Like many denizens of an industrialized country in the 21th century, my soul mirror work involves reflection on both food and media consumption. In fact, both physical food and information are a kind of food, as Gurdjieff puts it. Both affect our health, thoughts, emotions and with that, the elementals we unconsciously create. And, given the galloping technological progress, both are cheap, plentiful, and designed to provide habit-forming instant gratification through overstimulation.
In reflecting on this issue, I decided that the Ayurvedic system of the six tastes, or the Six Rasas, is a useful tool. Ayurveda recognises six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent, and describes the effects of their balanced consumption and overconsumption.
These concepts helped me understand my use of technology in a simple and actionable way. Why do I get upset with strangers on the internet? Why do I click on something that I know is clickbait? Sure, more sophisticated models exists, like the Skinner’s behavioural model, but for practical self-transformation, I found the Ayurvedic model quite effective.
With the galloping advancement of information technology, it is becoming more important for magicians to develop and information hygiene. Yet, there still isn’t much said or written about it. This article will, hopefully, provide a starting point for further research. This time, I’ll focus on the overuse of a taste from the media consumption perspective. Such an overuse information – occurs when a person craves certain nutrients, but consumes food (physical or information) that stimulates and gratifies the taste without providing substance.
Understanding where we overindulge can, then, help us understand what we are missing, and how we’re being deceived. This can help us understand our black soul mirror and how to transmute it gently and lastingly.
A word of warning – I’m not an Ayurvedic doctor or a teacher. These are my field notes, brought about by experiment, meditation, and quite a bit of failure. For further investigation into Ayurveda, I recommend Robert Svoboda’s Prakriti – Your Ayurvedic Constitution.
Now, to the specific tastes.
Sweet is the taste of nourishment, satisfaction, and exhilaration.
Spiritual seekers often overindulge in sweet by consuming too many (real or made up) spiritual quotes, feeling briefly inspired, but never integrating them. This is conceptually similar to diabetes, in which the body stops processing sugar.
Another, and related, way is toxic positivity, in which a person reads or says upbeat things in order not to acknowledge their situation and their feelings. Toxic positivity is a mental version of a sugar or alcohol binge.
Another form happens when users form an echo chamber group on a forum with a voting system, such as Reddit or Facebook, and reward each other for saying the “right” things. In this way, they give each other a brief “spike” of acceptance. Many hate groups on the internet perhaps come down to sweet craving. Trolling or attention-seeking through outrageous behaviour or “winning” an internet argument, or rather, being the last person to stand in one, also give a brief “sweet taste of victory.”
Modern “casual” games try to cause addiction in a similar way, by showering the player with success and free rewards. As a side note, games are often described as “addictive” in a positive sense, as this is the quality players seek to temporary satisfy their craving.
This kind of overuse leads to mental sluggishness, procrastination, complacency. The stereotype of a person living in a basement, with poor hygiene, spending away days on the internet, describes this.
Sour is purifying and refreshing. In the emotional sense, promotes analysis and the evaluation of external things as possessions.
A form of the overuse of sour is hoarding information on the internet for some intended project as a supposed “research” phase that, however, never finishes. In the process, the person might subconsciously envy those with firsthand knowledge and belittle it on the grounds of “superior research.”
Debate forums where participants repeat the same cliches, blog posts explaining that everyone else “is doing it wrong,” unqualified but self-assured responses to questions, all give a brief sour “jolt’ to the participants.
This overuse entrenches persons in opinions without living experience, and cuts off learning and sharing opportunities. Robert Svoboda describes it as the “sour grapes” syndrome.
Salty is the taste enhancing all other tastes. Psychologically, it promotes enjoyment life. Overuse leads to a craving for sensory pleasures.
In online terms, craving for salty manifests as spending hours on random and brief attention-grabbing content, such as TikTok videos. Clickbaits that promise a “shocking” revelation also falls under this category, as does porn.
Like too much salt dehydrates the body, this kind of overuse depletes mental energy and focus.
Pungent or hot is a stimulating and exciting taste.
A craving for pungent leads to seeking intense and overexciting emotions. On news portals with unregulated comment sections, comments are often semi-coherent explosions of blackest rage and hate. Intense political and sports rivalries fuel this overindulgence.
Pungent and sweet can be locked into a vicious cycle. So-called tag groups, for example, post content that group members find offensive. This temporarily satisfies the pungent craving. Then, as they compete in “sharp retorts,” members validate each other, triggering a sweet spike that is all the more pleasurable after the sharp bite that came before.
Bitter is, psychologically, a taste of dissatisfaction. It is good in the measure in which it inspires positive change. Robert Svoboda gives the example of a “bitter pill” that dispels self-delusion.
The overuse, however, leads to resentment and a victim mentality. One type of overuse is “doomscrolling,” or excessive reading of negative news and commentary.
An overuse of bitter can result from exposure to a negative political campaign. A danger of social media, which tech visionary Jaron Lanier describes in his sublime book Ten Reasons for Deleting Your Social Media Right Now, is that the algorithms shut the users inside “information bubbles,” where it seems the whole world shares a same view or concern. As people who wish to approach the world mindfully, we must learn to recognise that something is said with an agenda.
Astringent isthe acidic-bitter taste that “causes your mouth to pucker.” In this context, its overuse is the excessive caution an a pessimistic view of technology.
Information technology is a gift and a lesson from Uranus. No matter how exotic, how uncanny, how disruptive, how risky it might be, it remains human, an expression of human development, and a vehicle for humans to venture in a new direction outside their comfort zone.
If I had to name one thing magicians should remember about information technology, it would be that it’s always humans behind it, with their greatness and shortcomings, hopes and fears. Understanding it comes back to understanding humans and finally, to understanding ourself.