Episode 25: The old Swami had blessed me with some of the most powerful spiritual advice I had ever been given—and since that time, it's changed my life. Join me for a surprising exploration of the power of yoga's practice of Saucha, or purity and I'll share that advice with you too.
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The old Swami stroked his long, gray beard. His eyes seemed to be looking into my very soul.
“You want to know the secret of inner peace?” He asked me.
I nodded silently, as he leaned in close.
“Watch what you eat.”
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
This was 20 years ago in India. More specifically, in Malav, a small village in the state of Gujarat.
It was an early Sunday morning, and I was walking down a narrow residential dirt road, tightly packed with ramshackle two story flats on either side. All the stores were shuttered. The neighborhood felt abandoned, like I was strolling through an old Hollywood set.
But then a small elderly man wearing a long kurta and weathered sandals, and with an equally weathered face appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
He walked out into the middle of the dirt road I was walking on and stood facing me about 30 yards away.
Our eyes met. He smiled a wide and crooked smile and walked up to me and took both of my hands:
“I'm so glad you came.” He said, in a heavy Indian accent.
I smiled back and I surprised myself when I said, “Me too.”
Were this anywhere else on the planet, I think I would've felt awkward or even nervous, but for some reason it all felt totally natural. India can be magical that way.
So, there we were: two strangers walking down the center of a tiny dirt road in a tiny village, hand in hand.
Arjun, as I would find out the man was called, provided me me with an impromptu tour of the neighborhood, pointing out all the points of interest. The cobbler who made Arjun's tired sandals. The miller who grinds all of the flourr for the village, and the flat where Arjun's daughter lived.
We'd walked only a few blocks when Arjun stopped and said, “This is my home. Please come in.”
So, we walked up the rickety flight of steps. Arjun opened the door and welcomed me inside, and after a brief tour, we sat down on a swinging bench and he served me tea.
Over the next hour, Arjun told me about his simple life, the history of the town, and even introduced me to one of his neighbors who dropped by to return a borrowed tool.
And as we were finishing our tea, he abruptly stood up and said: “I have someone I would like you to meet. He's a Swami.”
Now, a Swami is a spiritual master, someone who has set aside worldly pursuits to seek spiritual liberation.
And this particular Swami, whose name I would never learn, had taken up residence at a small, dilapidated temple on the outskirts of town.
It was a short, 15 minute walk from Arjun’s. And I'll admit, this temple didn't look like any temple I'd ever seen. In fact, it looked like just another one of the many shacks scattered around the flat countryside.
But as I walked up to the building, I peered inside through a window. I could see an alter with a crudely fashioned statue of Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, perched on the far wall of the shack’s single room. Okay. I thought to myself, it's a temple.
And that's when Arjun motioned for me to follow him around to the front of the building.
And there he was, the Swami.
He looked to be in his eighties. He had long silver hair and, an even longer beard. He was sitting upright under a tree as motionless as the statue of Hanuman I had just seen inside.
Arjun gestured for me to sit. So, I did. And then taking a cue from the Swami, I closed my eyes and dropped into meditation.
Now I have no idea how long we sat there. 30 minutes, maybe an hour, but at some point I got a feeling. You know the one you get when someone silently walks up behind you?
And when I opened my eyes, I found myself face to face with the Swami. He was smiling.
He pressed his hands together in front of his heart in the traditional greeting, and I did the same.
I looked around and Arjun was gone.
The Swami asked me all of the expected questions, where I was from, why I was there, how I was enjoying India, and after about 15 minutes of a rather banal conversation, he came to the big question:
“Do you want to know the secret of inner peace?” He asked.
And, of course, I was on a spiritual journey, so I nodded.
And that's when he dropped some of the most unexpected spiritual advice I would ever get. That's when he said: “Watch what you eat.”
Watch what you eat. Sound advice. I thought, but hardly any kind of spiritual epiphany.
But then he went on…
“But…” he raised his brown and crooked index finger, “not just through this hole.” He pointed his mouth, “but through these…” pointing to his eyes, ”and these…” now his ears.
And this is where the conversation became interesting.
The Swami went on to speak about the quality of the mind as an easily influenced and infinitely moldable entity. One that was quite prone to disturbance, especially when it's fed the wrong diet.
I was starting to get that the Swami wasn't just referring to what we eat in the conventional sense, but what we eat, or maybe said better, what we ingest through any and all of our senses.
What is seen, what is heard, what is felt, what is tasted, what is smelled, and, even what is thought.
And this is where so many of us seem to go wrong, the Swami said.
We pay attention to our diet as far as food is concerned, at least to some degree, but, especially in the West, we neglect to manage our diet in other areas.
And he was right. I mean, think about it…
We spend hours watching news programs that stir up anger and fear within us. We scroll through endless social media feeds that only fill us with anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. We listen to harmful gossip that throws us into conflict and division with others, and we obsessively replay thoughts about events that we can do nothing about.
And on and on it goes.
We feed the mind a steady diet of the most harmful junk food on the planet, and we then wonder, “why do I feel so bad?”
Though I didn't quite realize it at the time, the Swami was echoing a teaching from Patanjali’s eight-limb Yoga System, a system called Astanga Yoga as codified in the Yoga Sutras.
The eight limbs of the system provide a comprehensive guide to Self-realization through a variety of proven practices that are designed to tune up and refine nearly every aspect of our bodies and minds.
From the expected like postures and breath and meditation, to the lesser-known yoga practices that address our intention, our behaviors, and even our relationships.
The work contains a wide range of powerful practices, most of which have sadly been abandoned in favor of the bending and breathing and sweating that goes on down at your local yoga joint.
But I digress.
The teaching that the Swami was imparting is something Patanjali would refer to as Saucha or purity.
It's a practice that invites us to consciously manage what we ingest, again, not just through the intake of food, but our intake in terms of what we ingest through all of the senses, including what we think, and there's a reason it can be so powerful
In yoga, there's something called the Karmic Cycle of Becoming.
The word karmic refers to the cycle's operation through the natural law of cause and effect.
The word becoming refers to the cycle's power to shape who we become in any, and actually every moment.
Now, the cycle begins with what we eat.
That is what we see, what we hear, what we think, what we feel, even what we hear ourselves to speak.
It's an ingestion of some sensory experience that then leads us to the next step in the cycle…
Which is what we think.
You see, we need to realize that the thoughts that are bubbling up in our mind are not causeless, nor are they random. They are expected by-products, largely of the first step in the cycle. That is, what we eat, what we ingest through our senses.
This means that when I spend my afternoon ogling over my friend's amazing art collection, I'm much more likely to have thoughts about art and inspired creativity.
On the other hand, when I spend my morning looking over the woeful performance of my investments, I'm much more likely to have a different kind of thought. In this case, thoughts about maybe lack or financial worry.
So, indeed what we eat, what we ingest matters.
But this is not the final step in the Karmic Cycle for there's one more, and that is how we feel.
Now, just as it is with our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions are similarly, neither causeless nor random. They too are by-products of the cycle, and in this case, they're influenced to primarily by what we think.
So, when I'm filled full of thoughts about art and inspired creativity, I'm going to be experiencing feelings and emotions that are very, very different from the feelings and emotions that would be created by thoughts of lack and financial worry.
And of course, from here, the cycle repeats over and over and over again thousands of times a day.
And this brings us to the real problem:
It's that most of us aren't even aware of this karmic cycle, nor are we aware of the power, the very real power that we have to manage it.
And sadly, this is why so many of us remain victims of it.
But here's the good news.
Once we're conscious of its workings and the consequences of what we so called eat, let's just say that's when everything changes.
This week inside the Bright Life Yoga Collective, we've been exploring the workings of the Karmic Cycle of Becoming, using the advice the Swami gave me so many years ago…
To watch what you eat.
Or we could also say in more traditional terms, practicing sauch or purity.
And, it’s here that I'd like to invite you to do the same.
Now, to do this, we need to make a study of the so-called purity or impurity of what we ingest through all of our senses.
But even more important is to notice the downstream effects that are caused by what we ingest thanks to the Karmic Cycle.
I'm talking about the thoughts and the feelings and the emotions that arise as a result of what we “eat.”
Now, to be clear, I say the downstream effects or the consequences are even more important because it's this causal relationship between what we ingest and how we feel that is the missing piece for most people.
You see, most of us, by no fault of our own, have developed a habit of watching, of listening to, reading, and talking about things that simply don't server our highest good.
Things that cause mental and emotional disturbances, things that Patanjali would refer to as impure.
And the worst part of it is that we don't even realize that that's what we're doing. And as a result, too many of us mindlessly feed ourselves a steady diet of mental junk food and wonder…
Why we feel anxious? Why do we feel worried? Why do we feel depressed or hopeless or disempowered?
It's all because we've become victims of the Karmic Cycle, but all is not lost.
Because the key to our freedom is to simply connect the dots between cause and effect, to recognize the downstream consequences of what we ingest through what we see, through what we hear, through what we feel and through what we think.
And when we are able to do this simple thing, we become true masters over the very same Karmic Cycle that once tormented us.
Well, that's all the time we have today.
I hope today's conversation has inspired you to experiment with watching what you eat to support your life of more joy and harmony.
As always, thanks for listening, and please remember that this podcast is made possible solely by the generosity of listeners like you.
So please, if you can support me over on my Patreon page, and when you do, I'll gift you with some of my most powerful yoga practices and guided meditations as my personal thank you, you can check it out now at www.patreon.com/ericwal.
Finally, if these kinds of teachings are something you'd like more of in your life, consider joining us in the online BrightLife Yoga Collective where each week you'll join me to go even deeper with this ancient wisdom.
You can learn more at my website at www.ericwal.com.
So, thanks again, and remember, I'm here to serve, so let me know how I can help you. Wishing you a fantastic week, and I look forward to seeing you next time.
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