|Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, oil on canvas, 1793 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels)|
|Hills, forest, farmland; no tsunami!|
So much more to us than meets the eye…
This was inspired by the recent debate (over on Elephant Journal, where I’m a regular columnist) on garlic. If you missed that, and would like to ‘catch up’, you can follow the links at the foot of this piece.
To cut a long story short: someone said that garlic is bad for meditation (he went so far as to call it a ‘brain toxin’). A lot of people were pretty upset about it; someone else wrote an article refuting their claims, and extolling the health benefits of garlic; then there was a refutation to the refutation, and so on.
In this article:
When I first saw the original article, …… I thought nothing of it, except that I was mildly pleased to see the subject broached on a popular forum.
I have not eaten garlic or onion for 10 years. However, I’m not obsessive about it; if I’m in a restaurant or at a friends’ home I’ll eat it without a thought.
I stopped eating garlic and onion when I trained as a yoga teacher in India in 2001. I learned many, many fascinating things on that course. For example: the ideal consistency of the feces of a healthy person is that of a ripe banana. Useful huh?! I thought so too…
Well, I learned a lot of useful information on that course. I recall thinking at the time that these things should be taught in schools – why, for example, did I have to wait 27 years, and travel to a distant continent in order to find out what my stools should look like? Why, after an expensive public school education in England, did I know the date of the battle of Hastings (1066) and various other utterly, utterly useless bits of information, but not these simple things that affect my everyday life?
During the month that I spent immersed in that course, from early morning to late at night, I felt as if my real education had just begun…
One of the things that I learnt is that according to the ancient yogic teachings, a human being consists of not just one, but three bodies: a physical body (which we’re all very aware of), an astral body (which sounds to many people like pure hokum, I know, but bear with me!), and a causal body.
Now, the 3 bodies have 5 ‘sheaths’ (if you thought the astral body stuff was hokum, you’ll love this!).
The physical body is composed of the Food Sheath (when you die: food for the worms!);
The astral body contains the Vital Sheath (think: energy); the Mental Sheath (senses, thoughts, doubts, and emotions, also the sub-conscious), and the Intellectual Sheath (analytical process, discrimination, decision making, and ego).
Finally, the causal body is composed of the Blissful Sheath (bliss, joy, calmness and peace).
The point of all this is: we are complex beings, ironically not unlike onions! We consist of many different aspects. Peel back one ‘layer’, and there is another underneath.
Now, the whole garlic-eating debate seemed to hinge on a basic misunderstanding that many people have (because it’s one of those things that they don’t deem important enough to teach us at school).
Our physical body is the densest, most material, gross manifestation of who we are. There is a subtler layer beneath it (or around it, or pervading it) known as the astral body, and an even subtler layer called the causal body.
Our society is focused (like tunnel vision and to the exclusion of all else) on the material. Awareness of the subtle aspects of our being is limited to small groups of people.
That’s my understanding of what Einstein meant when he said:
“The rational mind is a faithful servant. The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. We have created a society that honors he servant, and has forgotten the gift.”
The rational mind is concerned with, and grounded in the material world – our body, and it’s physical environment.
The intuitive mind is more concerned with, and grounded in the higher awareness – energy (prana, chi), emotion, intellect, bliss.
However, the tunnel vision of our society has not always been so. Thousands of years ago in India, the sages who developed Yoga had intimate knowledge of many things that our modern sciences are only now discovering.
For example, on my yoga teacher training 10 years ago there was a lecture by Amit Goswami, a now well-known professor of theoretical physics. (If you’ve seen the movie ‘What the bleep do we know?’ then you’ll have seen him). What he said blew my mind. In a nutshell, he explained that much of the knowledge of quantum physics that has emerged very recently in the scientific community was already known thousands of years ago!
Now, the misunderstanding that I referred to (as the cause for confusion in the ‘garlic-gate’ episode) is quite simply due to the lack of awareness that most people have about the more subtle aspects of themselves! (It’s understandable because we’re not taught about it – we learn about what happened when, and algebra, and oxbow lakes, and ‘stranger danger’, and grammar, and how to dissect frogs… but not about what our stools should look like, or what we actually are)!
Garlic of course has many wonderful health benefits (as the rebuttal to the original articles clearly showed) – including for the brain. However the ancient yogis never said (as far as I am aware) that garlic is bad for you physically; they said that it interferes with the higher, subtler aspects of the consciousness. They were not concerned with the physical health benefits of garlic, because they didn’t need them!
They almost certainly had optimal health (check the link for an very relevant article about what health really is), a highly robust immune system, and extremely strong, healthy bodies. They didn’t sit all day in cars and at desks; they didn’t have to worry about pollution, genetically modified vegetables, or genetically engineered (Franken) fish. They developed the practice of asana and pranayama and lived in harmony with their environment.
So, I’m confident in my assertion that they were healthy.
I’ve been practicing yoga (in all it’s aspects) for many years, and I find that I also don’t need garlic to stay healthy. If ever I need antibiotics, sure, I’ll get them from natural sources where possible: and garlic is one of those sources.
Yoga is personal development: in fact, one of the oldest methods of personal development; one that has stood the test of time; and upon which many modern systems are built – Pilates, auto suggestive relaxation techniques, various techniques for concentation and meditation, and so on…
Personal development means development of the person. And Yoga, as we’ve seen, takes the view that our person is much, much more than a body. So it means developing the physical, energetic, and causal bodies, so that we become truly coherent and integrated as a whole person.
When the physical body is healthy and you want to focus on developing your higher faculties through regular meditation; when you want to experience the world around you not only through your physical body but also through the astral and causal bodies; perhaps even, ultimately, to experience true, lasting bliss; then, it may be that garlic interferes with that purpose.
Certainly that’s what the ancient yogis thought, and who am I to disagree with the only teachers I ever had that taught me what my poo should look like?
Another very useful thing that they taught me, which I hope will demonstrate to you very clearly why I hold what they say in such high regard, is a cure for jet lag…
Anyone who has ever been seriously jet lagged knows how valuable this is: I’ve only been jet lagged once, but it was so bad I wished the earth would swallow me up.
I couldn’t sleep for a week, and was hallucinating from tiredness. In the end I got very sick. It happened when I flew to India…
Jet lag is your body clock out of whack. The ancient yogis knew what regulated the body clock. This is amazing, because our scientists don’t even know for sure (or if they do, they only just *very* recently figured it out) what regulates the body clock.
It’s the pineal / pituitary gland in the middle of our brains.
So the cure for jet lag is: headstand. It was known by the ancient yogis as the ‘King of the Asanas’ because it has such powerful restorative uses: in fact, it is written that one who practices headstand for 3 hours conquers death! I can’t testify to that – the most I’ve ever done is 10 minutes!
However, I can tell you that when I went to India I was jetlagged so badly I almost wanted to die… and when I left India, I stood on my head before the flight for 3 minutes, and after the flight for 3 minutes, and slept like a baby when I got home – no jet lag whatsoever.
Those ancient yogis sure knew a lot of useful stuff.
Were they right about garlic interfering with higher awareness? I’ve found it to be true, yes.
It’s good to first take care of your body and health, because that’ll give you a firm foundation on which to build your personal development. When you’ve done that, you may wish to take care of the other aspects of your self.
Meditate deeply, go beyond body consciousness, and experiment with your diet. You may find that garlic and onion suddenly seem less important.
I want to talk about ego, and whether or not it is real. This will be a series of articles. First, we’ll discuss ‘What Is Ego?’
In the next article we’ll talk about the implications – namely, that much of the spiritual ‘work’ that many people do and have done (including myself) for many years, is almost a waste of time.
It’s a complex subject, so I will try to keep it as simple as I possibly can. I also want to keep it interesting, so that you stay with me to the end!
The reason I want to write about this now is that I see so many people struggling with what they think is ego – so many people get caught up in the idea that we have an ego, and that we have to ‘conquer’ it, and that it’s difficult. This is simply giving power to the thing which they think are fighting with!
My belief is that the ego is nothing. It doesn’t exist. It’s not real. It’s just a mistaken belief that we get caught up in, and because we get caught up in it, we fight it, and the more we fight it, the more real it seems… like being caught in a net – the more you struggle, the more you get caught up…
I was prompted to write this by a discussion on Simon Rose’s blog. ( Simon is the creator of Reference Point Therapy – the alternative healing method )
First I want to define ego. What exactly IS ego?
Ego is that which we identify with – what we think of as ‘I’.
So when I say:
“I am Ben”, or “I am an Englishman”, or “I am a man”, it’s my ego speaking.
Let me explain…
Of course my name is Ben. It’s what people call me, it’s what I call myself. But AM I BEN? Is that really what I am? Or am I much more than the label?
Of course my body was born in England – my Mother gave birth to me there. But am I right in labelling myself as English? Of course legally, my passport, my background etc… all makes me English to an extent. But surely my true nationality, if I look at the ‘BIG PICTURE’, is not so easy to define.
For example, I have lived in many countries. At the moment, I live in Slovenia. Why should I not say I am Slovene.
Or why should I not simply say, “I am an Earthling”…
Because by stating that I am English, I cut myself off, I make myself different from all people who are not English. And this has been a big problem in the past – this issue of nationality has caused wars!
And if I say “I am a man” – even this statement is not wholly accurate. Biologically, I am of course a man. But biology is only one aspect of me. Body is nothing without emotions, thoughts, instincts, deeper feelings, intuition, reasoning, senses… and so on. Every man has feminine aspects – and every woman has a masculine side to her. So it would be more accurate to state:
“I have a male body”, or better still – “in this lifetime, I have a male body”.
So the ego is what we think we are when we stop simply being. When we allow our attention to be distracted from our full being, we start thinking, and then the ego arises.
In reality, there is no ego. The ego is just what we THINK we are. What we THINK we are is not real – not really what we ARE. Because when we think, we stop being fully present – and reality; being; is only in the present.
Let me clarify this:
Thinking happens in the neocortex – the part of our brain that analyses. The part of the brain that compares. So when I think of myself as male, I am by implication also thinking of myself as ‘not woman’. That is what the neocortex does: it compares and analyses. It views the world in terms of opposites. It cannot do anything else. That is it’s nature, what it does.
Animals and small children (look at the picture!) don’t have much ego – why? Because their neocortex isn’t fully formed yet.
The present moment has no opposite. What is the opposite of NOW?…
Got it? THERE IS NO OPPOSITE OF NOW! Therefore the neocortex, the part of us that compares opposites, cannot grasp the present moment. The best it can come up with is past and future. So the neocortex is constantly analyzing our experience in terms of time.
What we truly are is timeless awareness. Consciousness. PURE BEING.
We experience this BEINGNESS ( a wonderful word I learnt from Simon Rose, who learnt it from Soleira Green ) fully only when we are living in balance. Only when we are completely ‘real’: centered in our body; emotionally present; and not caught up in the analytical processes of the ‘head’, but simply allowing it to do what it does… process information, like a computer.
This is what all the great masters describe: living in the present moment, feeling in balance with the environment, being spontaneously joyful. It’s what is known as an enlightened state.
I believe that enlightenment is the natural state of no-ego. When we are completely at one with ourselves, we lose that sense of ‘I’-ness. We become fully present, and we stop thinking of ourselves as this or that… we just experience, and that experience is what we are. That experience is what we really, truly are. Not what we think we are, but what we truly are. So we are all already enlightened – we just lose sight of it sometimes, because we think about what we are, and identify with that – ego!!
The great spiritual teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (whose incredible talks in the book ‘I Am That’), said:
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing.
Love is knowing I am everything.
In between the two my life moves.”
Wisdom is knowing I am nothing.
Love is knowing I am everything.
Ego is thinking I am something.
When we let go of the idea of what we are (which is really based on our past experiences – ie – what we were), we are free to really BE. We are also free to become more than that past idea.
That ‘beingness’; that state of awareness at the heart of our existence, is REAL.
The ego is not: the ego is just an illusion.
Part 2: http://benralston.blogspot.com/2010/06/ego-2-dont-fight-it.html