The Problem with Self-Interest

BabajiIf we pay attention, we can see how much of our life is guided by self-interest. It’s not that we don’t care about others, but we look out for ourselves first. We can see it when we notice how quick we are to defend ourselves when someone criticizes us or doesn’t give us the recognition we were hoping for. We might at times notice how obsessed we are with our own thoughts and plans to the exclusion of anything else, or when we find ourselves replaying a scenario in our minds over and over again.

Self-interest narrows our view of life. When we’re focused only on our desires, we can no longer see the bigger picture. Self-interest creates a veil of illusion in which we can’t see the truth, and our heart closes.

All of our plans, all of our fantasies, all of our desires revolve around ourselves. Of course we care about other people and include them in our dreams. However, when some challenge – a disagreement perhaps – arises, what’s our usual response? Somebody is right (usually us) and the other person is wrong. Seeing only our own opinions creates problems with other in our lives. It also creates problems for ourselves.

“Everything is for me.” In everything the mind finds self-interest. In a way our whole life is controlled and guided by this self-interest. So in every step of life our self-interest (ego) is challenged by others’ self-interest, and it creates anger, fear, or disharmony.

In those moments when life does not seem to be flowing smoothly for us, what happens inside us? Our external response to stress, how we express stress outwardly, may vary, but what’s going on inside us? Our bodies register stress and let us know one way or another things are not okay. On a deeper level, there’s a sense of separateness, disconnection from the flow of life.

We generally tie the situation to something that happened in the past in order to justify our version of reality. All our fears and judgements come from the past, which then creates speculation about the future. We’re no longer in the present moment, and we’re caught in our own self-created illusory reality that covers our innate purity and goodness. We long for peace, but fight to keep our separateness.

When we focus on our spiritual practices, especially meditation, we have an opportunity to stop speeding through life. After a while we may notice how out of control our minds are, and with continued practice we may begin to relax into a quiet space in which tensions fall away by themselves. We begin to become aware of spaciousness, of life beyond just our own little life.

All our practices support us in seeing through our own illusions. Ram Dass says, “After meditating for some years, I began to see the patterns of my own behaviours. As you quiet your mind, you begin to see the nature of your own resistance more clearly – struggles, inner dialogues, the way in which you procrastinate and develop positive resistance against life. As you cultivate the witness, things change. You don’t have to change them. Things just change.”

There is a kind of self-interest in spiritual practices because there is a goal of finding peace, but that self-interest is for the purpose of waking up.

Desires and thoughts of attaining liberation originate in the ego self, but those desires and thoughts are liberating and not binding.

When you cut an iron bar, you use a saw made of the same iron. There is self-interest in seeking liberation. It is like the saw that cuts the chain of worldly self-interest. When the mind knows the unreality of all created things, the reality starts appearing.

We all have the potential to shift our attention from the focus on our little selves to the peace that is our natural state. Our job is to be still and let our minds become quiet.

All your prayers will be heard, your meditation will bring peace, and your devotion to God will fill your heart with divine love. A seeker of Truth who is liberated from the conceptualized world automatically finds the real world in the Supreme Self, Universal Consciousness, Peace, or God.

contributed by Sharada
all quotes in italics are from various writings by Babaji


Sharada-headshot

Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.

Ayurveda, Yoga & You – Superfoods for your Body Type

Superfoods-DanZen-flickr-ccMaking healthy food choices often seems like a daunting task. So many things to choose from, and so many filled with sugar and fat! And, everyone seems to have a different philosophy of what and how to eat, so that our individual food choices seem to require a doctorate in food science! And then, we have to consider our dosha predominance, the season, the climate, our level of activity, our age! No wonder so many of us just give up and eat whatever’s put in front of us!

These days, the concept of superfoods is gaining popularity! So what makes a food a superfood? I’ve heard them described as “protein rich,” “powerful antioxidants,” with “densely packed nutrients.” A simply way to understand it is that superfoods give you more ‘bang for the buck,’ with no empty calories or quick-burning carbs.

Including some of these in your regular meals will provide a boost to the immune system, promote balanced digestion, increase energy levels, as well as build ojas and endurance. Here is a list of some of the superfoods to support your body type:

Vata: avocados, olive oil, nuts/seeds (flax, chia, hemp), quinoa, sweet potatoes, ghee.
Pitta: beets, kale, apples, seaweeds, kiwifruit, edamame, coconut oil.
Kapha: grapefruit, lemons, honey, pumpkin seeds, garlic.

And then there is the seasonal consideration! Following are some of the superfoods that are especially important to make a part of your wintertime meals.

Superfoods for Vata in Winter

Olive Oil
Vitally important for vata is a good source of oil, since vata tends to cold and dryness. Organic extra virgin olive oil is nutritious, hosting beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins E and K. Being anti-inflammatory, olive oil helps support the entire circulatory and nervous system; contemporary research suggests that olive oil works to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Olive oil is one of the most volatile oils and is best used fresh, rather as a cooking oil. Instead, olive oil can be added to a dish as a final ingredient, or at the table.

Avocados
Avocados are a great source of digestible protein and balanced fats. Avocados provide healthy fats for optimal metabolism and brain function. Avocadoes nourish the skin by helping to maintain and rebuild collagen, and are also great for satisfying PMS-related cravings. Research suggests that eating one avocado a week can balance hormones, shed unwanted weight, and prevent cervical cancers.

Chia Seeds
Cultivated by the Aztec and Mayans in ancient times, chia is said to have been as important as maize as a food crop. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are also an excellent source of fiber and contain protein and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Emerging research suggests that including chia seeds may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. (See Chia Seed Pudding below.)

Superfoods for Pitta during Winter

Coconut Oil
Keeping our cool is especially important for pitta dosha. The therapeutic effects of cooling coconut oil are becoming well known these days. The lauric acid can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, helping to stave off infections. Research studies show that coconut oil helps lower high cholesterol, which may translate to a reduced risk of heart disease. Studies also indicate that the fatty acids in coconut oil can help supply energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients, thus relieving symptoms of brain disorders. The fatty acids can also reduce appetite and increase fat burning, which can help reduce body weight over the long term. Coconut oil appears to be especially effective in reducing abdominal fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.

Beets
Beets are one of the best sources of performance-enhancing nutrients. Beets as a regular part of our diet helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Beets are very rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron and powerful antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA). All of these support healthy liver function and bile flow.
Despite the high sugar content, beets have actually been shown to help support healthy blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.

Kale (and other dark leafy greens)
Kale is a mainstay for many of us! This alkaline and slightly bitter green leafy vegetable is nutrient dense and a versatile food in the kitchen; it lends itself well to salads, soups, smoothies, green juice, stir-fries, or steamed vegetable entries. Kale is 45 percent protein based on the total calorie content, and contains folate, which supports healthy cell growth and nourishes hair, skin, and nails.
When using greens like kale, you will want to break down the plant fibers by massaging the greens with lemon, olive oil, and salt to make them more digestible. And always insist on organic kale!

Superfoods for Kapha in Winter

Garlic
Affectionately called “the stinking rose,” garlic is an amazing nutritional powerhouse that is rich in antioxidants and sulfur-compounds to support the immune system. According to Ayurveda, it is stimulating and can be too strong for everyday use. But garlic can be your first line of defense during cold-weather flu seasons and has many wonderful medicinal properties. A great source of manganese, selenium, vitamins B6 and C, in its raw state, garlic is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, supporting the respiratory and circulatory systems by helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also a very thermogenic herb, cultivating our internal heat and metabolism.

Grapefruit
Grapefruits are rich in vitamin C, which boosts immunity and promotes healthy circulation, which is so important for kaphas to help avoid stagnation and lethargy. Pink grapefruits are high in an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been shown to support prostate health. The pith or white part of the skin is high in constituents like diosmin, which has been shown to support vascular function and microcirculation, helping build strong veins.

Raw Organic Honey
Raw organic honey has a myriad of health benefits. In addition to being a mineral rich substitute for sugar and sweeteners, honey is also anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal and can either be consumed or used topically. It contains trace amounts of protein, vitamin c, calcium and iron, and fuels us with simple sugars and starches the body can recognize. A potent source of antioxidants and enzymes, raw honey actually boosts immunity and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. Honey is warming which counteracts the cool nature of kapha, but must be used in moderation so as not to increase kapha’s earthy nature.

Bringing these powerful superfoods into your diet, especially in conjunction with Ayurveda’s wisdom of eating to pacify your predominant dosha, will help stabilize your every-day vitality through the winter, and will also help build immunity for the future, when we’ll want to be planting our spring garden, and frolicking in the summer sunshine! And do try the Chia Seed Pudding recipe below – a delicious way to start the day!


 

CHIA SEED PUDDING

Ingredients
1 cup chia seeds
2 cups pure water
2 T maple syrup
Cinnamon to taste (optional)
Clove to taste (optional)
Nutmeg to taste (optional)
¼ chopped apple
¼ cup blueberries

Directions
Put the chia seeds in a bowl and soak. It takes about 10 minutes for the chia to absorb all the water, but leaving the water and chia to soak overnight is okay. Soaked chia alone is good for up to 2 weeks. When the chia is gelatinous, add the chopped fruit and any desired flavorings (sweetener, spices, fruit, etc.). Mix well and serve!
Note: In general, soak chia seeds in 9 to 12 times their volume of water. You can also make chia as a savory, salty, or spicy type of porridge. But the best taste is sweet. You can also try it with cinnamon extract, chai spices, or cacao nibs.


Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo of grapefruit by Dan Zen via Flickr Creative Commons license

Kenzie’s Book Review: How We Live Our Yoga

How We Live our Yoga

Teachers and Practitioners on How Yoga Enriches,
Surprises, and Heals Us
Personal Stories edited by Valerie Jeremijenko

HowWeLiveOurYoga-bookcover

Upon finishing this book and contemplating this review, foremost in my mind was the need to convince everyone to read it. The collection of personal stories, ‘How We Live Our Yoga’, feels like a very important book to me, though, for quite some time, I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. What I am starting to grasp is that this book is a piece of radical activism that offers a new narrative of what it means to be human in a world that desperately needs new stories that show our potential for living truth fully.

The authors collected in this book, teachers and practitioners of yoga, humbly offer a look back at their lives with the discernment gained through their yoga practice. They explore the themes of celibacy, parenthood, the guru/devotee relationship, cultural appropriation, aging parents, traumatic injury and illness, the relationship between yoga and art, and so much more. They share traditional yoga philosophy along the way but are fully grounded in the context of their lives. They offer myriad answers to the question “what happens to a practice based on stillness and acceptance in a world based on striving, distraction and insatiable appetite” with such profound honesty that their words at times felt like Holy Scripture for the present day.

I suspect there is a little something for everyone in this book, and I personally found that every story resonated with me in some way. I’ll share with you a few that truly struck a chord.

Adrian M.S. Piper’s ‘The Meaning of Brahmacharya’ shared the author’s own practice of celibacy over twenty years and the West’s conflicting and hostile views of this interpretation of Brahmacharya. She places the practice in the context of the ancient Vedic Brahmanas that outline different life stages that put sexual activity in an appropriate framework. She also gives us a possibility to ponder: perhaps celibacy comes about as a result of spiritual growth rather than a precondition for it; perhaps the point of relationship between two people is spiritual rather than sexual.

Judith Lasater’s ‘Swami Mommy’ treads on very familiar terrain for many of us who took our yoga with us into parenthood. After years of formal yoga practice she struggles with how to maintain her practice post baby and realizes that it’s her attitude which has to change. Before parenthood, she could keep her yoga on the mat in a predictable form, but as a parent, she truly has to live her yoga moment by moment and accept that her formal practice would look very different. She explains the concept of an upa guru (upa meaning near) which is whoever is near that is teaching you in that moment. Her children become this guru for her and she also finds parallels between how her asana practice informs her parenting and vice versa.

The guru/devotee relationship comes up in many of these stories with various levels of doubt, questioning and conclusion. Elizabeth Kadetsky tells her story of studying with the Iyengar family in India and returning home with more questions than answers (a good sign in my mind), while in ‘The Guru Question” Jeff Martens is plagued by the story of the farmer who digs many holes but never finds water, until he transforms the story into a narrative that helps him truly arrive at a place of deep knowing. In ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ Vyaas Houston studies and travels with his guru and struggles within the relationship – conflicted when he seeks his teacher’s path, critical of his imperfections and power when he deifies him, yet aware that his teacher sees in him possibilities he himself had not perceived.

I could go on! ‘An Insomniac Awakes’ and ‘Journey in Yama-yama Land’ explore the effects of our disconnection with our bodies. In the former, Lois Nesbitt shows us firsthand the suffering caused by living too much in the mind and the place yoga has in teaching us that we are not our thoughts and that the mind cannot offer the truth of reality as it is un’know’able. In the latter, Robert Perkins shares his descent into and ascent out of suicidal depression through the loss of his wife and the gaining of a yoga practice, realizing along the way ‘…that I breathe, that tension and anxiety have their roots in my mind and their blossom in the body..”

The story that seemed to touch me deepest was one of the first I read. ‘Brick by Brick’ is the story of Samantha Dunn’s traumatic physical injury and the healing journey that followed. In a riding accident her horse’s hoof nearly shears off her entire lower leg and what enters her mind at that moment is the words of a friend; “God touches us with a feather to get our attention. Then if we don’t listen he starts throwing bricks”. As a freelance fitness writer she always approached her body as a problem to be solved from a place of deficit and expressed this belief through her writing and her lifestyle. When a writing assignment landed her on Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa’s doorstep post injury she ‘felt like a wanderer who had just found shelter and, now safe, could admit how terrified she’d been of the storm’. When her healing stalls and she immerses herself in a healing meditation practice, it is pointed out to her that her horse, whom she had saved from slaughter, was actually the one who saved her.

I loved reading this book. I was reminded again and again that each person’s path is unique because yoga meets us all where we are at. Though we must all live our own yoga we are not alone on our journey from darkness to light. Whether it is a physical guru, inner guru, or upa guru, our teacher is always present.

Sometimes we tire of our own story, but maybe we can look at it anew as the path that brought us here – forgiving ourselves for not knowing better until we did, striving to live our truth as our truth is slowly revealed, accepting that we can be painfully slow learners at times. Maybe through the divine alchemy that yoga offers our spirit to reveal our soul we can better release our past and truly greet the future without fear, standing firmly in the light.

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.