Some of these influences are easy to see, such as on food. The Gita (17.8–10) says, for example, “Food in the mode of goodness increases duration of life, purifies existence, gives strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such food is juicy, wholesome and pleasing to the heart. Foods that are too bitter, too sour, too salty, too hot, or too pungent are in the mode of passion. Foods that are stale, decomposed, or putrid, or a product of bloodshed are in the mode of ignorance.”
A place can also be influenced by the modes. A library is a place where the mind can be calm and concentrated, so it’s designed to be clean, quiet, and well lit, all sattvic qualities. Try studying in a rajasic place, like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, or in a tamasic place, like a smoke-filled and raucous bar. We’re influenced by our surroundings because we’re influenced by the modes. It’s natural to seek out places conducive to what we’re trying to accomplish at any given moment. Few people will go to a bar to meditate. Rather, people look for somewhere natural and green, or at the very least clean and peaceful. That’s because generally such spiritual practices are sattvic. It helps to perform spiritual activities in a sattvic environment because such an environment is conducive for a clear head and heart.
The mixture of modes in us reflects our interests and aspirations in past lives as well as the choices we’ve made in this one. With observation and reflection, we can identify which modes are affecting our behavior most prominently.
But most important, it is the intent behind one’s actions rather than the actions themselves that primarily define their quality.