Ayurveda Celebration - Essay #3

Posted to Subscribers on 29 November 2009


Dear Subscribers,

As promised, this email will cover the subject of memory and though memory is well understood by Ayurvedic scholars, it is not a subject belonging exclusively to the philosophy of any one culture or tradition. If the truth be known, I have learned as much about memory from Marsilio Ficino as from Patanjali and also as much from various types of psychospiritual therapies and mystical experiences as from books. In short, this is a big subject and of potential interest to everyone.

One of the most fascinating developments in my lifetime is the computer because to some extent, it is an objectification of "mind" and, outside of the various arts, truly one of the best examples of mankind's ability to create in the image of the Creator as we have . Moreover, to the extent that we are trying to convince ourselves that there is such a thing as software that is more intuitive, we are truly on the verge of discovering the secret to our own existence. Lest I lapse into poetry, let me try to defend these almost wild introductory statements.

Two Types of Memory

There are basically two kinds of memory: short-term and long-term. Their analogies with the computer are that short-term memory works like RAM and long-term memory functions more like your storage devices: hard drive, external devices, portable devices, whatever you can use to immortalize your existence. All memory begins with a catalyst or stimulus that initiates a process of experiencing so perceptivity is integral to memory. It might be both inherent and something that can be developed by cultivating certain forms of alertness, but before a memory can be made more permanent, it has to be categorized and filed. It does this through a completely idiosyncratic system of associations so no one's system is exactly like anyone else's because no one's experiences are identical to another's. Obviously, there are similarities and parallels, but we read different books, watch different films, carry on different discussions with family members, friends, and professional associates, and we eventually become more sensitive to certain impressions than to others. My belief is that the propensity to awaken along any given line of inquiry is innate, not acquired, but the contents of memory are acquired and this involves (1) perceptivity, (2) processing of reactions to experience, and (3) storage of the memory. Eventually, the memory vault resembles a complex system of associations into which new experiences can be integrated by activating associations with existing memory. In short, we learn not only through exposure to information and ideas — and new experiences — but also through the catalytic effect stimuli have on what we already have stored. This, in turn, more or less inclines us to develop expertise consistent with our aptitude and interests, but it is hugely important to realize that this occurs mainly because of the ability to integrate something new into an existing system of associations, sorry to repeat, but this is the critical part of the thesis.

When you write to me about your reactions to my posts, I see very clearly how one person fixed his or her attention on one subject or statement whereas another seems to have jumped right over that part of the email and attached energetically to the part where there was more resonance. By jumping around from this to that, more people find the associations that help them to connect, but, of course, this makes for a strange writing style in our linear world of words and time-sensitive material.

Memory is not actually linear at all and it exists completely outside of time and this is probably a topic that could consume my attention until the sand runs out of my hourglass. Before however going into this more deeply, let me summarize what I have stated thus far.


Perceptivity is not really a part of memory but it is a precursor to assimilating from "out there". Energetically, perceptivity relies predominantly on an extended auric structure so that the stimuli impinge on receptors that are capable of transferring the impulse to a more cognizant part of our beings. If the lines are long but weak, stimuli cause jangling sensations, nervousness, and enervation. In energetic medicine, this is attributed to the air or wind element but in Ayurveda, it is considered to be a vata derangement. Most people in the modern world are overstimulated, bombarded day in and day out by irrelevant, extraneous, and irritating stimuli. These stimuli can function outside our range of conscious perception because we do not have developed sensory organs for activity in all harmonics. For instance, our eyes function in only one octave of awareness and our ears usually register sounds in a slightly wider but different range. Though many might find the idea strange, all movement has not just an oscillatory rate but characteristics — so light also has sound but the ears do not hear in that frequency range. This is somewhat easier to understand if you realize that dogs hear high pitched whistles that we do not hear. The fact that we do not hear what the dogs hear does not suggest either that there is no sound or that there is no impact on our auras. There is merely no conscious response via a developed sensory organ. Obviously, the same arguments hold forth for all the senses but the easiest one to grasp is the sense of smell where, again, many animals have far superior olfactory perceptions than humans. So, while we may be hugely alert to certain stimuli, we are literally deaf and dumb to an immense range of stimuli that are not registered. This includes countless types of radiation, broadcasting wave lengths, and so on and so forth. In reality, even though the senses are rather limited, our perceptivity is larger than what is consciously registered . Therefore, it is quite possible to "know" something with which we have not interacted in a conscious way, and factors such as this explain why we can also be irrational or allergic to things we cannot explain. The point, however, is that limitations allow us to acquire new experience and information about our world at a rate commensurate with our ability to process what we do perceive.

If the rate exceeded our ability to process, it would be comparable to running out of RAM, but the idea that our permanent memory might exceed the storage capacity of our "minds" is incomprehensible. In fact, this part of our human mechanism seems to be "virtually" limitless.


Somewhat separate from sensory perception, there is learning, but it still relies on cognition and integration. In short, if a subject is totally new to us, like a foreign language or, to use a hot and damaged topic, climate, we do not assimilate very much on the first exposure. You might argue that if the language is very strange to our ears, we hardly make out any words and we surely do not learn to speak the language the first time we hear it. Similarly, until we acquire the requisite education, the arguments for or against global warming or cooling spin right over us and we latch onto the bottom line which may be idiotically simplistic and indefensible. However, as I suggested, ultimately we are specialists so our proclivity to assimilate more in our own particular area of future expertise is dramatic . . . and we should, of course, pay attention to these inclinations when children are small so that we can help everyone to unfold the inborn potential.

The Energetics

Perceptivity or cognition relies, as noted, on the lines of the aura which, for those who are interested, is the etheric element, the fifth if we start from the four "manifest" elements of earth, water, fire, and air, but actually, manifestation occurs in the reverse direction. I.e., we precipitate from the Creator and build a scaffolding of etheric substance which becomes the mold for the physical. Without the etheric, impulses do not register. In Ayurveda, the vata dosha is considered to be a mixture of ether and air. It is the most sensitive and motile so anything that overstimulates causes disorganization whereas anything which is rhythmic and properly calibrated allows for assimilation. The fatigue factor is not unique to the mind or muscles, it is found in metal and very dense objects as well as very subtle ones because all that is manifest exists within the etheric matrix.

Analogies are sometimes very helpful and sometimes too simple, but you could think of the etheric web like electrical wires that require insulation. If there is damage to the insulation, there are sparks and other energy leaks, not to mention risks. What I tell my students is that the art of being incarnate requires us to cultivate a mechanism that is sensitive enough to register divine impression and resilient enough to withstand the challenges of the physical world. This spectrum is more or less the span between dryness and moisture, one of the most fascinating of all the dualisms in our world of experience. Moreover, interestingly enough, this polarity operates through the reproductive and throat chakras, second and fifth, which explains some of the reciprocity and movement that occurs between these two hugely important vortices. You might say that these are the centers of physical and intellectual creativity, but these words are too limiting since, as mentioned in the earlier essays, procreation and longevity are only two aspects of the sacral center. Likewise, intellectual creativity does not work only through the mind because it takes in information through both analysis and what is filtered down from the third eye since the third eye cannot actually act on its knowing. In sum, there are complex interrelationships upon which we all rely for our ability to interpret and express.

The Moisture Continuum

Textbooks are full of the fire-water polarity, but air-water is even more interesting. Over and above the issue of alertness and sensory perception, there is assimilation and integration. Moreover, aside from the relationship to cognition and memory, there are countless physiological and psychological processes that correlate to the same duality of dryness and moisture. So, stimulation and relaxation are but two ends of the spectrum that also includes degeneration and regeneration, aging and renewal.

The common denominator is the load on the circuitry: too much stimulation overloads the conduits and leads to nervous stress and strain whereas too much relaxation results in disconnection from the conscious world and reconnection with the dream state. You might say the spectrum spans everything from kinetic distress to coma. Positioning oneself a safe distance from either extreme is the key to well-being and steadiness. In my estimation, this begins with exercising discrimination over the sources of stimulation permitted because a point is easily reached in which assimilation is incapacitated by overload. We have all had this experience in lectures but it could happen any time and any place. For instance, we could thoroughly enjoy one scene of Nature or one painting in a museum or one picture sent as an email attachment. However, when we see hundreds of images at once, we begin filtering and many that we actually saw — because we have perceptivity — are not remembered because we went into overload.. In short we ran out of RAM and could not process any more impressions.

Like computers, many creatures are probably capable of upgrades but to the extent that there is always more than we can assimilate, this game has limitations.

Story Time

Let me break the intensity of this discussion with a brief account of an incident that occurred days before graduation from college. At the end of the semester, there are, of course exams. I was living in a dormitory that locked its doors at 10:00 pm so I went home to stay with my mother in order to stay in the library until it closed. The president of the dorm called a meeting on short notice but I didn't get the notice since I was not in the dorm. She claimed the meeting was mandatory and that some important rule governing attendance had been broken. Along with another student who had come home with me, we were both scolded royally and then evicted. It was quite dramatic and whatever extra time we thought we had set aside for studying was wasted in tedious confrontations and a move to the YWCA, which was a significant upgrade over the dormitory. At some point in this circus, someone slipped me an amphetamine and, of course, I was not only wide awake but totally dehydrated. I remember taking books into the shower because I craved water so much. Years later, I met David Helfgott in Australia and totally appreciated his practically uncontrollable need for water.

Exams were a breeze, literally! I finished one hour exams in less than 20 minutes and got straight A's but, of course, there was a crash afterwards. I remember running from the university to the "Y", practically diving into the shower, and then trembling while the final effects wore off. The point here, of course, is not the temporary performance enhancement but the energetics. Clearly, the level of vata derangement was completely unsustainable so if someone tried to stay on a fast track for any length of time, he or she would jeopardize both coherence and survival. Moreover, even the short-term use was not justified because I could have gone into a medical crisis and missed the exams. There are even a few other interesting hindsights worth noting.

The person who slipped me the dose was suicidally depressed and had hours earlier asked me to help her commit suicide. We got into a deep discussion in which there was a lot of emotion and tears and pathos: water. The vata derangement not only accelerated reading skills but broke the energetics of despair in which, for the record, there was a feeling of friendship and desire to be comforting. However, in the accelerated mode, there was much more detachment and this, too, has an upside and a downside that we all need to understand.


Keep in mind, I was an Asian Studies major as an undergraduate so I was familiar with words that seemed light years ahead of their time, words like yoga and meditation and enlightenment. I was heavily into Zen in those days so the heightened awareness was interesting, albeit completely irrelevant. This is important. One can as easily take in more trivia, which is mainly what is asked on exams, as true insight. Nothing in the vata deranged state facilitated enlightenment. In fact, I am inclined to believe it would have been impossible because the neurological chaos was too profound. Realistically, we are all already enlightened but since we don't realize this, we act as if this were not the case. Enlightenment involves a shift in attention to a place of greater knowing and to bring the memory back, we have to have exactly the right mix of perceptivity and receptivity: air and water.

Ironically, the normal method is to escape motion and enter the void but to return to consciousness with memory. In short, the barrage of stimuli that is typical of the modern world acts against any genuine knowing whereas the quietude and unconditioned space of the motionless mind is conducive to escaping the dramas of the third dimensional reality.

Late last night, actually, this morning, I was talking to someone who ordered three cases of Mental Clarity, a formula from Banyan Botanicals. She had given some to a boy who had borderline attention deficit disorder, never clinically confirmed but often suspected. This is a complex and heart breaking condition that appears to be epidemic and due entirely to factors beyond the control of the individual. For the first time in his life, he made the National Honor Society.

The concept behind the Ayurvedic formulation is to provide support to the neurological system through mild detoxification and nourishment. In short, this is a perfectly "intelligent" as well as safe method to increase the ability to concentrate and remember. It improves retention by reducing that jangling referred to earlier. Thus, unlike the amphetamine, it is both honorable and wise. For some time, I have been promising to explain the rationale behind various formulations. For instance, if you take Tranquil Mind and compare it to Mental Clarity, you will see a bit of overlap but slightly different emphasis. Tranquil Mind addresses vata derangement a little more directly. In short, it is more relaxing and it achieves part of its objective through the use of carminative herbs since some of the stress on the nervous system is due to toxic gases from indigestion, not just sensory overload.

Again, the concept of a spectrum is truly helpful. On the air-water continuum, how far to one end or the other are you? If very far towards the dry end, deeply moisturizing herbs as well as relaxing herbs are helpful whereas if far the other direction, herbs that are more astringent (drying) and stimulating bring one back to center. If you are thinking food rather than herbs, popcorn is a good example of a dry food, but if you add a good quality oil or ghee to the popcorn, you move the lever more towards moisture. If you also use salt, it will help to make the popcorn more digestible by stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid and it will help retain moisture because salt is hygroscopic. Turmeric will increase the dryness a little but it is slightly carminative so it also aids digestion and makes the oils easier to assimilate because it is a great emulsifier. All this shows is that one can take practically any food item and render it more suitable to the constitution or immediate needs by tweaking the seasoning. Of course, the spices need to be good quality and not irradiated.

Let me go over this one more time because it's important for me that everyone who needs this information can actually understand what I am saying. In the West, we tend to put some kind of premium on the capacity to regurgitate gobblety gook that is spewed at us day in and day out. To process all this rubbish, we rev up the nervous system, overstress it, and then bombard people with banalities that are presented as facts and information upon which our lives depend. This is actually a form of black magic, just more modern than incantations over boiling toads. It is unhealthy, not useful, and it does nothing whatsoever to improve the ability of people to think much less to understand. In reality, people are tangled up in an endless web with the intellectual sophistication and moral vacuity of trivia. Both spirituality and creativity tend to be obfuscated by this sick game in which parrots or puppets are paraded as pundits when they are only mouth pieces for those pulling the strings.

In the East, wisdom is revered over knowledge and it is invariably found within after relaxing the mind and senses so that perceptivity is directed towards that which is hidden from normal consciousness. This is a place of limitless knowing and understanding.

The Formulations

This series on Ayurveda is so important to me that I have "overinvested" in what I want to communicate so part of the essay on memory will have to be continued in the fourth essay. In the meantime, let me go over once more the concept behind the issue of moisture. If you go to the page in the Ayurvedic Bazaar with formulas for the mind, you see what looks like irrelevant references to reproductive issues. This is because of the continuum. Tulsi, or holy basil, is regarded as moderately tranquilizing, not anesthetizing but relaxing. It is one of the best herbs for vata deranged people, but ironically, it is also antiestrogenic so what is miraculous is that it pushes both extremes towards the middle. Herbs really are this smart. People are not and modern science is not but herbs are truly amazing.

Now, let's say one is at the end of the spectrum where one cannot sleep, the question then is "I Sleep Soundly" or "Tranquil Mind" and the issue is how to turn off the stimulation enough to reach the opposite end of the spectrum which is relaxation and sleep. There are even two other minds here, the conscious and the unconscious because pushed far enough towards water and the exploration of the unconscious mind becomes possible. There are always two possibilities with Ayurvedic medicine: one can pacify the deranged dosha or tonify the weak one. As a general rule, better long-term results are obtained by tonifying the weak organ which is why Banyan lapses into using the "mental" formulas with the male and female tonification formulas. It's actually quite fascinating, isn't it? Otherwise, the mention of using this in conjunction with that sounds irrelevant, but it is not if you understand the spectrum and realize that pacifying vata gives symptomatic relief and takes some pressure off the further depleting of reserves but restoring the reserves offers deeper and sounder long-term results.

To be continued.



Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2009


See Essay #1

Ayurvedic Herbs





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Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2010

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