In the Work, it is taught that man's machine actually needs three kinds of food to survive. The first `being food' is physical food, the second is the air we breathe, and the third kind is the external and internal impressions that flood into our organs of perception every second. But while we may be comfortable in our minds with the idea of the first two forms of food, we may not understand or have encountered before the idea of impressions being food.
Now since the Work is based on our personally verifying the truth of its ideas, we must not accept these statements as `facts'. What is required is for us to investigate these ideas for ourselves. If the idea of impressions being food for us has evoked interest and curiosity in your mind, hopefully the following discussion will give you the force to `try it on for size'.
Considering visual impressions from the viewpoint of science, it seems they are caused by light that has been scattered off distant objects entering our eye. It is quite hard to visualise this process, but if we look past a tree at a distant house, we can imagine the house being a beacon of `house impressions', which the tree shields our eye from. As we move our head from left to right, we see different collections of these impressions. Science can measure in light the qualities of intensity, frequency, and wavelength, which correspond roughly to our qualities of brightness and colour. (Actually, light is a rather mysterious substance, seeming to behave like a particle at one moment, and like a wave at another. Light enters our eye through an organic lens, which relies on light being a wave, yet affects individual cones at the back of our eye, which relies on its energy being localised at a point, that is, light being a particle.)
At this point, we have not really started to look at impressions as food. But our consideration of the mechanics of vision has already given us material to use in our personal work. If we can remain aware that this is what it is going on when we are looking at something, we can self-remember, and avoid identifying with this external impression.
For instance, if we watch television, and remain aware of the facts that `I am looking at a man-made source of electromagnetic radiation in the corner of my room', or that `I am receiving impressions from my television', we may find that the quality of the experience alters drastically. Our ability to `enjoy' many television programs depends exclusively on whether we are attached to anything that is going on on the screen. The actual impressions may be of very little value (see later), and merely push buttons inside us, evoking the associations and feelings that are the real show, the one that's inside our head and body, (using our energy, by the way!) In fact, it is possible to consider a television show as a program in the computer sense. A set of instructions are suggested to our machine; our identification at the time is equivalent to someone typing `RUN GARBAGE.EXE', and hitting return.
When we consider a substance from the standpoint of `food', we always bring a new factor into our description of things; namely, it's fitness as a source of nutrition for our organism. A freshly uprooted potato, slowly baked with the skin on, is very similar to a bag of `Prawn Cocktail flavour' crisps, considered from the standpoint of organic material. But from the standpoint of food, the two are entirely different. And in the case of air, we can consider in the same way the difference between a breath drawn on a mountainside and one drawn in the London rush hour. So how can we look at impressions from the standpoint of food?
The Work introduces several terms at this point. Some impressions can be higher than others, taken from the standpoint of food, and certain impressions, those which are actually noxious for our organism, are called negative impressions. We perceive the difference between these impressions by observing the effect they have on our emotional apparatus (emotional centre). If we are identified with something or other (i.e. most of the time) we will not notice these effects, or will misinterpret them.
Additionally, if we want to discern fine gradations between the effects different impressions have on us, we will need to spend time observing the way our machine works. But we can get a rough feel for this idea if we consider the difference between the `fine', `delicate' or `high' energy that we begin to feel inside after contemplation of a great work of art, and the `sick', `churning' or `debased' feeling we have inside after contemplating pictures of war atrocities or pornography (negative impressions). If we then looked at a piece of indifferent art, the absence of any feeling inside would lead us to classify the great work as being a higher impression than the one we were currently receiving. These impressions are all foods, and are foods of a different order.
An analogy that may be useful is if we imagine our emotional centre as being a horizontal metal bar, supported at each end, which has a large collection of chimes hanging from it, of various shapes and sizes. These chimes are all free to move, should anything enter to disturb them. If we now imagine a sound falling across these chimes (a typical impression), we can imagine that those chimes which matched the frequency of the incoming sound would start to resonate in response, perhaps making a gentle ringing sound. Energy would be transferred to the chime in question, and our organism would receive this energy through the apparatus that was holding the chime, in the same way that our fingers `buzz' when we hold a tuning fork. We might imagine some beautiful and slender chimes at one end of the rack, suspended by the finest threads, made of precious metals. Impressions that sounded these chimes would have to be sought out, yet the sound they made when they were sounded would suffuse our whole organism with gentle and fine energies.
At the other end of the rack, we might picture some old, rusty drainpipes. Impressions that sounded these `chimes' would be very easy to find. If sounded, the pipes would make a noise that was so deep it was almost purely motion. This motion would seize the whole rack, shaking it this way and that. Other chimes would be thrown around, in particular the pretty little gold chimes, which would be rendered quite inoperable for some time. We might imagine ourselves wondering after the drainpipes had stopped swinging, how resilient our rack was to these impressions, especially our favourite chimes at the other end!
This is not, as they say, the whole story. The food diagram gives us a concise way of understanding just how and where all three types of food interact with and nourish our organism. We have also not really touched upon the role or awareness in thinking about impressions as being food. It turns out that whereas the benefits of the first and second being food are purely mechanical, the benefits of the third being food, that is, impressions, depends on our level of consciousness at the time we receive them. It we are present when impressions enter our organism, we can actually double their benefits for our organism. Additionally, we can `stand guard', and protect our essence by acting quickly and decisively when we stumble across impressions that are noxious to us.