Eating Our “Mental” Fruits and Veggies

Post published by Robert Puff Ph.D in Meditation for Modern Life 

Organic fruits and vegetables are good for us, especially when they are eaten raw. This is what I eat and I have lots of energy.  I feel good and it’s been just great for me. However, it hasn’t always been this way. When I was growing up, my dad used to make us his favorite potatoes on special occasions. He would slice up a bunch of raw potatoes and cook them in a vat of very unhealthy oil. We would eat them, dripping with that oil. It tasted great when I was a kid but, as I learned later, it certainly wasn’t very good for me.

So over the years, I’ve learned to eat better.  And now my body’s gotten so used to eating healthy that, when I do eat something that’s very rich, it tends to make my stomach upset. My favorite morning juice is a blend of organic fruit and vegetables.  Some friends who’ve tried it don’t think it tastes very good, but they’re just not used to it like I am.

So what does a diet of fruits and vegetables have to do with happiness? It actually has a lot to do with happiness. Our minds are just like our bodies.  If we feed them good material…. healthy, positive, loving images and thoughts …. we do well. If we don’t feed our minds these things, then we don’t do well. For example, I’m a Clinical Psychologist and I often work with children from divorced families. Sometimes when these kids’ fathers see them on weekends, the fathers unthinkingly take the kids to movies that are clearly inappropriate for children.  When I see these kids in therapy during the week, the first thing they want to share with me is the movie their dad took them to. They sometimes talk about the movie with a sense of excitement, but I can clearly tell that they feel a need to get it off their chest about how it scared them or made them feel upset because they really were too young for it. As adults, we’re really not any different.  It’s just that we’ve become numb to the effects of negativity. Imagine for a moment that, when we’re born, we’re like a 5,000 gallon water tank, and inside our tank the water is crystal clear. At one end of the tank, there’s a tube feeding water in and, at the other end, there’s a tube that allows water out. Our minds are just that simple. Things come into us all day long and they go out of us all day long.  As time goes on, the water in our tank starts getting muddied and dirty. So, when new junk comes in, we don’t even notice it; we only notice it when the tank is clean and crystal clear. Then as we get older and the tank becomes darker and dirtier, when a batch of new negativity comes in, we can’t even recognize it as junk. It’s amazing how we can get so used to such unhappiness and think it’s normal and, even worse, we sometimes even pursue it.

One night many years ago, I was driving home very late and I passed one of the casinos here in Southern California. I’m not a gambler, but it was a Tuesday or Wednesday night very late, around 1a.m., and there were so many cars in the parking lot that I just couldn’t believe it. So I decided to stop in for a little bit to see what was going on. It was very interesting to me. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there. I looked at all the slot machines and the gaming tables, and I looked at the expressions on the peoples’ faces.   I didn’t see was one person who was happy and having a good time. They all seemed very depressed, upset, and angry ….  far, far from being happy, and yet here they were, on a work night, spending their free time and hard earned money doing something that seemed to be causing them to be unhappy. My guess is that their water tanks were very dark and murky.  They couldn’t even tell that what they were doing was causing them unhappiness. We can get like that if we’re not careful. I know this was an extreme example, but even in our regular lives, I think we have to be careful and ask ourselves, “What are we feeding our souls and our minds all day long?”

I think everyone would agree that doing harmful things or being exposed to harmful things is very unhealthy for us. Extreme things like a rape, having to fight in a war, etc., have negative effects on us; we all get that. But what about negative images and shows on TV?  What about negative conversations?  What about negative things we read? What about what we watch on the news? Do these things affect us?

Interestingly, in my practice I’ve counseled several women who have husbands that don’t come to therapy.  They stay at home and sometimes these husbands get in a real funk, a really dark place. What I’ll find in talking to the wife is that often the husbands are staying home and spending a lot of time watching the news.  And instead of simply learning about the events of the day, they’re spending hours and hours and hours listening to and watching it, hearing the talking heads analyze it, getting fully involved in it, and becoming depressed. When I suggest to the wives that their husbands stop spending so much time watching the news, the wives report back to me that their husbands have started to feel better. 

Here’s another example. If a really angry teenage male tells you what kind of music he listens to, I’ll bet it isn’t something like Mozart or love songs or any music styles that are peaceful and happy. They’re almost always listening to music that is harsh and upsetting.  Not that everyone who listens to such music is angry, but rarely will you find an angry teenage male who doesn’t listen to that kind of music. Now, we can argue which came first, the anger or the music, but clearly the two are correlated, and it kind of makes sense. It’s just logical that what we watch on TV, what we think about in our heads all day long, what we talk to other people about, what we listen to on the radio, what music we listen to, everything that comes into us affects us. Everything.

So if we’re really striving for happiness, then we first need to pay attention to what we’re thinking all day long and, second, we have to look at what we are exposing ourselves to. If we begin to make changes here, even small ones at first but small changes add up to big changes in the long term, we will experience more happiness in our lives. I like to use what I call the “5% Rule”. If you make a 5% improvement today and keep making 5% improvements twenty times, soon you’ll have 100% improvement. A little improvement today can add up to a huge improvement in the long run. It’s like if we want to change our eating habits because we eat terribly, we can just start by having a salad with our meals and maybe some fruit with our breakfast each day. It doesn’t completely change our diet but it does make improvements in it, and if we continue to do it, then over time, we’ll become a healthy eater.

Let’s do the same thing with our minds. The first thing we have to agree upon is that whatever we listen to, whatever we watch, whatever conversations we take with us in our heads do matter. Then the next thing we need to ask ourselves is, “How is this affecting me?” If it is affecting us negatively, then we have to start making changes. The bottom line is that everything matters.  So we have to pay attention to what we are thinking, what we are watching on TV, what we are listening to, what our conversations are like because it matters; it REALLY matters.

This isn’t about being guilty; this is about being happy. If we want to be happy, then we have to basically have happy thoughts in our head and expose ourselves to positive, loving things rather than negative, harsh things. So we can first begin by paying attention to what we’re thinking all day long and what we’re exposing ourselves to. These are the two biggest and most important factors. Then when we notice that, “You know, this probably isn’t very good for me”, we can start making some small changes and, with time, those small changes can add up to make really good bigger changes.

Remember the water tank.  At one end, we’re going to start feeding crystal clear water in.  At first, even as we begin to make changes, what will be coming out the other end will still be the same old gunk. But with time, because the gunk is going out of the tank, the water inside will start to become crystal clear again. Then happiness will be something that we are, instead of something we are pursuing.

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