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From the Townsend Letter
October 2009

Food for Thought: Digesting Life
by Vaishāli
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Most people think of the digestive process as something limited to the foods and liquids that we stuff into our mouths daily. However, digestion is best understood as a metaphor for life. According to Eastern systems of self-healing, the entire body is an aggregate of different types of digestive intelligences. For example, our eyes digest light waves, so that we can make perceptual sense of our world. Our ears digest sound waves so that we may enjoy our favorite music (or get indigestion from listening to our windows vibrate from the secondhand rap blaring from a car three blocks away). When we touch one another, our hands digest intimate contact through the tactile feeling feedback system. There is a reason for this conglomerate of digestive efforts, and it is, as Eastern philosophies say, that everything we encounter is a form of food. Divine Love and Wisdom have accessorized our human experience with a myriad of assorted digestive skills, so that we might get the most from the nurturing sustenance of life as it is offered to us in its entirety. We are literally digesting our lives.

What digesting your life means, in practical everyday terms, is that every thought, feeling, experience, emotion, etc., that touches our lives is a form of food (since "Man does not live by bread alone."). So let's eat! The first thing we have to be able to do with our food is ... swallow it. Then we need to be able to stomach it. Once we've got it down, we need to pull from these forms of food what enhances us, makes us stronger, wiser, more loving, healthier, balanced people. Finally, we need to be able to let the rest go – to recognize and release the waste in our lives for what it is.

Now that we have the food part down, let's move on to the main course, the meaty metaphor. The Eastern self-healing philosophies really want you to understand that your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and experiences travel through your digestive tract in the identical fashion as the physical food you eat does because these are forms of food: nonphysical forms of food. If you take something in, mentally or emotionally, and you do not release whatever part of that process contains the waste, the useless, the crap, then you are still carrying that around in your body; and you will continue to do so, until you take it to your metaphorical poop chute and let it go!

So, how much of what we give our attention to and how much of what we feel about life can we really swallow, stomach, and convert into life-sustaining energy?? Metaphorically speaking, some things can be really hard to swallow and even harder to stomach.

Do we ever consider, in our movement through life, if there is anything useful in what we take in, that our bodies – physically, emotionally, or energetically – can assimilate, or do we just ingest whatever is put in front of us? Are we simply eating crap, thinking there is something of value in it for us? Well, we must be. Isn't that where the phrase "sh*t eating grin" comes from? Maybe if we use some seasoning and disguise the taste, our bodies won't notice. Ha! Think again. If what we give our attention to is limiting, then there's nothing there that is useful for us. So how do we assure there is value in the food we eat? And, if we do become bloated and constipated by overindulgence in toxic waste, how do we find the emotional, psychological, experiential, and perceptual ex-lax needed to inspire us to let go of our crap? This is the toughest part of the entire human experience – recognizing the useless in our lives and discarding it completely, instead of clinging to it, thinking it has some place or value. So how do we do it? How do we get rid of what is not serving to us and move on?

We do it with our awareness. When we find ourselves giving our attention to worry or to some other inner dialogue about how we do not have enough time, love, money, or opportunity, do we ever question that food? Do we consider its nutrient-to-waste ratio, or do we just shove it down our mouths like a 99¢ taco? Do we stop and ask ourselves, "Is that really what we want to feed ourselves? Did we come to planet Earth and take a body just so we could swallow that garbage?" What is the divine plan behind feeding ourselves a daily critical diet of "didn't-do-it-right" and "not-good-enough" tasteless morsels? Bet you can't eat just one! In other words, when we find ourselves giving our attention to limiting things, how much of the time do we realize we are actually feeding ourselves refuse, and how much of the time are we just mindlessly taking it in as something that has value and legitimate meaning in our lives?

The best way to not partake of the crap is to ask yourself if what you are giving your attention to looks, sounds, tastes, smells, or feels limiting. If the answer is, "Hell, yes! – the thought that I will never be happy and that nothing is going to work out for me is across-the-board limiting," then the healthy digestive answer would be to take that item off your diet. Do not give what is limiting your attention, unless you want to feed yourself noxious, meaningless, mean cuisine. If you want to poison your body with what is pointless, bon appetit! This digestive metaphor thing brings a whole new meaning to "junk food." (It's not just the nitrites in hot dogs anymore.)

If you find yourself consuming mass quantities of negativity in the same way that the Coneheads consumed beer and chips, there is a digestive remedy. Stop! Recognize what you are giving your attention to, and choose something else. Giving your attention to what is unlimiting will always purify the poison. When you give your attention to what is unlimiting, the emotional, mental, and physical bodies will immediately recognize what needs to be discarded from what needs to be taken deeper to sustain life.

Ever wonder why the body holds on to some forms of waste and toxins and releases others? What's up with that? Ever wonder why some people can eat foods that make others ill? How can that happen? The truth is, digestion is a metaphor, as well as a physically based reality. How well our bodies do (or do not) digest food is a reflection of the bigger picture: how well are we are digesting our lives – our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and perceptions; and what toxic energies are we holding onto that our bodies, by way of
dis-ease and illness, are reflecting back to us? What are we inviting ourselves to let go of internally psychologically and physiologically? What is it that our bodies cannot separate from because the mind has formed an attachment? What are we mindlessly consuming, and what are we consuming mindfully?

We can become aware of what our unconscious issues are by examining what the digestive process is reflecting back to us, forcing us to feel the limitation of it. Where in your body do you feel you have stuffed something you do not trust mentally or emotionally? Is it in your gut? Could it be ... because it is in your gut! Remember, digestion is a metaphor for how well are we swallowing, stomaching, and nurturing our human experience with all of the universal food we consume on a moment-to-moment basis.

In the West, we define digestion as starting with the mouth, chewing and mixing with saliva, then swallowing. The Eastern systems of self-healing find that laughable. They say that digestion starts when you see the food, when you smell the food, when you touch it with your fingers; the cake-hole is the last guy to get on the digestive bus, not the first. How many times have you told yourself while driving home that you were not hungry, only to open the front door, smell dinner cooking, and have your stomach start to rumble? How many times have you gone to the grocery store when you were not hungry, then found yourself ready to eat everything in your shopping cart, along with all the impulse items at checkout? And let's not forget about Pavlov's dogs! How many of you were not hungry until you heard the dinner bell – as in the sound of bacon frying, bagels popping out of a toaster, dinner plates clanging? You start digesting your day even before you smell the coffee brewing. Speaking of smelling the coffee, have you ever noticed that the olfactory part of digestion is always the most satisfying? How many times have you walked into an establishment, smelled freshly ground coffee that made your legs weak, only to find it tasted so bitter you couldn't drink it? You can clearly see that digestion starts at any level that involves the five senses. That is why digestion of life happens when you give something your attention.

In the same way that the brain digests our thoughts and beliefs, and the nervous system digests what we feel on a tactile level, our internal organs, in addition to their physical food-related functions, also digest our emotions. According the Eastern system of medicine, each internal organ has a specific emotional food digestive/transformative process. For example, the spleen, stomach, and pancreas digest anxiety, worry, and nervousness. That is why we get "butterflies" in the stomach when anticipating or perceiving something involving stress. The liver and gallbladder take on anger, envy, and frustration. The heart and small intestines digest impatience, and the kidneys and bladder deal with fear and terror. The lungs and large intestines have the task of breaking down loneliness and grief, as well as feelings of worthlessness.

This is how one can begin to unravel the unresolved unconscious issues in life. Look at the body's health. What organs are stressed? Where is the weak link in the chain? It is there you will discover the undigested systemic problems in your life. No wonder Socrates thought the unexamined life was not worth living. Why would anyone want to live a life filled with unconsciously driven pain and undigested emotional angst?

However, digestion does not stop there. To the Eastern systems of self-healing, respiration is one of our most profound digestive functions. Yes, you read that correctly. Breathing is a powerful form of digestion. I know, you are all thinking … what? How can that be? The breath goes in, the breath goes out. What could be so complicated about that?

Well, for starters, most people are not breathing the way the body was designed! Breathing is how we digest our emotions. How you breathe determines whether you are holding onto emotional toxic energy in your life or releasing it. Ever watch how babies breathe? Their lower abdomens expand on the inhale; their chests move last and move the least. When babies have an emotional moment, they experience it, then they let it go. A baby can go from crying to laughing in 60 seconds flat. Babies digest the emotion, experience, and perception; release it; and find themselves available for the next round. Ever examine how you are breathing? I bet dollars to doughnuts, no food pun intended (and no disrespect to Homer Simpson), that your chest moves first and most dramatically, and your lower abdomen moves last and least. Do you ever experience something and cannot seem to let it go? You find yourself internally reliving that charge over and over again? How you breathe is playing a part in this digestive Groundhog Day scenario.

If babies are breathing the way we are designed to breathe, then how do we end up ass-backwards? The answer: the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large muscle that literally divides your body in half at the lower rib cage. When the diaphragm moves down on the inhale, the emotional digestive mechanism is turned on, just as we see in babies. When the diaphragm moves up on the inhale (the exact opposite of how we are designed to function), it causes the chest to move first, and the emotional digestive mechanism gets turned off.

Babies breathe the way we are all designed to, because they do not give their attention to limiting ideas about themselves or life; they gradually learn to do that from the world around them. Babies watch the people around them not digesting their lives. Babies witness others not breathing correctly. Babies watch, learn, and mimic; they take it all in, for better or worse. As children learn to give their attention to limited things, as they progress in repressing their emotions and fears, the diaphragm gradually inverts its natural movement and, voilà, the accumulation of undigested life begins!

This is one of the many reasons Eastern forms of meditation have you focus on the breath. Breathing only happens in the present moment; you cannot breathe in the past, or breathe in the future. Breathing correctly and deeply detoxifies you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And you thought breathing was a no-brainer! Well guess what? Correct breathing is not just for babies anymore!

Digesting our lives involves a deep connection to our awareness. What are we giving our attention to? Is it something unlimited, something we can swallow and stomach on every level? Or are we feeding ourselves unpasteurized intellectual and perceptual toxins? Consider what you feed yourself. Consider and weigh every aspect and implication of that question. Examine if you are breathing completely and deeply enough to activate your emotional digestive system, or if your breathing never progresses beyond a shallow chest involvement, stopping at the heart, creating emotional denial and suppression – truly a superficial digestive engagement.

So the next time your find yourself hungry for any aspect of life, take a deep breath, focus on what is most life-enhancing, only eat at fine dining establishments, and be sure to read the menu first. Assess your choices, and most of all ... try not to eat what's sitting out back in the garbage cans. But if you do, learn to let it go! Happy releasing!

Vaishāli hosts her own weekly webcast, "You Are What You Love," on and is a monthly guest host on
Seeing Beyond, a KEST 1450 AM radio show in San Francisco. Her articles have been published in magazines nationwide. Vaishāli has appeared on national radio and television programming, including San Francisco's ABC TV View From The Bay and the Joey Reynolds Show in New York. To learn more, please visit

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