A Seed Sprouted
When I was growing up I was sent to a private school for troubled young men. It was a Christian school and quite a puritanical one. I have never been the type to buy into religion, and I have always believed as Vine Delori said, that “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.” Although I rarely applied myself in church, or listened very attentively I do remember something the pastor said in one of his sermons. He said “If you put trash into your heart you only get trash out.” At the time I believed he was making a speech about remaining pure for God, and abstaining from sex before marriage. It wasn’t until many years later that the seed of that short statement (trash in trash out) took root and I was able to see how sensitive our hearts are to what we take in through our senses.
In a world where we are assaulted every day by violence on television, in the movies we watch, in the books we read, and in the music we listen to it is easy to become desensitized to it. Instead of being horrified by the gruesome murders we witness on CSI, we can become enthralled by it. When we witness acts of anger, hate, greed, or lust and respond to it by being entertained we water the seeds of those emotions in our own minds. Everyone knows that the more a seed is watered the better chance it has to sprout, grow, and blossom into a flower. Whether it is the flower of anger, or the flower of hate, or the flower of greed, or the flower of lust is all up to what emotions or desires we choose to nurture, and cultivate. Through mindful awareness of what we allow into our hearts through our senses we can take responsibility for how we let ourselves grow, and turn from anger, hate, greed, and lust and turn toward love, compassion, generosity, and sexual desire run rampant.
Our world is full of beauty; flowers, birds, animals, sunsets, and the cosmos all scream: “See me!” The whole spectrum of humanity begs to be looked at, studied, and examined. The whole world is our specimen, and in our eyes lay the microscope. To be surrounded by beauty means to know it, and to be surrounded by suffering means to it equally as well. How could we avert our gaze when everywhere we look something is to be seen? Does seeing only beauty mean that grotesqueness do not exist? No of course not, but seeing only grotesqueness and being consumed, obsessed, or entertained by the reality of its ugliness means to slowly be desensitized to that monstrosity. Slowly we can start to see suffering, but fail to recognize it as such. This is one reason why we as individuals should learn to guard what we allow ourselves to admit into our heart-mind through our sight. It is equally important not to forget the travesties of our world but to remain pure, to the best of our ability, so that when we see another suffering we can look with compassion and offer our aid.
The music, books, and the talk we entertain ourselves with is as, if not more, vital to a healthy heart-mind as sight, at least for me. This is probably because music is about individuality and self-expression. My favorite songs have always been songs that resonate with me emotionally. If I can relate to the lyrics, if the melody suits a particular mood, or evokes a particular memory I find myself listening to it over and over. As a teenager my music was an extension of my identity. These days I am careful what I listen to. If the song is one that I used to listen to when I was angry, or blue I steer clear of it. Music has the power of evoking emotion unlike anything that I have ever experienced. For this reason it is important to use discernment when relating, or identifying with the things we listen to. It shapes your mood, and habits of listening to music, radio, or books that evoke unpleasant emotions such as anger or hate only nurture the seeds of those emotions causing them to crop up more than ones that promote wellness of body and mind. We can inadvertently begin to associate songs with thoughts and feelings. I have often heard a song on the radio and almost immediately felt uneasy, and wondered why. Further investigation lead to the realization that it was a song I listened to after a breakup that triggered some feelings of angst. Through awareness of our listening habits we can substitute these negative somatic cues with positive ones that lead to feelings of positivity, and joy. All we need to do is to be mindful of the habits we create. We should also be mindful of how we speak. To use angry speech is to potential offend another’s hearing, and to cause suffering.
The sense of smell, our olfactory sense, is connected directly to our memory. I am sure anyone can relate to the smell of fresh-baked goodies bringing us back to our grandparent’s house. The smell of fresh cookies straight from the oven wafting in to us from the kitchen. I am often drawn into bakeries and coffee shops because the smell tantalize me with memories from a Sunday long ago. I have also been quite frightened by smells as well. I remember it was just after I left substance abuse treatment. I was walking through the local college campus with a friend when the smell broadsided us like a big rig truck, someone was smoking pot around the corner. We immediately felt as if we had to be disinfected from the smell, as if we had relapsed by proxy. We weren’t triggered to use or crave, but something about it was startling. The lesson for me was to be aware of how I let myself be conditioned. If a smell can frighten, and remind it can also entice and tempt me to return to the substances I have vowed to abstain from.
Our eating habits directly affect our health, and through them we have a great opportunity to either contribute to the suffering of other beings, or not. When we take things into our bodies that contribute to the suffering of other beings we perpetuate the whole cycle with our inclusion. For this reason many people choose to become vegetarians. In my opinion the choice is all about attitude and intention. If we are not discerning it is much easier to develop an attitude of carelessness, and open yourself up to ways of eating that are unhealthy. Don’t make the mistake of believing that vegetarians are exempt from the cycle either. Just because it is not meat doesn’t mean that migrant workers aren’t being exploited, or that foreign producers aren’t exploiting their employees. Bottom line it is important to know as much as you can about the food you eat, and to eat well. Give the cakes a rest and strive to create good eating habits. You will feel much better.
The skin, the body’s largest organ, is where our tactile sense resides, and is one of our most visceral senses. Through it we feel hot and cold, pain and pleasure, and communicate with one another our affections. How we relate with this sense is vital to our development as children, and how we interact with the world around us.
To crave only pleasure is to be addicted and to know only pain is to suffer. We can associate any number of thought and feeling to any sight, sound, smell, taste, or tactile sensation. To have senses and to be tempted by those senses is to be a human being. To what extent is up to us as individuals to regulate with discretion and self-discipline. Habit and routine are vital to our lives, but can also create more suffering for us. To live with skill and caution is our responsibility as spiritual beings.