It’s no secret that modern life can be stressful. There are so many things competing for our attention in this technological age that more and more of us are living in a constant state of stimulation. We’re on edge and forever ‘wired.’ For many of us, meditation is a beautiful way to find stillness and quiet the mind, but many people find this quite challenging. They can’t get past the racing thoughts and fidgeting body. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the food you eat plays a huge role in your ability to reach that deep meditative state. That your nervous system and brain simply will not allow you to transcend your body when certain nutrients are not present, or when you’re in what I call a state of nutritional stress.
‘You are what you eat’ is the old cliché that you are no doubt familiar with, but have you ever realised just how profound this notion is and applied it in your life? As a culture, we tend to generally accept that some foods are good and some are bad for us but beyond this level of understanding, there is no deeper meaning behind the way we eat. We eat habitually and not intentionally. We eat without conscious thought as to what this food is doing within our body beyond the momentary taste sensation in the mouth. And all because we have become so disconnected from the natural world and where our food comes from.
We have somehow come to a point in the human experience where we no longer intuitively know what is correct for us to eat. Let that sink in for a moment. Why is it that we are the only species on Earth to have this problem? There is not a single animal living in its natural environment that is overweight or suffering a chronic illness as a result of their diet. They just know what to eat. They are in touch with the innate intelligence that drives their food choices, and as a result, they thrive. If this alone doesn’t show how spiritually disconnected we have become, I don’t know what will.
To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to light the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha
Connecting with Food, Connecting with Source
So how does this all link to our practice of meditation? The answer is simple. We are not eating real food anymore. The problem we now face is an overabundance of chemically-laden products masquerading as foods, and a system that makes it difficult to acquire quality plant food, which is what we require most. We are eating ‘food like products’ that our biology does not recognize, which results in a state of physiological stress that keeps us trapped in the primal aspects of our physical body and unable to transcend into that infinite stillness of meditation.
If we fail to give our beloved nervous system the critical nutrients it needs to function optimally and remain calm, we can become stuck in the primal, reactive way of living, unable to transcend into higher levels of awareness.
To truly grasp the role of nutrition in our ability to enter deep meditation, we must first understand what is happening in the brain and nervous system; it is, after all, our interface with the world around us.
Our brains are brilliant, sophisticated and complex organs, but for the purposes of consciousness/spirituality, I am going to focus on three parts of the brain that determine how we live, how we interact with the world and how far up the ladder of awareness we manage to climb.
The neocortex is the part of the brain where enlightenment becomes possible. Where we want to journey to during meditation. It is the area that facilitates creativity, learning, imagining our future and experiencing our interconnectedness. This part of the brain is hardwired to experience unconditional love, see the beauty in the world and allow us to discover who we truly are and our place in the universe. It houses the pineal gland which secretes DMT, the spirit molecule that essentially allows us to feel connected to all living things. The neocortex can, however, be a difficult place to reach in our modern fast-paced lives that are fuelled by toxic convenience foods. When we don’t take the time to give the neocortex the nutrients it needs, we find ourselves operating from the more primal parts of the brain: the reptilian brain and the limbic brain.
The Reptilian Brain
The reptilian brain (also referred to as the hindbrain), is the most primal component of our brain. It is 100% instinctual and interested in one thing and one thing only–survival. It regulates our most crucial autonomic functions, such as breathing, body temperature, heart rate and the fight/flight response. The reptilian brain is often referred to as a cold-blooded serpent, completely void of emotion and looking out only for itself. Under too much control of this part of the brain, we can find ourselves living mindlessly, being self-absorbed, avoiding change and clinging to the past experiences that we associate with safety and survival.
The Limbic Brain
The limbic brain is where instinct and emotion converge. Also a primitive part of the brain, it analyses environmental signals and assigns the experience to one of our four fundamental programs: The 4 Fs: Fear, Feeding, Fighting and Fornicating. The limbic brain becomes more active when we rely on processed grains and sugar. It is this area of the brain where habitual living and obsessions with sex, food and mind-dulling things, like alcohol and television, occurs. It is also where patterns of emotional withdrawal and aggressive behaviour stem from.
So now we have an understanding of our basic operating systems, but how do we get to that elusive neocortex and experience deep meditative states? The answer doesn’t lie in a trendy fad diet or supplement, it lies in the wisdom of our distant ancestors, the Earth keepers of our deep past. The only place we can really trust to look–to those who’ve thrived on our planet for thousands of years, in harmony with nature, and with a connection to Source and a reverence for life beyond anything we see in our modern day.
Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food… Stay away from these. – Michael Pollan
Our ancestors considered food to be a sacred offering to the temple, the perfectly designed house that is the human body. They appreciated food, as it was a gift offered up by Mother Nature to be assimilated and used to build the temple out of the most pure and sacred substance on Earth, the earth itself. If we fail to adopt eating practices with this kind of reverence and continue to eat toxic foods mindlessly, we will struggle to bridge the gap between the limbic brain and the neocortex and will remain living in lower states of awareness.
The Neocortex needs natural fats to operate at its best, especially DHA, a form of omega 3 fat found primarily in seafood. If these fats are not present in the diet, the neocortex will just struggle along and maybe produce the occasional brief revelation but never any profound lasting insight. However, it is not only omega 3 that is important, the saturated fat that we have been so afraid of for the past five decades is a crucial nutrient for our nervous systems also. Every nerve in our body is insulated with a substance called myelin, which is constructed from the fats in our diet.
The neocortex does NOT operate well under stress, in fact, it will be essentially inaccessible and hand over control to the limbic brain. This may seem like a good survival mechanism but the problem is that the limbic brain developed during a time when the only stressors we had were the occasional saber tooth tiger chasing us, or a long-lasting famine. It is not designed to cope with the bombardment of things competing for our attention in the modern world, and it cannot tell the difference between the saber tooth tiger and the 100 grams of sugar you just ate with a bowl of icecream.
Best Food for Optimal Health and Well Being
In summary, the Neocortex can restrain the four Fs of the limbic brain and allow us to have meditative and transcendental experiences, if we give it the nutrients it is crying out for and avoid the nutritional stressors that shut it down.
The following dietary principles are the most surefire way to nourish your nervous system and Neocortex:
• Abundant omega 3 fats especially DHA and EPA, which come exclusively from animal foods such as fish, oysters, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs.
• Sufficient saturated fat from coconuts, raw cacao, eggs, ghee, grass fed butter and grass-fed animals.
• Clean, pure, filtered, fresh water. 70-80% of our physical body is water.
• Magnesium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, raw cacao etc. Magnesium is absolutely essential for the nervous system.
• Minimal stimulants such as caffeine.
• Intermittent fasting and remaining in a state of ‘lightness.’ Digestion comes at a huge energetic/metabolic cost. Eating a nutrient dense but calorie sparse diet allows this energy to be dispersed elsewhere in the body, such as the brain and nervous system.
• At least 80% of the diet consisting of nutrient dense, mineral rich plant foods with emphasis on dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouts, seaweeds and fermented foods.
• Eating foods in their whole and natural state.
• Daily consumption of fermented/probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, kombucha, kefir etc. as well as mushrooms, which are super nourishing for the nervous system.
• Limiting pasteurized dairy products.
• Avoidance of synthetic/man-made ‘foods’ such as additives, preservatives, artificial (ridiculously neuro toxic) sweeteners, margarines etc.
• Avoidance of refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (white breads and pastas etc.) that are nothing more than pharmaceutical foods/empty calories.
• Avoiding the overconsumption of factory farmed animals and processed meats. These animals are slaughtered in fear and kept sick their entire lives by being fed foods that are unnatural to them and being injected with hormones and antibiotics (which end up in your body). Always aim for grass-fed, organic animal products. There is a long-lasting myth that in order to be enlightened you must be vegetarian. I used to also have this belief, until I was challenged to tell a Native American or Aboriginal elder that they are less spiritual for eating animals. They have a connection to spirit beyond anything we can even fathom.
I hope you have found this information somewhat enlightening. To help you grasp just how important the food we eat is to our spiritual practice I will leave you with the truest definition of the word nutrition, one that you have unlikely heard before. Nutrition comes from the Latin word ‘nux,’ which means ‘light.’ So nutrition is literally nothing more than the ‘processing of light.’ Quite an important thing to consider if ‘enLIGHTenment’ is something you wish to experience.