Are you really what you eat? Well maybe, if you really think about food as what you take in and process through your body and mind. I was introduced to this way of thinking about food by my teacher of Agni Yoga, Russell Schofield. He suggested that food can be thought of as having three dimensions or orders.
He referred to what we ordinarily think of as food as “third order food.” These are the physical substances we put into our mouth, chew, swallow and digest (which includes assimilating what is of value and eliminating the waste). Attention to this kind of food is absolutely necessary for health as is supporting the processes of digestion. Eating food that contains little or no toxins, food that is organically grown, has balanced nutrients, etc. is strong on the radar of anyone who wants to be healthy, as it should be. We can include also all that is in the air we breathe and water we drink. As well, the things we touch.
“Second order food” is the psychic energy we take in. In more ordinary terms it’s the conversations we have, contacts we have with other people and also the things we listen to watch or read through various forms of media. All relationships involve the exchange of mental and emotional energy, thoughts and feelings that we process more or less consciously just as we do physical foods. In all aspects of our life we are metabolizing the energies of our experiences including what comes to us from the outside and what arises from within us as we react to events.
Processing life experience consciously, as one might do in therapy or on ones own, we absorb what is helpful for us and we shed or eliminate what is not needed. We often describe this as letting go of old fixed ideas, attachments and prejudices while we learn lessons, grow as persons and mature.
It’s at least as important to be mindful of the second order foods we are taking in as the third order (physical foods). We need to recognize the power of the thoughts and feelings to which we give our attention. Many folks are recognizing that they can overdose on certain news programs, finding themselves depressed or chronically irritated. While paying attention to the news can help us to be aware of what is happening in the world around us, we can overload on the negativity that is packaged through the sensationalist and polarizing media outlets. We may be unable to digest it all.
The practice of discernment is vital here. Paying attention to your energetic responses to what you ingest may be better than any formula about what to eat, what to watch, or who to spend time with. Your body will feel the heaviness of overindulgence in some food just as the weight in your heart may be telling you to take time for some healing or regenerative practice. Of course, holistic models tell us that the mind and body are not separate, that physical foods effect mood, just as our emotional state effects our body. We are really paying attention to a spectrum of energy with which we interact that may harm or benefit us; a good reason to say grace before a meal.
What my teacher, Russell, called “prime order food” is the light of spirit, life energy or chi. Practices that attune us to this energy are like drinking from a pure well within that cleanses and heals. Or we can say that we are eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, the essence of our true nature. Perhaps this was the “manna” described in the Biblical story that kept the desert wanderers alive as it does us in our life journey. The prime order food nourishes our mind and body and supports and enhances fully metabolizing the second and third order foods.
One could say that a healthy diet involves paying careful attention to all three orders of food: eating and drinking organic and balanced foods; spending time with people of goodwill and reading or watching things that are clarifying or uplifting; and having a regular practice of meditation, prayer or other form of spiritual practice. The holistic diet model of 3 orders of food is helpful in that it allows me to recognize the full spectrum of my daily nutrient needs and take the steps toward a balanced and healthy life.
(This article will appear in the Fall 2019 edition of Four Winds Journal).