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

Advertisements

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