Friday, March 4, 2011

"To Tea or Not To Tea": The Meditation of Medicine

As I sit here typing, a mug of steaming Ayurvedic herb tea sits to the left of the keyboard.  Prescribed to me by my Ayurvedic doctor, these herbs are meant to boost my immune system and reduce the amount of inflammation my body seems to be producing.  They are to be taken as a sort of "tea" mixed with hot water three times a day.  Doesn't seem too egregious, right?  So why am I so resistant to drinking the tea? The obvious issue is that the herbs taste bad.  Well, not so much bad, as bitter, as if I were sipping bile.  I've actually gotten used to the taste so I can't claim this as the cause of my resistance.  The tea works.  It makes me feel better, keeps the chronic hives and swelling that I've been experiencing since late summer at bay, and is even helping with a skin condition I've had since birth.  So why does the tea sit cooling next to my keyboard, untouched as yet?  The answer is probably too complex to be articulated or perhaps too simple to define.  The point, I suppose, is that I am acutely aware of this resistance/aversion.  The goal is not to know the answer but to "live the question", as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke says.

And so I climb on to my yoga mat and close my eyes.  I take a deep breath and then another and another, absorbing it like a sponge, and begin to move in connection with its rhythm.  Each breath, each posture and stretch draw me into a deeper, quieter place from which to look out upon the world from. I lose myself in the sound and feel and sensation of my breathing. I allow my ego self to get washed clean by its tides and when I am done the questions, the need for answers, the attachments and aversions have started to dissolve and I find myself quite still.  I allow myself to sit in the stillness following my practice and  as I settle myself onto my zafu (meditation cushion) I allow myself to become unselfconsciously present - like the air.

Meditation shines a bright light on our questions, likes and dislikes.   The practice of yoga holds a mirror up to them and invites us to open our eyes to look upon ourselves with clarity.  As we practice sitting with and moving with these self-observations, we begin to gradually increase our sense of self-understanding.  We become intimately acquainted with our strong likes and dislikes.  Then, slowly (or sometimes with a resounding BOOM!) we become aware of the origins of those tendencies.  With time, practice and patience, we are able to halt the behaviors that turn the volume up on such obstacles, and we free ourselves - opening ourselves to new ways of seeing and being in the world.  We start to align ourselves with something deeper and more profound.  We are able to look both inward and outward with greater care and clarity.

When I finally find myself rising out of the depths of this meditation, I slowly open my eyes and sit  silently for a moment before mindfully making my way over to where the now cold tea sits.  I take the earthenware cup in my hands and slowly drink down every bitter drop.

"...Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers. which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke
From: Letters to a Young Poet