Back in 1984, while traveling in India, some friends and I went to visit an Ayurvedic doctor.
He was known to be a world class herbalist and diagnostician, with a reputation for having remarkable insights into the physiology and psychology of patients he’d only just met. One by one, we sat with him as he felt our pulses, looked at our tongues, talked with us, then prescribed herbs and gave advice.
One of my friends was a highly educated and articulate man, considered by all of us to be brilliant and certainly accomplished. The way he dressed, spoke, moved, and did absolutely everything was incredibly regimented and exact. He spoke with the precision of a computer: no contractions; no hemming or hawing; never a stutter, mumble, or mispronunciation. Even the way he walked, regardless of what he was wearing, made him look like he was marching in uniform.
The Ayurvedic doctor’s advice to him was fascinating. He told my friend that he should say a-a-a, r-r-r, and m-m-m more often. I don’t believe any of us ever heard him make any such sounds. The advice made us all chuckle. There was something that felt so inherently right, so exquisitely human about the advice.
The doctor’s point was that human beings aren’t supposed to function like machines. Making those sounds is a natural aspect of how human beings function and can be the beginning of loosening up in general. It could perhaps be compared to the valve on top of a pressure cooker. The valve releases steam. Similarly, making those sounds releases pressure within the psyche and the physiology. Those sounds are a natural part of being human. To suppress them builds up pressure within the psyche, and that’s just not healthy. In other words, functioning too rigidly creates an ongoing state of stress in the physiology.
Over thirty years later, as I think back on the doctor’s advice, I have an even deeper appreciation of it. Our ideal behavior is not machine perfect. It’s not supposed to be. Society seduces us into wanting to achieve unattainable idealized versions of ourselves. We want to look like celebrities, always be upbeat, and achieve career and financial success seemingly overnight. We are quick to perceive other people as having the ideal life, and therefore want this same perfection for ourselves.
Think of your favorite elementary school teacher. Could you imagine them having a life outside of the classroom? To me it seemed like my second grade teacher could very well be stored in the closet at the end of the school day, only to step back out the next. It was unimaginable to ascribe imperfections to such an idealized figure.
We have subscribed to the notion that personal development is about achieving perfection. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Human Beings are Not Computers
So many of us aspire to function with the perfect precision we ask of computers. Human beings aren’t meant to be like that, just as trees aren’t meant to grow out of the ground like 2x4s. The bends and twists and apparent imperfections are all part of the beauty of what it means to be alive. Attempting to overcome those imperfections imposes unnatural stresses and strains in the physiology and psychology. Personal development is about becoming more natural.
One’s Nature is Divine
A line out of the movie The African Queen really struck me. Kathryn Hepburn scolded Humphrey Bogart by telling him, “Your nature sir, is what you’ve come to this earth to overcome.” What a horrific thought! The beauty of life is that your true nature is exquisite. As some would say it, “the Kingdom of Heaven dwells within.” You have only to facilitate its natural blossoming. In so doing, the stresses and strains are released and one then lives in harmony with their own true nature, the a-a-as, r-r-rs, and m-m-ms included.
Your nature is certainly not something to be overcome. In fact, it is your greatest gift. Divinity dwells deep within you as your own true nature.
The stresses and strains in your physiology, including the self-imposed ones, is the only thing that prevents you from living your own true divine nature.
Many of the little things we consider neuroses, like not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk or counting their steps up the stairs or avoiding even numbers can be normal and natural. Sometimes these things can be done out of superstitious beliefs, but other times out of neurotic compulsion. It’s just the way the human awareness functions. We are people, not computers.
My poor friend who visited the Ayurvedic doctor had imposed a lifetime of impositions upon his nature in the name of self-improvement. It was as if he walked and talked in a straightjacket, constructed of notions of who and what he should be. To suppress one’s nature in the name of self-improvement is a double bind, a contradiction, an oxymoron—a tragically futile endeavor. There’s of course a place for discipline and good manners, but they certainly do not define your divine true nature.
Unfortunately, common notions of self-improvement are often unnatural impositions upon our own true nature. They are as unnatural as forcing yourself to never say a-a-a, r-r-r, or m-m-m. Instead we would do well to embrace our quirks and speak more freely.
Dr. Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. From personal issues to global trends, Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a ‘bridge’ between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Dr. Michael Mamas has been teaching for 35 years (including the U.S., India, Europe, and Canada) and writes on a variety of subjects on his blog, MichaelMamas.net.
Image courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina.