Nourishment, Sincerity, and Missed Opportunities

A plate of food at a potluck
July 13, 2022

Shambhavi talks about gross and subtle digestion, sincerity in our actions, and the poignancy of missed opportunities. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I was wondering if you could just talk about, like, what nourishment is?

So on a sort of ground level, water element is about the nourishment of connection and fire element is more about the nourishment that comes from transformation. Transforming something that's not you into something that's you.

Like taking a teaching and making it your own. Embodying it. Those are slightly different things, but they're both nourishing. But water element and its relationship to svadhisthana chakra is the more ordinary version of anahata chakra, the heart chakra.

The fullest expression of this is like wonderful everyday relationships. Wonderful feeling about sexuality and ability to express yourself. Feeling very comfortable socially. Feeling nourished by your friendships and just by nature.

And if you could imagine this kind of exalted way of being in the world, but still in a kind of ordinary way. That would be the fullest flower of water element and that part of our energy body.

And then when we're living more from anahata chakra, we are experiencing more universalized versions of those same things. So in the beginning, we might start feeling just a bigger circle of concern for others, people we don't know.

If you can be moved by something that's happening to somebody else, somewhere else, who you don't know, that is at least a little bit of the opening of heart, right? And then eventually, in some lifetime or another, if you keep practicing, you're going to experience universal love.

Now, there's a direct connection between digestion and fire element and this movement from more ordinary love or more ordinary connection to this more universalized experience. And that is ojas.

So we digest our food in an ordinary way and then we have energy. And we have better immunity and we feel just generally more sturdy, right, than if we have malabsorption in an ordinary way.

But if we are really digesting fully, the end product of the digestion of our food and all connections and relationships and teachings, the end product of that digestion is ojas. Which is the essence of love, basically.

And if we are doing spiritual practice or there's some other thing that has entered our life, I hate to make the claim that doing spiritual practice is the only way to experience these things because of course this reality has total freedom. So there's other ways, I just don't know about them.

So not to make a claim that you must be doing this to experience this, but there's sort of the ordinary exalted endpoint—we say in sanskrit, uttama, uttama. But the uttama, uttama of the ordinary level would be that you feel the sense of care and wanting wellbeing for everybody.

But you might still have divisions. You care more about your spouse and your kids and your family and your friends. And maybe you care more about people in one place than another. Or you still blame people for stuff. Or, you know, there's going to be some non-universalized stuff mixed in there.

But if ojas, then under the force of spiritual practice or some other form of grace becomes para ojas, the supreme ojas. That is a bridge in the heart chakra to totally universalize love and compassion.

So that's like the extra special end result of really exceptional digestion in a non-ordinary sense. Dr. Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute, Vasant Lad, he claims in his textbooks on Ayurveda that para ojas is a real substance and that he has seen it.

And it's also in some texts connected to soma, a kind of intoxicating brew. God-intoxicated is a phrase one could apply to it. But in any case, whether it's metaphorical or whether it's a real substance, it is that bridge between you as an individual experience and absolutely universalized love and compassion. With no divisions or no lines being drawn anywhere.

And that is the endpoint of physical digestion going to this extraordinary place. Ordinary digestion going to an extraordinary place. Because it's not just about food.

It's about being able to digest your sadhana, digest your teachings, digest relations with people, digest circumstances, digest your own karma. To be able to relate to it in a way that's useful. So you can actually move through it in some way.

It's interesting to me how in spiritual realms there can be such competition. I understand in the sort of secular world. Like, say, in the workplace, the request to perform and excel and you want to do your best, set yourself apart. But do that without the ego attachment to it, I guess. There's a complicated task there, it seems.

Well, you might want to start with feeling how exhausting it is to be competing in that way. How utterly exhausting it is to try to be the best at something. Or not just doing your best, but be the best.

How exhausting it is to deal with all your difficult emotions when other people do better or you fuck up. How just exhausting it is to be chasing that all the time.

And just imagine for a moment what it would just feel like in your body and your mind to not be doing that. To just be going along, being yourself, doing what you can and calling it a day.

That is your birthright, that relaxation. Your value is not dependent on what you achieve or what you don't achieve. You have intrinsic value because you are the creation of this alive, aware, magnificent reality. Period.

There's nothing more to say about it. By doing practice, you can come to directly feel that indestructible value that no one can take away from you. And that is completely unaffected by how you live your life.

I want you, though, to stick with thinking about it in terms of relaxation. Keep trying to imagine what it's going to be like, what does it feel like to just let go of all that?

Like, one thing I really appreciate about hearing people sing with such freedom and devotion and knowing how much inhibition I have around it all, still. I feel like I will be relaxing more and more into it.

I don't know why parents don't communicate this stuff to small children. You don't have to achieve to be a perfect manifestation of God.

Well, if you ever should be around children or have children, you can teach them that. Once you fully embody it.

But I want you to notice about the kirtan, the singing, that people are singing with devotion and openness, but they're also—speaking of myself—completely and often screwing up the technique. And I consider it my duty to do that. [laughs]

I'm not a good keyboardist. I grew up playing string instruments and I have never felt comfortable on the keyboard. And I started playing harmonium very very badly a number of years ago.

And now I'm playing slightly less badly. But I do feel it's kind of my duty to show up and play with devotion and play badly, to give other people permission to do the same thing.

When you were talking earlier about ojas and how widens your circle of concern, how to tell when that concern is sincere? What do you think about that? Whether or not that's even important to try and figure out?

Well, I think it's great that you're asking that question that already speaks of some kind of sincerity. In other words, instead of asking here in this context, you didn't just post about it on Facebook and make your questioning about sincerity into a banner of some sort.

So you're asking it sincerely in an environment where you're not going to get any social media points for it. [laughter] So that's good. Yeah. Sometimes it's very hard for people.

And I think about this a lot because especially now. When the kind of personal brand has so taken over our idea of what's authentic and what's not. This kind of self-promotion and self-fashioning and self-branding and faux humility.

And just overwhelming self-reference that goes on in social media. That's completely acceptable. And even lying about oneself, completely acceptable. No one bats an eye.

And so in that environment, it is so hard to sort of pull yourself out of it. And I would say it's great that you're asking this and keep asking it. And also check in with yourself.

For instance, when we really love someone deeply, there's a container for that. We're not going to go blab about it to everyone. We're not going to make a story about it to self-aggrandize. We're not going to tag ourselves with the love that we have for somebody else if it's really deep and sincere.

And I think the same goes for when we feel concerned for other people in any way. Our primary way of doing that is going to be to actually give energy to the people we're concerned with. Not to take energy to use that as a brand of ourselves, that we care so much about everything.

So I think that's a big dividing line. How are we using our care? Are we using it for self-reference and self-aggrandizement and self-branding? Or are we actually just stepping aside and letting the energy of our caring actually do some good for some people?

I mean, it's great to ask this question, but don't worry too much about being totally sincere. I'm not sure that anyone is ever totally sincere. If you were, it would be like a really magical moment.

So just try to express yourself remembering that actual care and compassion and concern is for others. It's not for our self-reference and our self-fashioning.

In fact, Abhinavagupta, one of the siddhas who helped to shape Trika Shaivism, this tradition, he said there were many different ways of defining moksha, of liberation. But one of the ways he defined it was as a complete lack of self-reference and 100% focus on others.

And I think that's very true. The way that that comes about is not through a kind of Christianized, self-flagellating, self-erasure. We could go there with that. If we don't have proper explanation of this complete lack of self-reference, all for others.

That could sound like some sort of horrible sacrifice that we're making. Self-abnegation, really unenjoyable. That is actually the opposite. The relaxation that comes from the absence of self-concern and the ability to just let natural generosity pour out is the most enjoyable, most fulfilling thing ever.

This is my personal experience and I'm not 100%. I'm not making any claims, I am not enlightened. But I have the experience of just the absolute joy of being able to give without self-reference, without self-concern. It is the most fulfilling thing. So it is not self-abnegation or self-torture of any sort.

I was scheduled to teach a class on Zoom Sunday. And Friday, the coordinator emailed me and said, we decided to cancel the class because no one has signed up. And I wrote them back and I said, I'm certainly not inconvenienced by showing up in my living room.

And she wrote me back and said, well, she should have checked with me how I felt. But that there were a lot of people that have been on Zoom meetings that were very inconvenienced and disappointed when no one had shown up. I feel challenged about how I want to work with that.

The alternative to that is to understand that when people make decisions like that, they miss opportunities. And there's a kind of a poignancy about that.

When I was first giving satsang in Portland, Oregon in 2007, there would often only be two people there. And if I canceled it, there would be no Jaya Kula, right? [laughter]

So there's that sense of opportunity that comes from just being generous and being there and being open and seeing what happens. And when people are too instrumental in their decision-making about something like that, you said I'd be happy to do it. That's God saying I'd be happy to do it. Right?

So there's a poignancy and a sadness when people miss opportunities. Rather than judging them, another option is having an understanding of how reality works. And that people miss opportunities all the time.

And no matter how much the mother comes with her outstretched hand and says here, people still walk away. Because they have their reasons and their logic and their boundaries and their borders and their divisions and their distractions and their convictions.

And all these things are getting in the way of accepting a simple offer of generosity and openness. And that is also to feel not only the poignancy of what people miss out on, but also your longing for community and communion, which is really what that judgmentalism is covering up.

And I identify with this because I have a lot of idealism and a lot of longing for community and for everyone to just do it. Come on, let's just do it together. And that's not always the condition people are in. In fact, it's often not the condition people are in.

And so there's a certain amount of sadness that we feel as we go through life if we want that. But you have to let yourself feel that instead of the judgment.

I have this desire to at least share my feelings and my view, and I might tune into it. And what's the open-hearted, skillful, graceful way to communicate how I feel about it? Or is that even necessary?

Well, I don't know. But again, I think you have to get back to ground level, which is you may find the most skillful, most graceful way to communicate. And they may still say, no, see, you're not in charge. And this is something that's very hard to reconcile ourselves to.

I was reading something. It wasn't Anandamayi Ma, but it was some other great spiritual teacher of ancient times saying basically, I can't make anyone do anything. I can't make anyone become enlightened. I can't do anything.

This is kind of a part of realization that things are just going along. And as the inimitable Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, it's samsara, what do you expect? So you could do anything. You could say anything you want and just say whatever you want, but don't expect a response that is going to satisfy you.

And then don't be judgmental about whatever response you get because that's just how things are. That's how people are. So reconciling ourselves to that is very hard, but it's part of the sobering up process.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.