Feeding the mind
Today, I have the great pleasure and privilege of sharing with you a piece by an old friend, Coen Völker. Enjoy!
By Coen Völker
From the first of January 2013 I will go a diet for 1 year. This is a diet for my mind and I will explain this below. If you like you can share this year of mind-diet with me.
I have always been interested in the mind. As a boy I often wondered why people behaved they way they did. Many of their behaviors seemed neither rational nor logical. Somehow, I thought, there must be something in their mind that explains these behaviors. So in 1995 I decided to study psychology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I took a degree in neuropsychology and studied how the brain affected the mind. The brain, I thought, would be the key to understand people, and understand myself. I learned many interesting things about the brain and about consciousness. But there always was a gap between what learned in the books and what I saw in my own life.
In 1998/99 I had a personal breakdown. I was experiencing all these emotions and thoughts that were not rational nor logical. I was studying the brain but I couldn’t understand my own mind. After some months of depression I came across meditation. For the next 14 years I was lucky to meet several inspiring meditation-teachers from the Vipassana, Zen and Tibetan traditions. For the last 6 years I have had the privilege to work as a mindfulness trainer and teacher based on the wonderful works of Jon Kabat-Zinn on meditation, yoga and stress. This has been very helpful to get to know my own mind but I can still become very embarrassed by this mind of mine.
One embarrassment happened recently in august 2012. I was meditating on a beautiful beach in Australia. The sun was going down, the wind was soft, the beach was empty. And what did I have on my mind? Was it peace? Was it inner calmness? Was it kundalini maybe? No. I had Batman on my mind. Six days before I had seen the latest Batman movie and my mind was still chewing and digesting the intense images of the man in the cape. Somehow the overwhelming sounds, images and violence still lingered in my mind. It was disturbing. And what was even more disturbing was that I freely had chosen to see this movie that was now tormenting my mind.
I realized that I feed my mind. Every day I feed my mind with television, newspapers, movies and radio. You can say that you watch the news and then turn it off. But the mind doesn’t turn off. Every piece of corruption, murder, injustice, abuse, war, sports and politics that I feed my mind, stays in my mind. So why would I do this? Would I miss anything if I stop this? Do you miss anything if you go on a holiday and miss you national newspaper? It seems our minds gets drawn into the media. And it gets drawn in by sensation. Sensationalism sells. Everything that has a sense of sensation sells. So the mind thinks it will miss something if it lets a sensation pass by. So we get hooked in.
The Vietnamese zen master Thick Nhat Hanh writes in his book “Savor” that there are several ways we feed ourselves. Directly we feed ourselves with food and drinks that might be wholesome or unwholesome both to ourselves but also to the people who manufacture our food, to the animals who might be our food, and to the environment that might grow our food. But he also writes that we feed ourselves with our thoughts. If we eat an apple we chew and digest an apple. If we have angry thoughts we eat, chew and digest our anger. We eat anger. One way that we feed our mind with anger is by our righteousness. We try to convince ourselves we are right and the other is wrong. And we do so by feeding our minds angry thoughts. But by justifying ourselves we only feed our minds with more anger. And right now you might think of all the people you know that justify themselves. But think of yourself and observe for only one day all the little moments that you might do the very same. It might be embarrassing to watch the mind but it will give you a new sense of freedom.
So not only do I feed my body daily but I feed my mind daily. So then I thought I would do an experiment for one year. For one year I will go on a mind-diet. I will not watch television, movies or read newspapers. Every time I pick up a book I will decide if I really need to feed my mind with this book. Every time I get sucked into an unpleasant conversation or unpleasant thought I will decide if I want to continue that conversation or thought. Every time I listen to music I will decide if I want to feed my mind this music. I will downsize my online time but I have not decided yet how to use the internet, emails, SMS, Facebook, LinkedIn and telephone. But I am very curious what will happen to my mind if feed it with more care, with more compassion and with less rubbish.
I shared my intention with a friend and he became interested too and will most likely join me in this mind-diet. He had been on a mind-diet some years before and enjoyed how his mind became more still and quiet. So if you like you can join us too and exchange ideas and experiences.
Can you only imagine one year without television?
with curious regards
About the Author
Coen Völker lives and works in the Netherlands as a psychologist and a mindfulness trainer. He has his own private practice and works at an institute for people with cancer. He teaches mindfulness to professionals and has a lovely small garden.
For Coen Völker: see LinkedIn
For Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: