When healing does not work
At the moment, we don’t need to start another exposition on the hows and whys these are ‘difficult and challenging times’. Hopes of many of us to ‘return to normal’ also have again been dispelled, and the reality of the moment is forcing us to deal with the necessary changes.
With anxiety, social claustrophobia, and the newly termed ‘Coronavirus fatigue’, many are looking or will be looking for ‘healing’. Healing has been labeled and marketed in many forms. On the one hand we have the more alternative types, from energy healing, to chakra re-alignment, to past life regression, and so on. We also have more established ones, such as the modern medical system and psychological institutions, which would prefer the term ‘cure’. Of course they are very much distinct in their scope of practice and underlying theories, with some promising fast and immediate changes while others understand that some conditions are ‘there to stay’.
Specially among the fast-track theories of healing, the underlying message is that there is something wrong with you, such as a bad energy, an energetic misalignment, or a deep rooted trauma, which can be extracted through some technique. After things are cleansed and realigned, there will be freedom from the problem. Following this line of reasoning, depression or anxiety you are experiencing might be mostly a consequence of an energetic imbalance, a previous life event, or a confused emotion which can be corrected by means of a ‘healer’.
Some people come to Yoga and Ayurveda retreats expecting to be healed. But this expectation can be quite passive in its nature. We can see here a little bit of the consumer trait of modernity, “I have a problem which is annoying me and I would like to buy something to remove it”. Better if it follows the laws of the free market: cheaper, faster, more effective, with less personal demands, and better packaged than the competition.
What we have as a consequence, is a dilution of some original philosophies of life and mind. Because overall, systems of thought such as Yoga (likePatanjali Sutras) and Buddhism are about taking responsibility for our own minds, and not to expect salvation from the outside.
We could argue that meditation is the management of the moral character of the mind. This is not an overly active and aggressive effort, but more of a discernment that arises from experience. The experience is that we treat the mind contents with all its thoughts, emotions, dreams, hopes and failures as our ultimate self-identification. We basically treat everything that goes on in our mind as something to be undoubtedly believed.
This identification comes with two consequences. One, that we are building castles on sand, as the mind contents (and of course the world of materials, such as the body and our society) are in a perpetual state of change. Two, that if any content that is unpleasant happens to lodge itself in our mind, it will necessarily cause a poisonous identification or be treated as an invader that requires medicine for removal.
Now, if we understand the mind as a fluid entity, capable of being observed (awareness) and molded (practice), we are able to discard what is unnecessary, or at least not attach so much of our sense of personality with any unwanted thought or emotion (detachment). Following this scheme, we don’t need healing as such (like an ‘energy surgery’), but actually to learn how to digest our thoughts and emotions, and how much to define ourselves as them.
In Ayurveda the concept of Ahara is translated as food, but it’s broad understanding is not only of edible items, but anything that you ‘ingest’ with your senses (vision, hearing, etc). In fact, the mind in Ayurveda is considered a sense organ, like your eyes. A food item you choose to eat has to be properly broken down into easily assimilated parts, delivered to the organism, and what is unnecessary is further eliminated. According to the theory, the same process should happen to our minds. A thought or emotion should be processed, assimilated, and later eliminated. And just like a supermarket, we can have some leverage of choice into proper practices, relationships, and surroundings that might fit our mental ‘diet’. If this process is disturbed repeatedly, we might end up with mental ‘constipation’ or ‘diarrhoea’. Or maybe just some unpleasant ‘indigestion’.
Of course there are issues which require extensive support, medication and care, such as conditions and syndromes that are life threatening or chronic. And sure there are healing forms, be them ancient or not, that can be effective.
But a useful approach for many situations in life can be that of enhancing our mental digestive fire (capacity). If you end up eating something that is unsuitable for your health, you might know that the food will stay in the organism for some time, but later it will be eliminated, especially if your organism is in good shape. This ‘kindling of the fire’ is distinguished from a ‘healing’ process because it does not want to heal an upset stomach. It wants to make the digestive system stronger.
A good start is the practice of the Niyama (translated as “observances”, check Yoga Sutras of Patanjali chapter 2 or Buddhist references) Śauca (meaning cleaninliness and read as shaucha), which is the avoidance of the practice of non-Yogic things. If you would like your mind to have digestive power, proper food must be given, and the likes of a right environment, right discipline, right mindfulness, and right devotion to what is truly important and long lasting. The opposite of Śauca would be mind fast food: you know its short lasting, unnecessary, harmful, and fruit of a misconception regarding what is truly important.
Following it is the practice of Santoṣa (meaning contentment and read as santosha). To be equipoise and equanimous in different circumstances, and to accept reality as it is. Using our scheme so far, would be something like being fine with not having your preference of foods always, and to develop a feeling of humility to know that to be able to eat is already something worth praising.
All lifestyle recommendations fall prey to the hardness of translating them into practice. Therefore, an overall system that incorporates exercise (asana), breathing practices (pranayama), relaxation, mind cultivation (pratyahara and meditation), proper environments and relationships (yamas and niyamas), is the ideal for change to happen. Tough times may not need healing, but actually the development of resilience. And resilience can come much more from transforming your life into a Yoga and Ayurveda Retreat, not only having a vacation in one.