The word medicine conjures up many unpleasant memories from my childhood. I can almost taste the medicine my parents gave me when I was sick so that I would feel better. They always tried to hide the taste of the medicine in a spoonful of sugar, but as far as I was concerned, it didn’t work.
I have had to sit and reflect on these words spoken by one of my beloved teachers in an attempt to get past my unpleasant memories and into her simple wisdom. Perhaps she was speaking to the things we ignore on a daily basis pretending they don’t need our attention. They seem unpleasant, like bad tasting medicine, and are often simple things like balancing the checkbook, cleaning the closet, or calling the dentist.
“Practice that ignites our inner fire, brings out our inner radiance, and makes us vibrant and energetic is tapas.” -Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Who of us would not like to have more vibrancy and inner glow? After all, isn’t this the quality that attracts us to others, especially babies of any species? We are drawn irresistibly to this life force that desires to radiate from all of us. This is the source of health, vibrancy, intelligence, joy, and mental acuity.
We must forgive reality for being what it is. – Richard Rohr [paraphrased]
When we are constantly embracing the moment or fighting against it, we turn this world into a problem to be solved. Think about this. Our constant tactic becomes trying to figure out how to make this moment go the way we want.
When the world becomes a problem to be solved, it no longer exists as something to be experienced, marveled at, or surprised by. Instead it is something to fix and manage in an attempt to experience our own confused version of self-contentment. What a strange way to live.
“We are confused about what is going to make us happy.” -Sam Harris
The times we live in seem like an impossible place to find contentment. There are outer voices luring us to buy, to fear, to despair. There is an inner voice reminding us of our failures and unfulfilled dreams. There is a longing for things to be the way we want….all the time. We could easily sing along with Dorothy, “Somewhere over the rainbow.”
All these messages ensure that we will be tossed about, riding waves of highs and lows, happiness and disappointment, landing anywhere but in contentment. We get pulled out of ourselves, longing for what we don’t have, longing for the world to be safer and more sane. And where the mind goes, prana follows. The price we pay for our discontentment is loss of our vital energy.
I am writing at a time when in my country Charlottesville has just happened and the rare eclipse of the sun is about to happen. We are asking ourselves deep questions about the hatred and “isms” that seem so prevalent. At the same time we are being swept into one of the mysteries of the universe. It is a reflective time for most of us.
I remember several years ago when my heart felt heavy like it often does when I hear the news. I was suffering what for me had been an experience of betrayal that left a bitter taste in my heart. Try as I did, the taste didn’t go away; the heaviness of my heart continued to burden me.
Then I found myself in the presence of a wise, holy teacher. When I embarrassingly asked him how to get rid of the bitterness in my heart, he replied with gentle eyes and compassionate voice, “Give it all to the Divine, just keep giving it to the Divine.” What followed for me was a purification process that left my heart light and free. In these times, I find myself returning vigorously to this practice.
David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, makes a distinction between what he calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. Brooks defines resume virtues as the accomplishments that contribute to external success, while eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned at a funeral, the ones that sit at the core of ones being. [paraphrased from page xi)
Like virtue, purity has an external and internal process. Personally I find it easy to fall into the trap of external purity as an end in itself. I am programmed to equate purity with cleanliness and to focus the crux of my efforts towards outer appearance. I can forget to reflect on the condition of my heart and mind, which is where the real conversation about purity resides.
Have you ever taken the plunge to commit to eating better? Somewhere along the line, you decided that fast food and candy bars were not giving you the kind of vitality and wellbeing you wanted from your body? Maybe you read some healthy eating books or enlisted a food coach or took the plunge with a friend for mutual support. However it may have happened, you were determined to leave the world you knew and walk into the unfamiliar territory of broccoli and other vegetables you had never even heard of.
For me, the practice of the yamas and niyamas has become a similar journey, a way of looking at just what it is we are feeding our minds. In giving us these 10 ethical principles, Patanjali has for all practical purposes given us a healthy diet book for the mind. The first step, he says, is to understand that violence, non-truthfulness, stealing, excess, and possessiveness are junk food. They not only cause harm for others, but they cause harm to our minds by making them chaotic, disturbed, dis-eased and out of harmony. A steady, focused mind cannot be sustained by these harmful actions any more than a vital body can be sustained by processed food.
“Possessiveness is nourishment for the ego.” -Rajneesh
Imagine that you were a person of great influence and power. Imagine that you had so much power that you could fire people, start wars, negotiate shady deals, and make others dance to your tune. Now imagine that you had a certain idea of just how your life should be, just how the world should be, and just what you expected of others around you. You would never have to be challenged; you could enforce your will on others as you pleased. And you could destroy what is not pleasing you.
We all know of people with this kind of power. Some of them inspire us with their continued humility and generosity. Others make us shudder at the suffering their possessiveness inflicts on the world. Yet whatever degree of influence we have, the question remains, what is our possessiveness doing to others?