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

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