I want to talk about an issue that affects most of the world’s population, and it is something that we need to overcome if we want to make ourselves and our world a better place. How often have you thought one of the following thoughts:
“I really need to get a new phone.”
“I would kill for a pizza right now”
“I’m just craving a hamburger”
“That dress is so cute, I have to have it.”
“I need to get a better lens for my camera.”
“Now that our family is growing, we really need a bigger house.”
Maybe you haven’t thought all of these things, but I guarantee you’ve thought something similar.
Our mind is constantly providing us with an exhaustive list of needs and wants and desires. You want to eat a certain kind of food, you need to buy a certain product. To make things worse, society preys on this mind chatter. The people who want to sell you things know exactly how you think because they think the same way. And this is true all over the world. The only societies I have ever found that don’t have some form of advertising are so remote it took me a full day to walk there from the nearest road.
This constant barrage of advertisements works to create needs in our mind. It is insidious and we don’t even notice it happening. A perfect example from American life is the store that we all know and love, Target.
It’s a Sunday and you need to buy a new plastic container to store a bunch of clothes that you don’t wear anymore. You head off to Target. You’re just going to pop in and buy the container and then leave. You enter the store. Grab a cart. Where do they keep the containers? On your way to find them you pass the clothing section. Oh that purse is so cute, and so cheap! You grab it, it’s just one purse. Suddenly you’re in the shoe section. Summer is coming, and you can always use a new pair of flip flops, right? Now you find yourself in the kitchen section. I’ve always wanted to get a spiralizer so I can make those funny noodles out of zucchini that I always see on Instagram. And so on…
By the time you get to check out you’ve got a cart full of stuff and you’ve spent way more than the $6 that plastic crate would have cost you.
This is an extreme example, but I think you get my point. The constant barrage of advertising and showcasing of products creeps into our minds without us even noticing. We enjoy it! It feels really good to indulge your brain and give it what it wants.
This pleasure from indulgence is why we have the concept of “comfort food.” It’s comforting food because it generally isn’t good for your health but it’s full of all the things that make food extra delicious: fats and cheeses and carbs and salts and sauces and so on.
But how do you feel when you get to check out and see the price of all of those Target purchases? Or that new phone you bought last year? How do you feel now that they released an even newer edition? What about that massive bacon wrapped hamburger you were craving? Did you still feel amazing afterwards? Is the craving gone, never to return?
No. In one day, or one week, or one month you’re going to have the craving again. And you’re going to indulge it.
It’s time to break the cycle.
Depending on where you live and the kinds of facebook pages you follow, you may have noticed that there is a trend in mindfulness. All these gurus write long pages about how meditating for even just 5 minutes a day has changed their life. So you try it for a week or two and you don’t notice a difference.
Mindfulness, Yoga, Meditation, it has all been commoditized; packaged up and sold to you as an exercise regimen that will change your life… but no one bothers to explain how.
The truth is, you can close your eyes and breathe from now until the end of time and it might not change anything if you don’t also do some deep introspection and self-study. When you close your eyes, take some time to actually listen to the chatter in your mind. Because your mind will chatter, and that doesn’t make you bad at meditation. It’s part of the process.
Learn to listen to your mind, acknowledge what you are thinking, and then set it aside. Start out small by choosing to ignore the itch behind your ear while you meditate for one more minute. Eventually, if you ignore the itch… it disappears! It’s like magic.
Now try this with your desires. Again, start small. You really want to get a massive chipotle burrito with chicken and cheese, but you’re trying to be healthy. Just once, get the salad instead. You can get the burrito later. You may notice that over time, your desire for this burrito fades.
You are an athlete, and a real gear junky. You’ve been eyeing this new style of fitbit. Sure you’ve already got one, but it’s old, and it can’t do half the stuff the new one can. And you can afford it! Now, this is the point where you stop yourself. Evaluate your mind. Do you really need this new fitbit, or is this another one of your minds desires? This is a change to practice self-control. Calmly tell yourself to wait a while. See if you still want it in a few months.
In the philosophy of Yoga, this process of becoming aware of and controlling the mind’s desires is part of a process outlined in the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the first two branches of the yogic journey. Yamas concern your relationship with the external world, and niyamas concern your relationship with yourself. According to the ancient philosophy, we practice yamas and niyamas before even beginning to practice asana, or yoga postures. I’ll dive into what the yamas and niyamas mean to me in a future post, but for now you can find lots of good information on this topic here.
Of course, learning to be conscious of your actions, speech, and thoughts is a slow process done over time. The most important thing to remember is to do it out of love. Do it with kindness for yourself and others in your heart. Making the choice to make the long term loving decision for yourself, not the short term indulgent choice. Remember that it is a journey and on journeys we get lost, we fall down, we give up, but most importantly, we always get up and keep going. Continue training your mind. Learn to celebrate what you are capable of.
Your mind is not the master of you. You are the master of your mind. Until you learn this, you will not be able to create effective change within yourself. Until you can effectively change yourself, you won’t be able to effectively change your world.
And the world needs you to change.