Like most college students, I treated myself disgustingly.
I knew about nutrition of course, but it wasn’t as important as doing everything I could to live life to the fullest. Breakfast was usually a sugar-free redbull and a pop tart — fresh out the wrapper while driving. Other meals came as leftovers from the restaurant I worked at, or take-out. The fridge was basically an oversized minibar of condiments and booze. I partied myself to sleep and caffeinated myself through classes. I regret nothing.
However when I began to get bedridden sick once a month and developed a mysterious full-body rash, I very slowly began to become more aware of what I was doing to myself.
Until my sudden issues, I was getting by just fine so I really didn’t care. I was young and fit! I did yoga and walked for the majority of my job, so why did it matter?
I want to propose a similar case for the mind.
Just as I took my outer appearance as measure for my health, we often look at our life and figure that if we’re functioning normally and not locked up in a mental institution, everything must be fine. Even when we’re going through bouts of drama and negative emotion, it still seems normal because it’s what we’re used to seeing on TV, tabloids, movies, social media… everywhere.
We’re being told it’s ok to be constantly in a feud with your loved ones. It’s perfectly fine to feel like the world is against you all the time. It’s totally normal to be your own worst enemy — there’s a song about it.
And these things do happen.
But just like viruses, germs, disease, and other external constituents, our ability to deal is directly related to our internal health and vitality.
So when I was exposed to grime and dust while moving out of my apartment, my improperly nourished system was unable to cope and I developed a severe and very itchy dust mite allergy. Then with an even weaker immune system, I was getting sick all the time.
Similarly, when someone isn’t properly tending to their mind, they are easily felled with the slightest of blows. They need more down-time when something bad happens, and often have difficulty getting back up again. The mind is very much like the body.
And we know about positive thinking and gratitude and meditation and all that. But while in the thick of life, that stuff can seem about as appealing and easy as going out to gather ingredients for a homemade salad when there’s deep fried snacks laying about.
We know what’s good for our minds, we just think that minding everything happening outside is more important. It usually isn’t until we hit a breaking point or crisis that we are forced to turn to the only thing left to rely on — ourselves.
I remember popping cranberry pills, trying to quell a bladder infection before it spread to my kidneys, while boozing up and going to a massive rave. I remember the squinting confusion of shopping for multivitamins for the first time. And for a while I took vitamins (when I remembered) and continued doing the same old routine. It was a half-assed start, to say the least. But it was a start.
And that’s how it is when becoming aware of what’s going on within our head.
We each have our own methods that work best for our pace and style in life.
Some people have a full-on divergence, where they jump headlong into positivity and spiritual trajectories as their new way of life. Some weave in and out of different teachings and practices. Others take to it as serious research, while some see it as bringing play and beauty into their lives. Some see it as a fascinating project. Some just casually peek into it. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you are paying closer and more honest attention.
We can’t directly see our innards, but we can feel them. We know when we feel well nourished from a healthy meal. We know when we feel true joy, versus one that is reliant or forced.
I didn’t feel any different while taking a multivitamin. But it opened my eyes just a tiny bit to notice what I was putting into my body. That it was a choice. And very, very slowly I began to make little changes here and there.
Awareness is the biggest key.
Just noticing what we’re doing to ourselves is a huge thing. We don’t have to make enormous changes yet, or at all. Just stop and pay attention.
Instead of redbulls, I slowly switched to coffee. Then years later, to black tea. Then green tea. But I had to notice first and question my mechanical actions.
Body and mind health really do go together. It’s difficult to enjoy one without the other. It’s tough to say whether it’s worse being at the peak of physical health while being miserable, or being constantly sick but with a mind full of peace and happiness.
Don’t feel bad if you find that you keep feeding yourself thoughts of other people’s opinions, or your own ultra-critical insults and reliving of the past. It’s just what we do as analytical humans. And it’s even more difficult than noticing what we eat, because we can’t actually see what we’re putting into our brain.
So just sit and notice. Slow way down. Pause the chatter for just a second and look at what the sentences and implications are. Notice that you can focus your thoughts. It’s not just fluffy stuff like thinking happy thoughts and making gratitude lists, the whole point beneath all that is the fact that you can focus your thoughts.
Just like how you can choose your food, you can choose your thinking. And there’s absolutely no need to go from pop tarts to kale salads. Do not feel bad if you are aware of your negative thinking and do nothing to change it! As long as you see what’s there and that you CAN change it if you wish. Sometimes life is too crazy to start just yet. But just watching and being aware is the biggest step forward, even if it feels like you haven’t done anything yet.
I don’t believe in all-or-nothing. I believe in respecting yourself as human being, not an animal that needs to be whipped and trained into perfection. I believe that we all have it in us to make remarkable changes, and that we each have our own style of doing so. I respect the desire and acknowledgement of ability to change, almost or if not more than the actual change itself. Because it takes guts to have a sense of ownership, of responsibility for ones life. It’s intimidating yet so exciting because we know it’s all up to us, and deep deep down we know that we can do if it we really truly wanted to.
The quality of our mind nutrition is equivalent to how we experience our world. It affects everything. And many of us know that if we were happier, we would eat better and get more shit done. So true health and vitality begins up here. This is what’s getting us through our lives. Let’s pay attention.