by Michael McGinnis
The expression "you are what you eat" is one that our parents might have told us when we were kids. We know from medical science that what we put into our bodies has a physical effect on us. This can work in a negative way, such as excess fat from rich desserts that collects in conspicuous places on our anatomy. Or we can make gains for our bodies by taking vitamin supplements. Our choice of what we eat has a profound effect on our physical health, and even on our mental and emotional balance. We can choose to act in ways that deplete our physical health, or in ways that restore and rebuild strength and vigour. As our understanding of medicine has advanced, we increasingly realise that there are many parts of our diet that we hadn't previously realised were pulling our health down or pushing it up, and that we can now use consciously. For example, a friend of mine becomes quite giddy when she eats chocolate, but she is aware of the effect and doesn't let it carry her away into doing anything she will later want to reconsider. Compare that to a child who has a high sugar cereal for breakfast each day, and then has parents and teachers wondering — and not knowing — why the child has a short attention span, and can't sit still for more than a minute at a time.
The phrase "you are what you eat" is stating a scientific law, that is a statement of what happens over and over again in nature, like the law of gravity. If we are aware of it, we can use it to our benefit to improve our health; but ignorance of this law provides no exemption — we can easily be unhealthy, unhappy and miserable from some element of our diet or lifestyle whose effects we do not realise.
The effects of environment on our health extend beyond what we eat, and our physical environment — a major part is determined by what we invite into our minds and hearts, by the thoughts we think and the feelings we harbour. When we watch a violent television show, whether or not we approve of what we see, we are partaking of that consciousness and moving down to its level. A simple evening of entertainment can leave us with a stain of fear or anger that takes some time to wear off and can affect our relations with others until it does wear off. I still carry the image of kids copying in the school corridors the destructive fighting seen the previous evening on TV. This is another example of the cost of ignorance, as any negative emotion is an indulgence that will eventually have to be paid for; this is known as karma.
The idea of the spiritual exercise copies that of physical exercise — developing routines that raise your spiritual health, as aerobics would strengthen your heart and lungs. When you exercise your muscles you are taking responsibility for your physical well-being, and moving your physical health to a higher level. Spiritual exercise can do the same thing for your emotional balance, mental viewpoint and spiritual vision. A spiritual exercise can be anything that you use to consciously allow you to put yourself in the state of consciousness that you would like to be in. In other words, you are being cause and are choosing your destination, rather than the people, places and circumstances around you choosing your destination for you. When someone chooses their own destination, they will likely choose one that is positive and that they enjoy.
One spiritual exercise is listening to an uplifting song, such as "The Sound of Music" or "Edelweiss". Singing along is an effective way of tuning in your vibrations to those of the song — and if you are feeling down, of raising your spirits. Another wonderful thing you can do when negative feelings are a problem is to think of someone you love, and of a happy time you shared with them. The positive feelings drive out the negative ones, and there are two positive results. First, you feel better. Second, the mind works on the basis of habits, and can be trained to put its attention on images of beauty and love, rather than the opposites, so if this is done frequently it becomes the place where you tend to live inside yourself — in a place of light and love, rather than fear and anger.
Sounds, either sung out loud or inwardly, can also be used in spiritual exercise. The sound of HU (pronounced as a drawn out "huuuu") may help to replace negative feelings with positive ones of love or joy, and help us move up in the scale of spiritual awareness, responsibility and maturity. Doing a spiritual exercise for a few minutes a day can help refine your consciousness, and help you develop and express more positive, loving qualities. Most importantly, you may open the door to understanding yourself as Soul, the part of the person that survives death, and passes from one life to another.