sharing what makes this training difficulty for each of us.

For myself, I find this training sometimes difficult to practice because my appetites and habits are not rational. What gives me pleasure and the strategies I use to avoid suffering are deeply set in my psyche. I can’t simply argue them away, or command them away. As is true of most of us, sometimes I am attracted to things that my conscious mind believes are not good for me: an extra cookie, perhaps, or humorous video clips as late night distractions. My usual strategy with these minor deviations from good physical and mental health is to experiment with them. I see what happens when I go with an urge and what happens when I resist it. In a sense I am collecting more information regarding the suffering caused by this particular item of consumption. Decades ago I regularly smoked cigarettes and it took me a year of stopping and starting before I finally stopped. Looking back, I realize that it took that whole year to have it fully sink in that cigarettes were causing me to suffer and that they are truly addictive.

We hope you can be with us. An excerpt by Thich Nhat Hanh on the benifits of practicing mindful consumption is below.

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:35).

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Mindful Consumption
by Thich Nhat Hanh
excerpts from For a Future to Be Possible

Practicing a diet is the essence of this training. Wars and bombs are the products of our consciousness individually and collectively. Our collective consciousness has so much violence, fear, craving, and hatred in it, it can manifest in wars and bombs. The bombs are the product of our fear. Because others have powerful bombs, we try to make bombs even more powerful. Then the other nations hear that we have powerful bombs, and they try to make even more powerful bombs. Removing the bombs is not enough. Even if we could transport all the bombs to a distant planet, we would still not be safe, because the roots of the wars and the bombs are still intact in our collective consciousness. Transforming the toxins in our collective consciousness is the true way to uproot war. . . .

Consuming mindfully is the intelligent way to stop ingesting toxins into our consciousness and prevent the malaise from becoming overwhelming. Learning the art of touching and ingesting refreshing, nourishing, and healing elements is the way to restore our balance and transform the pain and loneliness that are already in us. To do this, we have to practice together. The practice of mindful consuming should become a national policy. It should be considered true peace education. . . .

The practice of mindfulness helps us be aware of what is going on. Once we are able to see deeply the suffering and the roots of the suffering, we will be motivated to act, to practice. The energy we need is not fear or anger; it is the energy of understanding and compassion. There is no need to blame or condemn. Those who are destroying themselves, their families, and their society by intoxicating themselves are not doing it intentionally. Their pain and loneliness are overwhelming, and they want to escape. They need to be helped, not punished. Only understanding and compassion on a collective level can liberate us. The practice of the Five Wonderful Precepts is the practice of mindfulness and compassion. For a future to be possible for our children and their children, we have to practice.