We yearn to see the patterns that weave life. Without patterns, we are lost in a cosmic filing cabinet in which all the files are jumbled.
The seeing of patterns can be fully sensual. We need philosophy that can be tasted, we need medicine we can hear.
The range of pattern-connection that Ayurveda encourages spans across and blends biological, intellectual, aesthetic, political, and psychological realms. There should be great pleasure as the thresholds between disciplines (and between theories and experiences) are gently broken.
The interdisciplinary nature of Ayurveda is a kind of kitchari. Simmer equal parts of grain (sweet earth, common knowledge) and legume (astringent earth, building knowledge) in 3 to 4 parts of water (emotional knowledge), with oil (joy of awakening), spices (aesthetics and rhythm), seeds (root mysteries), herbs (culture bursting into flower), and salt (memory). Cook till soft. Dress with chutney local to the time and place of eating, serve immediately, and enjoy.
Ayurveda is not an alternative medicine. (Nor is TCM or naturopathy, etc.) It does not propose or provide an alternative to biomedicine, which has arisen as an interventionary technology to address acute illness, leaving consideration of the general mystery of existence for other disciplines. Ayurveda is an original intuitive relationship with the phenomena of the material universe. It moves slowly, and mainly provokes quiet but stable changes.
Ayurveda predates alienation from the body in the age of technological and economic complexity.
Ayurveda predates our alienation from kinetic, sensual, and intimate learning in the age of books, military-style education, reference libraries, and now, wikipedia. To live Ayurveda you must go to someone’s house, the garden of another, and the temple of a third. Usually there is hiking involved. You have to really show up, and be seduced. Books let you flip through, and wikipedia lets you browse. But my grandfather’s hand held my own in a hot and impossibly strong grip as we walked through his garden and he showed me his tomato plants. He died long ago, but I’m still held.
Ayurveda is attractive because its literature and ethos predate our pervasive feeling of disempowerment in the midst of events and technologies too specialized for general discussion and understanding. The most important issues of our day cannot be unraveled and resolved by the regular people you might know and invite to sit around a campfire in your backyard. Ayurveda gives us access to campfire insights.
Ayurveda elucidates and then blurs the line between the seen and the unseen. The unseen is the body of the iceberg. To meditate on it is to peer into deep internal blue.
Ayurveda extends perception beyond the limits of the sensory organs by utilizing the lessons of the senses. Whereas modern cartography, for example, projects lands and contours the eye or instrument cannot directly see through deduction and mathematical modeling, Ayurveda imagines what the senses cannot behold as though they could anyway, though now within internal space. In Ayurveda, the horizon of the external world is where the internal world begins.
In Ayurveda, you’re never quite sure whether you’re looking at blood cells on a slide, birth order in a family, or stars in the sky.
While modern diagnostic technology extends the senses (and therefore the distance of the visual horizon, which increases the anxiety of ignorance – for there is now so much more that we cannot know), Ayurveda teaches how to bootstrap the senses beyond the measurable, so that when the instruments of measurement fail, the experience of qualities remains.
Ayurveda is a qualitative mode for appreciating the world and self. Quantitative modes can evoke precise accumulations and inequalities, but they may lead to abstraction and depersonalization. Quantitative measurement can accurately discern blood sugar ratios, for example, and are essential to regulating insulin to preserve life. But it takes a qualitative mode to express the feeling of a weakened pancreas, the daze or lethargy of sweetness-chemistry chaos, or longing for a departed mother. Ayurveda in true dialogue with the quantitative would mean that either mode could predict imbalances that the other could then confirm.
The inherent health we crave can be seen in the intelligence of cats and trees and children. It cannot be literally imaged by an MRI, but its presence could possibly be read in an MRI by someone who trained themselves to see the unseen.
While you can’t x-ray prana, you can experience its movements, harmonious or not, on the levels of digestion, emotional dynamism, and spiritual clarity. When these movements are visible and comprehensible to you, you can more effectively root yourself back into the world, remembering a heritage of earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Words like “spiritual” dissect human experience needlessly. A healing system that arose from animism and grew through shamanism asks us to prove the usefulness of these words. In the bead above, we could replace the word “spiritual” with “overall”, or “systemic”.
“Remembering your heritage” sounds very nice, but it is not about fantastical time travel or paralyzing nostalgia, or maxing out your credit card to fly to Kerala. You are sitting here in a postmodern world trying to reconstruct a way of life you’ve never seen or really experienced. You can’t go back to somewhere you’ve never been – you don’t know the way. Your best option is to pull the most beautiful objects out of your oldest closet: your mind, the collective mind, the pleasures of your body, the delights of childhood. Bring those things into the here and now, and increase the modern tool-set. The more variation we have in our tool-box, the slower we will move, and the more we will learn.
In an age of virtuoso surgical interventions, miraculously advanced biochemistry, and 60% remission rate for chemotherapy applied to stage-three tumours, Ayurveda no longer has substantial mechanical or chemical functionality to add to the mix. It cannot and should not compete with allopathy on these levels. To attempt competition would amount to obscuring Ayurveda’s precious gifts: self-inquiry, description, and integration.