Lojong Practice Journal: Abandon Poisonous Food
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
I appreciate how even a seemingly straightforward Lojong slogan will reveal another layer when I take the time to contemplate it deeply. In the case of “Abandon poisonous foods,” the message seems obvious: We shouldn’t eat things that aren’t healthy for us.
In Buddhism, this goes a bit deeper, as there is emphasis put on the preciousness of our human birth. The odds that we have manifested as a human being out of the billions of different organisms we could have — that we have a conscience and awareness and the ability to work with our minds — is something we shouldn’t take for granted. Given the fortuitousness of our birth, we should take care of the body since this is where the mind resides. A healthy body is a healthy mind, and a longer life means more opportunities for us to wake up, to cause less harm and to be of the greatest benefit.
But ‘poisonous food’ does not have to be taken so literally. While it is important for us to eat well, what we take in through our mouths are not the only things we ingest.
We are bombarded with information every day, all day long. We take it in through podcasts, blogs, social media, movies and television shows. Billboards, banner ads, memes and pop-ups shout at us. Within hours of an event occurring, there will be hundreds of articles, think pieces and comments on it. Within days that number rises to the thousands. Everyone has an opinion or a story, and there is a race to be the first!
We can quickly become so overwhelmed that we can’t discern what is the truth and what is not. Our brains have not evolved at the pace of technology, so we’re ill-equipped to receive this level of information, much of it misinformation.
This bombardment on the senses every time we go online is most certainly a poisonous food. Think of how often something someone has posted to Facebook or Twitter or Reddit sparks off feelings of anger, frustration, disgust, anxiety or any other strong, uncomfortable emotion. This could happen multiple times a week, even multiple times a day. The regularity of such reactions creates a mild sort of PTSD. Soon, every time we go online, we will feel an underlying sense of worry and fatigue. We’re apprehensive about what we might see, and inclined to see conflict more easily. We become habituated to such reactions, and soon just the thought of going online becomes uncomfortable. And social media companies know this—they design with it in mind.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, and this slogan is saying as much. It’s telling us to notice the things we consume and what the result of that consumption is. If the result is intense negativity, a sense of nihilism and despair or rage, it’s worth thinking critically about who we choose to follow or what things we decide to read online.
It is a practice that requires vigilance and sometimes the best thing is to refrain entirely. When there is so much information to be had it’s hard to tell what is making a valid point or providing useful guidance for enacting positive change.
During the week I was intentionally practicing deeply with this slogan, I simply didn’t go online. I chose not to check Facebook1, to read any articles, to chase any of the millions of posts about how people should be or what the real problems are or what we can do or what we should stop doing or what is the most effective thing or what will surprise or amaze or astound. I switched it all off knowing that my consumption of it was not helping me, or anyone else, in any way. Taking a break from all that noise allowed space for me to consider another Lojong slogan: Of the two witnesses, trust the principal one.
This slogan means, while other people can provide feedback and information, ultimately I am my greatest teacher. Only I can determine what will help and what will hurt my practice. Only I can know what is a poisonous food, not worth consuming.
I can see how tempting it is to go online and absorb as much information as possible, but I also see how fruitless this is. I get worked up into a froth, a heightened sense of anxiety. Often I am left either righteously angry, overwhelmed, or disheartened, three states from which it is impossible for anyone to be effective. three states that do not serve a helpful purpose.
It is my ability to witness my experience, and trust in what I am witnessing, that helps me determine what is poisonous and how. Be it words we read or something we are listening to, anything we consume can nurture us, go right through us and not stick, or leave behind unhealthy deposits that will only build up over time. Repeat exposure to too much information or negativity is harmful to body and mind. It habituates us to ineffective states. It is up to us to determine what habits are healthy and worth cultivating, which foods are going to enrich body and mind.
Ultimately, what we ingest and how it changes us will determine the contribution we make to the world in which we live.
Originally published on Medium.
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Since this blog was first published, I have deleted my Facebook account entirely, and I have no regretted it once.