As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we must walk again and again. To make a deep mental path we must think again and again the kinds of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
~Henry David Thoreau, Journals~
As H.H. the Dali Lama has observed, the modus operandi of the contemporary world is consumption. But, he had more in mind than the consumption of food or commercial products. The ideas that we consume and absorb influence our minds in the way that nutrients influence our bodies.
Ideas, like food, can be healthy; likewise, they can be junk. Judging the nutritional value of food is relatively easy. We can look up the sugar content, the preservatives, etc. because, as a culture, we have recognized the value of eating well. But, judging the value of ideas is more difficult. There is no list of ingredients on the side of an idea. So, how do we balance our diet of ideas?
The analogy between food and ideas is apt. Junk food is intensely stimulating but nutritionally empty. Junk ideas are stimulating to a wide array of people, but they lack any real content. The lives of celebrities, funny cat videos, and our Facebook feeds may be stimulating, but they can be devoid of value. Because these ideas are so stimulating, they can monopolize a person’s mental energy, thereby hindering that person from devoting the energy to other, more productive enterprises.
Thoreau recognized the influence of our thoughts on our daily lives. The more time a person spends thinking about celebrities or petty power dynamics at work, the more relevant those things become to a person’s life. If we over-consume this “junk food,” we actually can reorient the focus of our lives from growing and developing to simply consuming. This process can “snowball” into a way of live governed by blind consumption, which is destructive both to our environment and ourselves.
The first step to moderate your mental and spiritual consumption is awareness. Be aware of your habits and routines. Recognize your tendency to “revert” to activities when bored. Be mindful of the ideas that pass through your consciousness, just as you are aware of the food that you put into your body.
Observe the natural cycle of consumption: craving, consumption, satisfaction, rest. If you feel like you are craving junk or consuming too much junk, try to challenge or exercise your mind and spirit. Consume ideas that are more challenging and use the energy from those ideas to refocus your priorities on a balanced life. Meditate as a way of resting your habits of consumption. Finally, and maybe most importantly, recycle the waste.