Lessons from Ayurveda
When we think of the times we are living in the threats to human health have never been so real. But it is not just our bodies that are suffering; our elements have been subjected to so much toxicity. Air poisoned with car fumes, earth deprived of its natural humus, stripped by pesticides and mono crops. Water, chlorinated, fluoridated, and flowing with the chemical cocktail of our pharmaceutical dependency. Ether, electro magnetically blasted with radioactive satellites. As Greta Thunberg has so bravely made obvious, earth and body, nature and humanity have been made sick to the core by a way of life driven by economic growth. We are gripped in an imbalance that cheats us of our true joy and health and we need to change and heal.
This emergency that we find ourselves in just as the word implies forces us to rise up, to emerge out of an old mode of living into a new one. But at this very moment many people are in flight and fight mode, their fear has triggered their sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. Pema Chodron talks about fear as man’s natural reaction to coming closer to the truth, and I have always found this a very reassuring acknowledgement. In these situations Ayurveda unlike modern psychiatry aims to calm the body, to bring the digestive fire back into balance through herbs and diet, and this way the mind is supported. So we have to eat foods that balance our dosha, and particularly balance Vata dosha, the dosha responsible for the nervous system.
We also need to ground our energies, which we can do through good food, sleep and connecting to our bodies, and senses through whatever means we enjoy. If we cannot eat, or sleep, or even sit still then Ayurvedic herbs can help to bring appetite back, and pacify the Vata storm. It was such a revelation to me to realize that my anxiety was not just my failure to change my mental programming, but actually being Vata my constition is hardwired to be ungrounded, and nervy, as it is subtle, light, cold, and dry. So I protect myself with warm, dense, and moist food, regular meals, and try to do less when I’m feeling stressed. Sometimes it is not an overnight process and we need to be patient and kind with ourselves, and send kind messages to our mind. Reading books that describe stress, fear and anxiety in a spiritual context helps, Pema Chodron, and Thich Nhat Hanh both have such a gentle way of guiding us back to a place of acceptance and sanity.
Like the honeybee that collects pollen from the flowers and creates honeycomb our immunity is also a subtle nectar that relies on good digestion, and a sattvic or elevated state of mind for its vitality. We collect thoughts and emotions and from this comes our consciousness. The quality of our consciousness is the very fabric of our immunity. The human mind is continually caught in an effort, be it an effort to get rid of fear, or an effort to get rid of anger, or an effort to attach ourselves to people, things or ideas. All these efforts build stress and stress diminishes our immunity.
We are a mirror absorbing and reflecting, energy in motion, sending conscious messages into the world at all times. The world is full of different narratives, take the current corona virus pandemic, you have the governments narrative, the medias narrative, the conspiracy theorists narrative, the environmentalists narrative and the spiritual narrative. Choosing what to believe and finding ones own voice is not always easy. I believe going in to our consciousness through meditation helps us to be guided to our intuition, helps us to find an effortless state of mind where our immunity is not supressed. Some people call this state the heart of compassion, or being and observing without judgement, some experience a connection to their true selves; some just feel strong, grounded and ready to take on their lives. This same state of being can be experienced in any creative or mindful activity where we are not giving our energy away to fear, anger or attachment. In the bigger picture going back to Pema’s idea of fear being a reaction to coming closer to the truth humanity as a whole is definitely at a crossroads, and it has taken a huge toll to maintain the lie that nature is not part of us.
Ayurveda also tells us that nature is part of us, the five elements are not abstract entities, but are the literal ingredients of our food, and bodies. These five elements are brought to life in the conception of the doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each person has a dominant dosha or combination of doshas, and each dosha is ruled by certain elements. It is believed that when each dosha is balanced the root of the disease process is cut off.
In essence Ayurveda says that if we understand the elements we understand ourselves. So I choose the narrative of Ayurveda that tells me if we are to stand strong in the face of mental illness, stress, viruses, autoimmune deficiencies, and life threatening illnesses we need to focus our attention on our consciousness. What is it mirroring, whose narrative? We need to connect to our heart centre, to the elements, to our senses, to what inspires us, and be custodians of the earth.