Ayurveda Day 12: Silence

Silence is the language of truth.

There is a personal journey we are all on towards self-realization. We all at some point or another have or will have asked the question, “Who I am?”. We seek to acquire knowledge via teachers, religions, books, traveling, experiences, etc. all in the attempt to better understand ourselves. But we usually take in that which solidifies our ego, affirming our uniqueness, stating boldly “I am different from you and everything.” It is in this separateness that our suffering occurs. Our capacity to love and be loved diminishes when we cling to this idea of separateness. Still, we just keep piling on more and more layers to our identity in this attempt to answer that timeless question.

You will say “I am a man, a lawyer, a brother, a friend.”
You will say “I am a woman, a writer, a mother, a daughter.”

We all will grin, proud of ourselves for “figuring out who we are”, and we will revel in the “wisdom” that we are special, unique. We want to feel that all this time we’ve been alive we’ve at least been growing. But self-realization is less about growing and more like the shedding of old skin. It reveals something vulnerable underneath, something pure and simply true.

However, we cling to these skins ferociously in order to survive. Our entire self-image relies on these skins. But when something comes along to shake our construct of who we think we are, stripping us of a skin, we have an opportunity to stop adding layers. Inevitably fear can kick in when one feels vulnerable and the immediate instinct is to find another, different, stronger, and better skin to protect you next time. You repeat this cycle now every time something tests your foundation. Pretty soon you forget who you are beneath it all, but always feel some part of you still hasn’t answered that question.

The key to answering the question of who we are comes only in the silence and stillness within us. If we have a bunch of identities in us all claiming who we are, they will all inevitably fight for first place. This is our ego screaming and entrenching itself to ensure it survives. It wants our attention, and can drown out the enlightened whispering of truths within us. Only in that silence will you be able to hear that whisper.

All these identities we build for ourselves will not allow you to know who you are. They will only allow you to know your ego, separateness from truth. There is a difference between who you are and who you think you are. Who we actually are is part of all of existence. Who we think we are is separate and is dominated by our ego.

So it is in silence, stillness, and quiet reflection where we are able to listen to what’s inside us, shed more and more of the illusion, and feel connected to all of existence. There is more to be heard by sitting next to a waterfall in silence than to listen to the words of another. Any teacher can concur that there is always a difference between what the teacher says and the student hears. Any teaching we interpret will only ever be just that – an interpretation. At best it is a translation, or a model. But that feeling you get when sitting by that waterfall in solitude is a truth that gets distorted merely by the act of trying to explain it! If you have ever felt at a loss for words when looking at a tree, or watching a sunset, or gazing at the stars, then you will understand this feeling. Words can never do justice to the truth within us.

Silence is the language of truth.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 11: The Elephant in the Room

In today’s class we delved deeper into the many philosophies of India.

I have never taken a philosophy class but have spent most of my life reading on various types, from theistic ones to non theistic ones. I found parallels between all of them, and at its most basic fundamental level, they all seemed to say the same thing. I often wondered, which one is the right one? The real one?

The obvious answer may be that none are right. But the truth is they are all correct.

It is important to note there are many different schools of thought in the world when it comes to answer the deep questions of our existence. What Ayurveda teaches is that there is no one size fits all formula that will stop someone’s suffering, be it physical, mental, or spiritual. Indeed, as an Ayurvedic Practitioner, one must meet the person where they are at, helping them with treatments that will work for them specifically, and deliver it to them in a way that will resonate with them. It truly becomes irrelevant what I believe when I am putting the health of my patients first. What’s important is helping them to break unhealthy patterns, plant new seeds that are in harmony with a healthy life, and give them the tools they need to maintain and cultivate those thoughts, deeds, and actions. If I am too attached to my own beliefs, I will truly fail them as a healer.

From an ayurvedic perspective, there are some practical causes of disease, but there is also one higher cause, which can be summed up as forgetting one’s true nature as spirit. Another way of putting that could be forgetting that we are all just living an illusion of separateness, and the truth is we are connected to each other in wholeness. Whether you are an atheist or a theist, if you are on a path of personal discovery and reflection, you may find this resonates with you. Some might say we are all one with the universe. Others may say we are one with god. Others might say we were all at one point part of a singularity and our separateness came only after the universe expanded (the big bang).

It’s a transcendent thought that tends to remove our ego and make us feel humble and little, yet at the same time connected to all of existence. We are all made of starstuff, as the late Carl Sagan said and whom I quote repeatedly.

You don’t require any faith or non faith in order to see this truth. It’s purely a matter of perspective. From one perspective you could say you are a you. From another, you could say you are a person. From another still, you could say you are an animal. From another still you could say you are molecules. Still further you could say you are mostly energy and empty space. And when we break things down to their most fundamental properties, we find we are all made up of the same stuff, be it the light that emits from a star, the star itself, or the people that exist on the planet that orbit it. Everything is made up of everything. We just continually forget this and convince ourselves we are right.

There is a story that explains this best:

There were 4 blind men beside an elephant. None had ever seen one before. In order to understand what an elephant is, they used their sense of touch.
One man touched the leg and said “I know what an elephant is, it is sturdy and round, wrinkly and strong!”.
The one who was touching the ears said “No, it is floppy and flexible with ridges!”
The one who was touching the tusk said “You’re both wrong, it’s hard as a rock and smooth as marble!”
The one who was touching the trunk said “You’re all wrong, it’s like a garden hose…and slimy on the inside!”

The truth is, none of them were wrong. They were all right, from a certain point of view. But in the end, no matter where they start to interpret what that elephant is, they will eventually journey further and discover there’s more to the elephant than the sliver they experienced. We all think our separateness makes us special in some way and that we are right in what we believe, but it is all just an illusion, albeit a necessary illusion.

As a practitioner, it is important I am knowledgeable in a multitude of philosophies, because as much as it is my job to help a person with their physical and mental suffering, those that want to go deeper will need spiritual guidance as well. The side effect of wanting to lead a healthier life will inevitably be that one will want to reflect more and seek truth. As I quoted my professor in yesterday’s post, there are many rivers that we can take, but they all lead to the same ocean.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 10: Meditation

What is meditation?

Like so many traditional Indian practices, meditation is misunderstood by so many.

Meditation is anything that brings you to the present moment.

There is a word in sanskrit that takes this concept of meditation deeper. That word is sadhana (sah-dha-nah).
It simply states that all activities, even ordinary ones, can be a meditation. Remembering that meditation is a tool we use to bring us to the present moment, we will find that in that present moment there is truth.

You can wash the dishes today mindlessly. Brush your teeth while still groggy. Eat dinner with the television on. All these ordinary things are no longer a meditation. In fact, they serve only to add ripples to the calm water in our mind creating confusion and obscurity. We wind up absorbed in the past and future, and just do things with no intention. Even now while writing and editing this, I realized I was doing so mindlessly. I fixed my posture and sat up straight, refocusing on this present moment.

Intention behind our daily lives creates practice, discipline. Now every moment has the potential to bring us closer to yoga. Everything can become enlightening, showing us the truth. And with practice, we can even sustain this meditation and continue to stay in the present moment when distractions and drama from life try to disturb us.

There is a story of Gautam Buddha that goes as follows:

Buddha was speaking with his disciples one afternoon when a fly buzzed by his face. He mindlessly swatted it away and continued talking. Although his disciples thought nothing of it, he soon realized what he had done and stopped speaking. He then slowly reenacted the swatting of the fly. He returned to instructing his disciples.

The disciples were confused and asked,
“Why have you swatted the air again when the fly has already left?”

To this Gautam Buddha replied “Because before, I had swatted the fly with no mindfulness, without intention.”

Intention is so important from a Buddha’s perspective that even the most mundane or reactionary actions should be done with intention. When done without intention, one should bring awareness to it and make a new discipline to overcome our destructive habits. Even though something so silly and simple may not seem worth the effort, it is the accumulation of these tiny mindless actions that serve to create disharmony in us. When done with intention, everything becomes a meditation.

Whether it is your thoughts, your words, or your deeds, practice them as though they are a meditation. Bring your awareness to the present moment. Make them all into sadhanas. Start small, with one thing at a time. When doing your dishes, feel the way the water moves on your hands and the plate. While brushing your teeth, pay attention to doing so properly. When eating, just eat. Let your focus be your digestion.

Meditation is a way of living. And although sitting and closing one’s eyes in silence is one great form of it, meditation has the ability to be so much more. Sadhana teaches us that when performed with intention, anything can be a path towards our true self, enlightenment, or god, if your prefer. This is why so many religions state the practice of rituals and ceremony as being important. Unfortunately, mindlessly doing these rituals can easily become a normality and actually serve as an obstacle towards higher truth. When I speak of higher truth, I think my instructor Marisa Laursen put it best today:

“There’s love and forgetting about love and that’s it.”

This is the truth sadhana, meditation, and yoga (remember Ayurveda is the medicinal side of yoga!) can help us achieve and is only one branch of a multitude of philosophies (this one being Mimamsa Philosophy). There are so many great philosophies in India, and the great thing is they all cater to a different style of thinking. The understanding is in that all these philosophies are just rivers that empty into the same ocean. No matter what path we choose in life, we have the ability to be on the path of a singular universal truth of love.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 9: Yoga

Let’s talk about Yoga!

This is a sensitive subject for me. The truth is, yoga as it is done in the west is predominately only a sliver of what yoga actually is. The poses, or asanas, are what dominates the western image of yoga. This is undoubtedly a part of it, but is only one part amongst and eight-fold process towards yoga’s ultimate intention: union. Even though I know that these poses can be a window into a much larger practice, I do feel too much of it is lost in our unfortunate desire for body image.

But before I dive into defining yoga, you may be asking
“What does Yoga have to do with Ayurveda?”

Great question! In fact, both are sister sciences and overlap.
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India and the medicinal side of yoga.
Yoga is any practice that helps us move towards self-realization.

Fairly broad definitions, and rightfully so. There are countless different styles of yoga practiced in India, and here in the west, most manifest in the form of the poses. The emphasis has been on fitness here, but without trying to shed more and more of our ego to move towards peace and stillness in our hearts, it is not yoga. Even if it’s got Bikram’s name on it (again, don’t get me started).

To better understand yoga, we need to know the four yogic paths:

- Karma Yoga
– Bhakti Yoga
– Jnana Yoga
– Raja Yoga

I could talk about all of these in depth, but today we will focus on the Yoga you all know and partially practice, which is Raja Yoga, codified by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

In Sanskrit, the foundation of yoga is known as Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha. Translated, this means “to eradicate the disturbances of the mind to attain union”.

My instructor had great metaphor for this. Imagine that yoga is a clear body of water, still and unmoving. In it’s stillness, it reflects the sunlight, the trees, the mountains, and more. Yet even though it reflects a lot, the water is so clear and deep; you can see all that lies within the water as well. However, drop a single pebble into the water, and the ripples will obscure all of this clarity.

The water is the union within us, the peace, the clarity, the tranquility. Whenever we think a thought, good or bad, it generates a karmic effect. Those ripples disturb us and confuse us, creating much of our suffering. The more thoughts we have, the more tumultuous and undulating the effect on us.

Here is the eight fold path one can take to achieve Self-realization as outlined by Patanjali:

1: Yamas – to restrain or control (discipline of the senses)
2: Niyamas – restraint of the mind (internal discipline)
3: Asanas – poses or postures
4: Pranayama – breathing practices
5: Pratyahara – sensory withdrawals (less distractions)
6: Dharana – focus of concentration
7: Dhyana – sustaining your dharana
8: Samadhi – oneness

If you already practice asanas, that’s great! But also realize this path is best followed in order (but better followed in any order than not at all). See if you can incorporate the other parts of this path as well. All the others take place within our thought pattern anyway, so by practicing and combining all of these together with your asanas, you can create that pristine lake within you and find that peace.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 8: The Raging River

I do not even know where to begin today.

Today’s class was very in depth. We spoke of the philosophy and history of Ayurveda (and subsequently India). It was very interesting for me as both an Indian and a student who grew up in the west to be learning about all of this, and hearing other people’s interpretations. My soul feels great being around so many people that are interested in my culture and what it has to offer, and my ego feels possessive of it as though being an Indian somehow means others can never truly understand it as deeply as I can (yes I know how narcissistic that sounds, but that’s what you get when you let your ego do the talking!).

There is a story that is central to the symbolism of the struggle everyone faces inside their heart and mind (I won’t get into the story as that could be a whole essay in and of itself). Essentially boiled down it talks about the conflict within us all to make harmonious or disharmonious decisions.

There is a quiet whisper always within us telling us the right path to take. Then there is the loud cacophony of our ego that is a master at manipulating and rationalizing our disharmonious choices. Our ego seeks desires, and will do anything to get them. Our soul will only be patient and wait, and when we are willing to listen, it will always be there. This relationship between these two sides of ourselves was what this story was speaking to, and it spawned great discussion.

I’m starting to see why so many people are so attracted to religion. It’s partly because of the stories.

Let me state clearly:

Ayurveda is not a religion! Nor do you need to be religious to benefit from it.
Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life, and vedas, meaning knowledge. Ayurveda is the knowledge of life!

Ayurveda however is so old that it predates even written text. It was passed down through countless generations via stories before every being recorded. Stories were a primary method of communication and preserving knowledge before there even was written language. A lot of those stories still contain within them the knowledge we use in Ayurveda today, although we can easily translate those stories into more linear forms now. Still, the stories are important to know to honour and respect Ayurveda’s roots, and because there is a lot to be gained from analyzing and reflecting on a story vs reading an answer in a textbook. Plus stories are fun! They spark dialogue. It is pretty difficult to talk about Ayurveda without talking about all this history and all these stories.

But these stories are just a tool. They are a tool we can use on our path to self discovery and better health. Indeed, every experience we have in life is just an opportunity. But if we hold on too tightly to these stories, these tools, these experiences, they become attachments and weigh us down.

Let me put it this way (in a story!):

There is a man who has been living his whole life on one side of a river. He has known nothing but his life on this side of the river. He has not even stopped to think of what may be across the river.

But for some reason, one day, he sees something across the river that makes him curious. He can’t say what it is, can’t quite make it out, but knows he must get across this river one way or another. He feels if he could just get to this thing, whatever it is, it will be what he has felt was missing in him his whole life.

He does not own a boat nor can he afford one, but he decides that he will make one. He has never made a boat before, and spends months building one. It goes through several iterations and he makes mistake after mistake. Still, eventually, he makes his little boat and paddles across the river, proud and with an adventurous spirit in his heart. The river is dangerous and he almost doesn’t survive the journey as the weather rained hard on him and the river was raging.

But he makes it across the raging river, exhausted and purged, having proven something to himself. He looks for what caught his eye and inspired his journey in the first place and sees that it is across a desert now, and at the edge of that desert lays a mountain.

Tell me, should the man take this boat with him, knowing what lies ahead?

The man feels attached to his boat. He worked so hard on it. He developed a connection with it as he paddled alone across the raging river. The boat understands something about him that no one else can. He panics and feels that he needs some reason to keep the boat. He thinks about tying it and leaving it there, but worries that someone may steal it. He soon concludes that it is too precious to leave alone and even though he may not need it again, he should keep it in case across that mountain lays another river.

And so, he straps it to his back, and walks across a desert carrying a useless boat.

There are many tools we can use in this life to conquer the rivers we keep in our hearts and minds that separate us from our true nature and feed our ego. But those same tools that help liberate us can also be our anchors if we do not learn to let them go when the time comes.

In the meantime, we all sometimes feel like we’re up the creek without a paddle, so let’s paddle together as my course continues.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 7: Perfect Health

Today we had our first class with our new instructor, Marisa Laursen. We discussed more on the meaning of Ayurveda and Svastha. Simply translated from sanskrit, Svastha means “perfect health”. The word comes from the words Sva (Self) and Stha (Established, steady, solid). To be in perfect health in the ayurvedic sense is to be solid in the knowing of one’s own Self.
There are two distinctions to be made in the word “Self”:
– one is self, lowercase, meaning the ego or our lower nature
– two is Self, capital “S”, meaning the soul, or higher nature.

Now what do I mean when I say soul? Most of us can conjure up an image or a definition in our mind pretty quickly. But not all of us believe in such things. I need to preface that whether or not you believe in god or the soul, or practice any religion, truly does not matter from an ayurvedic perspective.

What matters is that everyone is on a personal journey towards their own inner truth. You do not need to be a theist to feel connected to all of existence.

I bring this up only because someone in class had a great question today. So much of Ayurveda does talk about the soul. How do we help someone who does not believe in god, or things that seem so related to religion?

As someone who identifies pretty strongly as an atheist, it may seem odd to people that know me that I have chosen such a seemingly spiritual path. But being an atheist has no bearing on my ability to discover truth when I meditate, or feel stillness when watching a sunset, or to realize how infinitely insignificant and tiny I am when looking up at the stars. Anyone on a personal path of self discovery can do Ayurveda. Ayurveda is for everyone, regardless of what they believe. It is only our own labels like “Atheist” and “Theist” that serve to segregate us more. These labels really compartmentalize us and separate us into having arguments about things we can’t prove or disprove. These discussions can be simultaneously entertaining and aggravating, but are merely a distraction and only serve to make us feel more disconnected.

I will say it again: Ayurveda is for everyone. And anyone can achieve Svastha.

There are certain things we need to understand if we want to be healthy. Knowing what causes disease will help us to understand how to reach Svastha.

From an ayurvedic approach, there are 3 causes of disease:

1) Misuse of Senses, or Asatmendyartha Samyoga
– taking in disharmonious sights, sounds, foods, smells, and sensations (ie – stress caused by a violent environment)
2) Failure of the Intellect, or Prajnaparadha
– knowing what is healthy but choosing to misuse the senses anyway (ie – choosing to eat fast food even though we all know it’s extremely unhealthy)
3) Transformation, or Parinama
– linear time and motion changes in nature (ie- seasons changing) that are beyond our control
– dynamic changes in our perception of biological time (ie- dwelling on thoughts of past or future) that can be within our control

There is also one higher cause of disease, which is forgetting our true self. Regardless, if we can understand these three causes of illness, we can then figure out how to heal.

I have made a flowchart to help better illustrate:
Flowchart

We will delve more into details on this as time goes on, and until then as always I wish you good health.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 6: Food

There are many subjects I could have talked about today. The first two weeks of my course are now over and I get a new instructor next week. Dr. Halpern has been a great guide and has really helped us to incorporate self care into our daily lives. I have learned so much philosophically to help with my personal growth. I have learned much about the history of Ayurveda, and therefore part of the history of India, which I am grateful for. I am even more grateful that I still have two more years of learning and this was only a tickle of what is to come.

Amongst the myriad of those topics that I could write about to summarize my past two weeks, I thought I would write about something we all relate to: food.

Before I even took this course, I knew about the Ayurvedic way of eating. Luckily, a lot of Ayurvedic practices are just regular practices in India, and my parents have knowingly or unknowingly incorporated them into our lives growing up as children. But I am not going to talk about the kinds of foods my mom would make when we were sick, or what teas to drink to strengthen our immune system, or anything else like that (although valuable). Rather than talking about what to eat, we are going to talk about how to eat.

How to eat is in many ways more important than what you eat. This may surprise you. There are certain Ayurvedic guidelines that teach us how to eat in order to reduce or eliminate problems in digestion. Having done these practices, I can honestly say they work amazingly insofar as how disciplined you are in following them.

Before I talk about these guidelines, I need to preface:

You are what you eat. Quite literally in fact.
When you consume food, it becomes you. That food becomes the cells and tissues in your body. You absorb the nutrients, and those serve to make you who you are, in a very real and tangible sense.
Food also connects us to all of existence. Every piece of food we eat was made in a recycled process. From the moment of the creation of the universe to when all matter spread throughout the universe, our solar system was made. Our sun was forged and our planet welded by gravity. All the matter on our planet has made up everything – from the mountains to the trees to the animals and plants we eat. Whether or not you believe the food we consume has a consciousness, it is an incredibly grounding thought to realize that consuming food connects us with all of existence. If we are what we eat, then to quote Carl Sagan, we are starstuff. We are consuming starstuff! By consuming it, we are becoming it again and again! That is a revelation worth paying some more attention to, and a poetic enough perspective to inspire a new discipline of eating.
Unfortunately, we rarely if ever acknowledge what we put into our bodies as anything more than a necessary inconvenience or a guilty desire ridden pleasure. If we become more mindful of how we eat and why we eat, it will in return improve our health. From an Ayurvedic perspective, there are Ten Healthy Eating Guidelines that will optimize your digestion. If you are ready to step into a larger world, click the link. The consumption of food will no longer seem a chore and will become something of it’s own meditation, a path towards one’s inner truth. Let’s turn eating food into a cosmic journey.

With gratitude,

S



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