Growing up I heard many times about how individuals are “products of their environment”. This seems pretty obvious. You put yourself in a kind and loving environment and you start to notice that you act more kind and loving. You put yourself in a mean and abusive environment and you notice that you start to act more mean and abusive. Of course there is a whole component of natural inclinations, though in general we can see that there is some truth to the statement that individuals are “products of their environment”.
What perks my ears up in warning about this is that in believing that individuals are only “products of their environment” we are calling individuals a “product”; an object, a thing that is defined like a car or a phone. Or a sum total of parts. This seems like a pretty narrow definition of who and what we are as individuals. While the truth that we are a product it is observable from one view point I would like for us to consider that we are also a process. A developing, moving, dynamic being that has possibility for change.
Being only a product of your environment is dependant on what Yoga calls, “being asleep” which basically translates to “operating one’s life on unconscious habit”. No longer being a product of your environment may be impossible in any total sense, though if you want to stop being a product of your environment to any degree, Yoga suggests that we must be present with and put attention on the process that is our life.
What adds up to “us” in this statement? What in our environment “produces” the individual?
- Thought forms
When we look at these 3 aspects of our life we see that unless you live in a cave alone, meditate 18 hours a day, and eat air, these are at play in the process of life. If we live in the world, we need other people to talk to, to build relationship, to have touch in our life, to do business with, to practice compassion and acceptance, to have a sense of belonging. We also need food to keep us alive and physically healthy. We need thought forms to communicate and to solve problems – and that is pretty much it for the utility of thought forms. The rest of 95% of thought forms tend to be in the categories of judgment, distraction, fascination, fantasy = resistance to practice.
These three categories of human life are so prevalent and necessary to everyday existence that we might overlook their importance and impact on our identity and behavior. We might not notice how when we eat steak that our aggression level goes up. Or when we think about a particular song, the emotion of sadness arises in us. We might think, “oh this is just the person I go to tea with every week”, not seeing how their way of being affects us once we leave their company.
Yoga offers practices that address the processes of life. The aim of which is to bring harmony to the the centers of life (mind, body, heart).
Thought forms come to us from our environment through people, books, media, advertising, and entertainment. Thought forms can be healthy for us though very often they are toxic to our mental and emotional health. For the thought forms in our life, which is the mental center of our life, Yoga offers the practice of meditation. By sitting with and being in a non-judgemental state of observation of the mind, we can slowly over time, gain the skill in letting go of all the unnecessary thought forms that keep us distracted, confused, frustrated, and resistant to a life of practice.
In the category of food, Yoga suggests a mostly vegetarian diet. This is not a moral issue. This is a practice issue. To echo the old adage, “you are what you eat”. The food we eat fills our bodies with chemicals. These chemicals either aid in our bodily health, or tax it. So many studies today are showing the direct connection to animal based diets and disease and the importance of plant based nutrition on our gut flora, endocrine system, immune system. The foods we eat even affect our thought forms! You can test this out yourself. Look at your diet and find something that you eat everyday. Take that food away for a day or two and notice the repetitive thoughts in the mind. Then re add that food back and notice the thoughts again. If you try this experiment and are not adept at noticing your thoughts, attempt to do so in meditation.
For the Heart, Yoga suggests to be discerning with the company you keep. Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not equating the emotional situation of life with the heart! I do not suggest choosing your company based on emotions! I am not suggesting choosing anything in life based on emotions! I am saying that the Heart in Yoga represents your deepest desire for yourself in this life. Your purpose for being here. How you derive meaning in a world that makes little sense and collectively makes very few sane choices. The company you keep can influence you to live a life of compassion and acceptance and fulfill the basic need of belonging in a healthy way.
- Put your attention on and be present with your life as process.
For the Mind – Watch the thought forms that influence you and practice meditation
For the Body – Move toward a mostly vegetarian diet and notice how food affects your mind and emotions
For the Heart – Keep good company. Keep company that encourages you to live a life full of meaning and purpose. A life of practice.
By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.