As we strive to balance our lives, so many of us have made significant adjustments to what we take in. The litany of possible diets can seem exhausting for people looking to find a healthy relationship with food: low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, raw, Paleolithic, food combining, blood type, etc. More and more, people feel the call to align what we eat to who we are. We understand that on some level the integrity and accuracy of the building blocks we give our bodies will help our resilience and vitality. As Hippocrates famously offered, ”Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
From experience we know that what we eat affects how we feel; if I eat something heavy and rich, I’ll feel tired and overly full. But living as we do in a notoriously over-stimulating culture, we need also be aware that what we feed upon extends beyond merely our digestive systems: We should think of our eyes and our ears as other “mouths,” which take in a different kind of vibration in the form of light and sound waves. And we digest this intake through our nervous system. Just as our intestines break down and distribute the physical chemicals of the food we eat that make our bodies, the imagery and sounds we absorb pattern our own thoughts and understanding of the world and define how we relate to it.
A few weeks ago, I went to see a showing of Django Unchained. I was, fortunately, primed before I went to the theater, having watched a number of Tarantino’s previous films. I was prepared to expect the gratuitous, highly-stylized violence, prolific swearing, and intense situations. In that capacity, the film more than delivered.
On one hand, Django was an epic piece of cinema; it was brilliantly produced, the acting was superb, and the story was a cathartic saga of monumental proportions. But when I left the theater, I felt a density in my body that was atypical, to say the least, in my day-to-day experience of life (at least since I’ve been meditating regularly). There was a heaviness, an intensity, that I would parallel to how a lifelong vegetarian might feel after having eaten a huge, juicy steak.
Perhaps I’m oversensitive, and the traumatic horrors of slavery’s history cannot be denied; however, I still wonder how productive it is to string our systems through hours of such intensity. Obviously, I would never be a candidate for movies like the Saw series, but Django has since been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. I find myself caught in an artistic existential crisis in an intricate web of beauty and profanity.
Without question, violence in media represents a hot topic in recent decades. Aside from the buzz, we generally understand that our evolution as a species is intrinsically tied to moving beyond the harmful behavioral patterns we are still emerging out of. We understand that the correlation of environment and states of being predicate a level of discernment. As it is not my intention to advocate the censorship of content, we find ourselves in a situation that leaves the discrepancy of consumption as the consumer’s onus. For me, a movie like Django was a bitter pill: as much as I’m interested in witnessing high quality art, the trade off for the intense content is not worth the energetic setback I viscerally feel in the aftermath. So how can I best heed Hippocrates advice to let media too be my food and medicine? Is there a way to cultivate an integrity of exposure with a balance?
Having personally worked through a lot of previously-held judgements, I know how vital it is to authentically allow habits to fall off rather than fanatically oppose and repress. I love the way Neale Donald Walsh’s Conversations with God notes, “what you resist persists.” This motto has served to me as a gentle reminder to cultivate acceptance of what exists as I develop discernment for what is most symbiotic with my evolution, and it is with this caveat that we begin our inquiry.
Fortunately, our bodies have evolved to give us biophysical feedback about what nourishes us and what depletes. When I eat leafy greens, for instance, I feel light and nourished. When I eat a lot of chocolate, I feel craving and jitteriness. So to perpetuate a balanced experience, I generally choose to eat more leafy greens over chocolate…generally. We can take a similar approach to media, relationships and conversations to help navigate the biofeedback offered from our experience.
Let’s take a quick examination of the most prevalent “foods” in our lives with the top 5 media sources we engage with daily.
1) First, take a piece of recycled scratch paper, and turn it horizontally. Draw 4 vertical lines for 5 evenly-spaced columns.
2) In the first column, list the top 5 media outlets you interact with most often. These are anything from TV programs you watch and music you listen to, to the news outlets, Facebook, social media threads, movies, blogs, books, and magazines you frequent.
4) In the next column, write across from the respective medium the general content of what you engage with on that platform.
4) Then go down the list in column 3 and write about the quality of the subject matter you discuss. Is the content generally uplifting, emotionally intensifying, disconcerting, inspiring, defeating, negative, thought provoking, humorous?
5) In the next column, write how you feel when you peruse the information from this source. Are you usually excited, bored, nervous, amused, agitated, outraged, titillated, and engrossed?
6) Finally, take a minute to examine how you feel after you unplug. Are you left nourished?
Taking a step back from the exercise, what trends do you notice from these different sources? Are you getting a balanced meal through your eyes and ears too? For instance, I personally find that when I engage with Facebook, I often feel a subtle desperation and feel a bit depleted after I bounce through people’s feeds (an apropos naming!). Thus, I’ve gradually limited the time I bother scrolling and clicking through, and have made it a point to only post content I feel is a contribution or an inspiration. When I read spiritually oriented literature like The Bhagavad Gita or talks from the spiritual masters of Sahaj Marg, the meditation system I practice, I feel more buoyant and less dense than before I tuned in.
Some content’s healthiness is less obvious. I find Jon Stuart’s The Daily Show hilarious, but I notice a subtle frustration can build the light of ignorances the program highlights in various aspects of our culture. I’m not one for sticking my head in the sand, but I question the productivity of meeting opposition with opposition, albeit lightheartedly. These gray areas help us align to our own personal filters of homeostasis where we can be present to media without necessarily taking in or taking on the tone of what is offered.
Reflecting back on the trends of our most frequent dynamics, we can start seeing the patterns of how our outer world reflects our inner world. We can note if and how the subject and tone of the social and cultural content we choose to engage with regularly parallel our outlook on the world. As we notice habitual association that detracts from a balanced state of mind, we can deliberately choose how much energy we give them. We can reevaluate the time we engage with depleting content, and nurture our nervous systems with positively oriented sources that we can consider medicinal.
There is no doubt in recent years that there is more and more access to sustentative media. I trust that in the long run as we communally evolve, our fine-tuning will strengthen, and all that we intake (and produce) will become increasingly nourishing. Bon appétit!
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Guest Columnist: Emma Hawley
Since childhood, Emma Hawley has always asked the “million dollar questions.” She grew up in a family of thinkers and always found her comfort zone outside the box. Since graduating valedictorian of her class at UCLA, she has found her footing in Los Angeles’ wealth of consciously oriented communities. Emma’s respite is in her daily Sahaj Marg sadhana: a form simplified of raja yoga meaning “Natural Path,” that has vastly transformed her inner world. Check out some of her musings on her personal blog, Spark in the Husk. Catch her tweets at