Thich Nhat Hanh week: Eating our own consciousness


Today’s excerpt makes me laugh and feel slightly queasy at the same time! How true that we are like cows regurgitating and re-chewing our food again and again, ie, the food of our individual consciousness, one of the four kinds of foods we consume every day. In Buddhism, they are called the four nutriments: edible food, sense impressions, volition and consciousness (both individual and collective).

“Even if we go on a sensory fast, cutting off outside noises and input, we are still consuming a potent source of food, our own consciousness. This, along with collective consciousness, is the fourth source of food. When we direct our attention to certain elements of our consciousness, we’re consuming them. As with our meals, what we consume from our consciousness may be wholesome and healthy, or it may be toxic.

For example, when we’re having a cruel or angry thought and we replay it over and over again in our mind, we are consuming toxic consciousness. If we are noticing the beauty of the day, or feeling grateful for our health and the love of those around us, we are consuming healthy consciousness.

Every one of us has the capacity to love, to forgive, to understand, and to be compassionate. If you know how to cultivate these elements within your consciousness, your consciousness can nourish you with this healthy kind of food that makes you feel wonderful and benefits everyone around you.

At the same time, in everyone’s consciousness, there is also the capacity for obsession, worry, despair, loneliness and self-pity. If you consume sensory food in a way that nourishes these negative elements in your consciousness, if you read tabloids, play violent electronic games, spend time online envying what others have done, or engage in a mean-spirited conversation, the anger, despair or jealousy becomes a stronger energy in your consciousness. You are cultivating the kind of food in your own mind that isn’t healthy for you.

Even after you have walked away from the book or the computer game, your mind may continue to revisit and re-consume those toxic elements for hours, days or weeks afterward. Because they have watered the negative seeds in your consciousness.

There are plants that can make you sick such as hemlock and belladonna. If you consume them, you suffer. People usually don’t deliberately grow these plants in their garden. Similarly, you can choose to cultivate the healthy things in your consciousness that will nourish you, rather than the toxic things that will poison you and make you suffer.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we are continually watering one thing or another in our mind, things that we almost certainly will consume again later on.


Even if we’re not talking with others, reading, listening to the radio, watching television or interacting online, most of us don’t feel settled or quiet. This is because we’re still tuned to an internal radio station, Radio NST, Non-Stop Thinking. Even when we’re sitting still, with no external stimuli, an endless internal dialogue may be going on in our head. We’re constantly consuming our thoughts. Cows, goats and buffalo chew their food, swallow it, then regurgitate and re-chew it multiple times.

We may not be cows or buffalo, but we ruminate just the same on our thoughts, unfortunately, primarily negative thoughts. We eat them and then we bring them up to chew again and again, like a cow chewing its cud.

We need to learn to turn off Radio NST. It’s not good for our health to consume from our own consciousness this way.”

~ From Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh



5 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh week: Eating our own consciousness

  1. Actually, I have planted poisonous plants in my garden, most recently Amaryllis Belladonna, also called Naked Lady because it flowers on a bare stem. They are beautiful flowers.

    More on topic, I just came across this quote from Blaise Pascal: “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • There speaks the gardener! No plant is ever unloved :) I did not know that plant called Naked Lady is the belladonna family.

      Pascal’s quote is so on point. It’s not like there’s this unhappiness and struggle over here caused by our not being able to be with ourselves, and then over there in the other corner is this other more significant cause of unhappiness and struggle, one with Big and Worthy Concepts that people live and die over. There’s only the one. It’s that simple.

      Liked by 1 person

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