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By Michael Doko Hatchett
Ayurveda teaches us that to heal from disease and imbalance, you need to undertake a process of cleansing and purification to remove toxins (Ama) and disease causing agents (Doshas) that have accumulated deep in the tissues, often over the course of decades. This process is known as ‘Shodana’. But Shodana simply cannot happen for us until we learn to calm our mind. There is a saying in Ayurveda....“First, calm the winds of the mind.”
It is a fundamental principle in this ancient science of Ayurveda that when your mind is behaving in an agitated way, the intelligence of the body that controls all of our internal communications (Prana) ceases to work in its most co-ordinated fashion. This can be seen on a more immediate scale with digestion and elimination being directly affected when we are emotional and distracted. When we are agitated the confusion in the body works to spread out and/or drive the Ama and Doshas deeper into the tissues, rather than allowing them to flow into the gastrointestinal tract where they are prepared for expulsion. When the mind is calmed, physical toxins more naturally flow in the directions they should and become centralised in the gastrointestinal tract. So as Kester always says to his clients, before you undertake these powerful cleansing procedures you must learn to calm down in a profound way.
Agitation, and its energies of greed, rejection and excessive story telling, is so often unnoticed and unexamined as we barge through life, albeit with the good intention of wanting to become happier, healthier, and wiser. If we neglect this first and essential step of calming down the mind we will only ever be engaged in an Shodana approach that is superficial at best. Generally speaking, apart from the lucky ones, Shodana simply won’t work.
Whether we like it or not, whether it makes us uncomfortable or not, the key pillar of true calm is self-love. I'm not talking about a one-off explosion of self-love that makes us hug passers-by. I'm speaking about a a gentler quieter experience of what might also be called self-kindness and self-compassion, and a simple rekindling of qualities such as humility and gratitude for life. These simple stirrings are the fabric upon which we start to sense hope for an inner life absent of so much self-directed anger, criticism and shame. They begin to emerge as we begin to emerge from our distractedness. We find them present the more we slow down and pay attention to life. They await our attention like seeds waiting to be watered.
For a lot of us though, feeling self-love is tough. We swim in a sea of self-criticism and high levels of shame so often, and the world never seems to slow down enough for us to understand what is going on. Self-love can seem a world away, and the amount of us experiencing these crippling feelings of self-criticism and shame seem to be on the rise.
So can we self-love if we feel this way? Can it be done in a sober way? Can we be neither too wet nor too dry in our feeling into self-love?
In my opinion we definitely can. But to do so we all must start from scratch, with mindfulness; learning how to give life our attention.
This just means, being with life more deeply; being with your carrots as you slice them up for dinner, your breath as you sit quietly and drink your tea, your footsteps (not your pedometer) as you go for your morning walk. This is all training to grow a fresh brain, more and more detached from the tyranny of its fears and more accident-prone to finding a liberating loving-kindness. The last thing we need is to force things. So often self-love and a positive view of ourselves is fabricated out of passing ideas and the latest book of inspiring quotes. We hear an inspiring talk for example, and, after the initial honeymoon period, the feeling leaves us. What is often left is just a new thing to feel ashamed about; we ‘can’t do self-love’ and we beat ourselves up about it!
This is where mindfulness practice is so very important. It is not based upon ideas or inspiration. It is just about paying attention. We are often pleasantly surprised by what we accidentally find.
Mindfulness and finding self-love
We tend to approach ‘loving ourselves’ in a way the Buddha would have described as 'fabricated' and 'unskillful'. In addition we often think we should be able to turn it on like a tap. But love is never like this is it? It is more so that the conditions for love come together from time to time and it dawns within us. With calm awareness, as a part of our life, we tend to start to sense a trail of how we can do something to enhance the coming together of those conditions. By paying the right kind of attention to what is in front of our eyes we may just stumble upon self-love by accident.
It’s a sunny morning, perhaps we are quiet, more engaged than we usually are with our environment, there’s the presence of a not-so-busy mind noticing more than we usually do. Maybe a sense of gratitude comes, maybe a quiet, unspecific sense of forgiveness and gratitude, maybe we feel humbled by the way the birds are singing this morning and sense a connection to what is so much bigger than us. With these little graces that stir the heart, often comes then the stirrings of love, maybe even self-love. Something has allowed a small crack in our defences to open. The opportunity for self-love to appear all by itself just got a little wider.
Basically in this morning scenario we are engaged in being with life more deeply than we often are. No intention was needed, we just experienced a moment where we didn’t wriggle away from what was in front of our eyes into our thoughts, measurements and opinions. We were with life instead of off in our heads. And that sense of deeply being with life (ourselves) is what gives us the most important mental factor for healing; a sense of being connected. It is so very important for the body to feel this, to breathe it in, to take in this 'goodness', and put that fragrance of connectedness and self-worth into its orchestration of cleansing and rejuvenation.
Self-love can never be forced, it comes with feeling connected. Mindfulness is the straightest way to reconnect. When we pay attention we are available to notice more of our positive and sober capacities to care for ourselves and our lives in a way that is more direct and real, as well as free from so much reactivity, judgement, and criticism. If thousands of examples are to be listened to, with mindfulness we also start to notice more of what is beautiful and lovely in life and the world around us. Mindfulness starts us on the path of practicing Buddhist psychology. Buddhist psychology is very much a combination of learning the skills of exposing ourselves to what touches the heart and what sobers the mind. This leads to a capacity to feel more and more capable and connected – especially to a bigger picture of life and love - and if we feel that, so too does the bodily Intelligence. Learning the principles of Buddhist psychology helps us understand and keep this balance and helps us keep deepening our composure and insight. The forces within the body revel in such settled self-awareness.
Buddhist psychology is a psychology based in learning how to stop and smell the roses and to see how this can help us learn about our capacities for a wise-heart. Learning how to first recognize skillful qualities of mind then to develop them – simple things such as patience, discernment, kindness, concentration, gratefulness, empathy – and how everything fits together in a recipe that helps us to stabilize our minds into a state that is less reactive and more responsive and committed to what heals. We start to naturally exchange greed, rejection and our attachment to shallow observations for generosity, loving-kindness, and clear-seeing. In short, mindfulness awakens the development of a precision of awareness that helps us to see ourselves and others in a compassionate light. All this together is why the Buddha praised mindfulness above all other things in terms of its efficacy to calm us down and see what it takes to end our emotional turmoil.
Remember..... “first, calm the winds of the mind....”