We've all heard the saying before 'we are what we eat', well I believe we are what we see. Day in and day out our minds are distracted by what we see in the world around us, read in the paper, books, magazines, and what we watch on television. There is a sanskrit saying ‘Mana eva manushyanam’ ‘A man is according to his mind’. All of our experiences in the world are mental. Where our attention goes our mind goes.
Recently I visited Times Square and I was so overwhelmed by the lights, the shows, the people. It is an extreme sensory overload to walk around that part of town. I am still not desensitized to the smoke and mirrors of 42nd street even thought I grew up coming here and now living not too far away. I found myself following my friend amidst the sea of tourists with my jaw open and eyes wandering from one brightly light billboard to the next.
Living in a world where there is a constant stream of advertisements and new shiny things our minds are tricked into believing we need more of everything and we must look a certain way. Yet, we are able to limit that influence and we can determine what we let into our sight. Although you can’t change what you see in Times Square you can choose what books you read, what movies you see and which TV shows you watch. We all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to reading, television, and movies -- and I am a sucker for bad chick flicks. I admit that it feels great to zone out to mindless sitcoms sometimes.
When I watch too much trashy TV I notice that my mind becomes clouded and well trashy. Whatever we read, watch on TV, or see in the world we internalize and it becomes a part of our reality. Some of us are more impressionable than others, but we are all affected on some level. Violent movies, romantic comedies, dramas, etc. We all relate and take some portion of the television show or book into our daily lives. I like to treat myself to a trashy show every once and a while, but the more I take in, the more my brain goes mush. It is like eating junk food a little bit isn’t bad but as soon as you begin to overdose you feel the negative affects on your body. Too much junk food or trashy television can lead to weight gain, mental fatigue, lack of sleep and motivation.
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we learn that yoga is the controlling of the mind. Patanjali describes yoga in the sutra 1.2: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah (The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga). There are many ways for us to be on this path of yoga and still the fluctuations of the mind. We begin by acknowledging that it is from within us that we are able to control our thoughts and create our lives. A common sanskrit saying ‘Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho’, ‘As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.’ Basically, whatever you think, you manifest. If your attention is on trashy television that highlights cheating, killing, and stealing as main qualities that is where your mind may go. I admit that I have watched shows like Desperate Housewives, Drop Dead Diva, and Lipstick Jungle. At times after watching too many episodes in a row I have been so personally upset with the cheating and lies in the stories that I have become angered with my fiancée, as if he embodied the liars from the shows. Intellectually I know that is absurd to be upset with someone who has done nothing, but emotionally when my mind is filled with these things from outside sources I allow myself to believe them. Our own minds blind us or liberate us. We have the ability to discover moksha (liberation) and bandha (bondage) within our own minds. If we believe we are bound, we are bound. If we believe we are liberated, we are liberated.
One of the many ways to begin to relieve the mind of negative samskaras (thought patterns) is introduced in sutra 2.33: Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavana (When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.). Basically, to control the mind and obstruct the thoughts that we do not want we invite in the opposite thoughts. Creating a positive environment by controlling the words you read and shows you watch is the practice of pratipaksha bhavana. Removing the negative energy from your vision allows you to bring in the positive that you want to have in your life.
A practice of pratipaksha bhavana that I will be instilling in my life is a 10 day television and movie detox. Lately I’ve been on bad TV overload and need to cleanse my mind. By removing the negative environment for my life I will be bringing in the opposite. I look forward to removing the extra chatter from my life. What can you modify in your life to remove the bandha (bondage) and move towards moksha (liberation)?
image of Times Square via