“I still don’t understand why you don’t like to listen to music,” my sister gaped, sitting across the table. “It’s not that I don’t like music,” I explained, “It’s that the trade-off is too high for me to do it very often.” I went on to elaborate about how I’m actually a very musical person, it’s just that when I listen to a song, it locks in my head and won’t stop repeating itself for a few days. While I like the song at first, this constant looping isn’t pleasant in the long run. So I tend to stay away from music to prevent it, unless I make the conscious choice to partake and endure having a song linger in my head for a few days.
Like the first time I started meditating. I was at a 10-day silent vipassana retreat. The vast majority of my headspace was a playlist of a random smattering of songs I had once heard across the span of my lifetime. Music, apparently, is my mind’s default expulsion.
Since I started Heartfulness meditation, I have a better understanding of why this kind of thing happens. Throughout the day, we accumulate impressions of everything we interact with. Occurrences that create a stronger impression, if we attend to them, become more strongly rooted in our awareness and we can continue to entangle in them. So as a part of the Heartfulness practice at the end of the day, called cleaning, I sit and suggest that all the impurities or complexities that I’ve accumulated during the day are leaving the back as if they were smoke or vapor. After this cleaning, I feel light and more balanced. Even if I had a pretty awesome day, there’s a freshness that comes afterwards.
While this cleaning practice does a great job of clearing things that I interact with on a day-to-day basis, I also have a responsibility to make life choices that promote an inner balance. Everyone has their own spectrum or bandwidth of what they prefer and what they can tolerate. Because meditation has increasingly attuned me to a subtler and subtler inner state, these days I have become more discerning with what I engage in.
We see an awareness begin to creep into our culture about healthy eating. There are vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, gluten-free, GMO-free, and a plethora of diets around us and on our menus. We filter our water and eschew additives and plastics. We generally understand “you are what you eat,” and that the things we intake become our makeup. So we strive to, or at least are aware that we’d prefer to, eat healthier and cleaner to have a more balanced, vital life.
We understand intrinsically that what we take in will change how we feel inside. If I have super greasy fries, I’m going to feel a bit more cloudy and bogged down. If I have a healthy, balanced meal, I’ll feel nourished and energized. But as we live in an increasingly media-filled world, our stomachs are no longer the only organs doing the digesting. Our eyes and ears take in so much these days – from our phones, our computers, the music playing in stores and in our cars, text messages, emails, movies, videos. We are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of visual and aural stimuli that we digest through our nervous system. Just as our digestive system breaks down our food and creates the building blocks of our bodies, so too the visuals and sounds we take in become the thought patterns and the makeup of our mental and subconscious world.
No less is this true for the conversations we have with others and the verbal patterns we tell ourselves in our head. If I’m constantly griping about the terrible day I’ve had, I continue to create a terrible feeling. But if I catch my thought pattern and choose a healthier one, I can adjust my inner feeling. “Today is horrible,” I can shift to “wow, I’m ready to feel better about today.” Just creating the possibility already creates a lightness. The principle behind new age affirmations stems from this kind of internal adjustment. Consciously choosing to reorient our mental patterns is a great step in creating a more joyful inner world.
An adjustment I had to learn in this process was to change my thinking from the binary concept of good and bad and move into the spectral understanding of heavy or subtle. If I make a choice that doesn’t promote lightness or subtlety in my being doesn't make me bad. By making choices that do create more inner balance I’m not being good. My actions are beyond this myopic polarization. My choices, instead, fall on a spectrum of feeling that help me clarify whether my action aligns to my inner compass. The compass always points due North, towards the magnetic pull to my actualized Self. My lifestyle provides feedback if I’m headed in the right direction. And as I get closer and refine, it’s easier to weed out the tendencies that draw me away, creating a tension, pulling me against my forward trajectory.
As a word of caution, I’d like to highlight the gentle difference of principle and practice. Sometimes we have to be patient with ourselves as we grow to better discern what’s nourishing and otherwise. The principles I enumerate herein help guide my choices. Practically, I am still learning to apply these principles as I more fully integrate them into my life. Do I always choose what’s best for me? Nope. But I do more often. And the times that I don’t, I’m quickly reminded by the biofeedback physically, emotionally and mentally, that that choice was less than subtle and created a heaviness I no longer wish to perpetuate. I can reassess, strive for more accurate, and choose subtler next time. And I encourage you to explore how to too.
Photo: Padurariu Alexandru