Friday, March 5, 2010
The Eastern Approach
Elephants and camels. Strange rituals, languages and customs. Half naked ascetics sitting on a bed of nails. A dark and mysterious river, running through lands of mystique. Cultural histories as old as time itself. The East (most of Asia) is seen as a specter, veiled in fabulous precious gems and fine silk. The history and culture is definitely worthy of admiration, and there is a lot that can be learned from these cultures. Western cultures have in the recent past embraced ancient techniques used in Eastern cultures for overall well-being. This paper will evaluate briefly some of the benefits of what the Eastern approach has to offer, in health, general well-being and the magic of the Eastern philosophy.
The most obvious element that has been absorbed by Western cultures, and is the current fad is Yoga. An ancient Indian practice, this combines stretching, postures, deep breathing and physical manipulations to attain good health. Yoga has been known to treat obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension, among hundreds of other illnesses and the permutations of “asans” or postures available make it possible for the whole body to relax and at the same time get a workout. The best part is that it combines mental de-stressing techniques with the physical manifestation of the workout. It is used to discipline the body and mind at once, and individuals who regularly practice Yoga swear by it. In addition, the latest craze of the day is natural and organic. People are now ready to try alternative medicines such as herbal medications and natural remedies. My own great grandfather was a doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine (Indian Herbal Medicine). Ayurveda, literally meaning the “Ved” or science of living, is the use of ancient knowledge about the healing qualities of natural ingredients (especially in plants) to treat diseases. This can be as simple as using turmeric as a disinfectant, or cloves to treat a sore throat, or can be as complex as mixing 36 roots, berries, seeds, and tree bark to treat a chronic condition, like asthma. There is much scope remaining for Ayurveda to gain prominence in the west. It is effective, natural and potent. Of course, the drug companies might demur.
There is always meditation. Perfected by the poster boys for the cause, the Buddhist monks in monasteries in Nepal, India, and Tibet, the powers of meditation remain sadly unexplored. The Dalai Lama eloquently explains the processes and benefits of meditation in an interview. Meditation is a channeling of the mind that allows for greater focus, improved ability for calmness, introspection and rational thought, sharper reasoning and problem solving abilities, greater alertness, better observation powers, greater capacity for abstract thought, and teaching oneself determination and patience.
In the same realm of Eastern philosophy vs. Western practicality, cognitive scientist George Lakoff dicusses the distinct differences of both ways of thought and the benefits and dangers of each. The mind-body connection in particular is a debate that has been at the forefront since Rene Descartes. Lakoff specifically points to the use of metaphors in science and in philosophy. There can be multiple causes to anything, and the use of metaphors is essential in both science and philosophy to even begin explaining causation. The main difference in western and eastern thought and ideologies is that the west seems to focus on clear cut connections, and the east tends to focus not on the black or white, but the most dominant grays of life. There is value considering the eastern methods of thought because these ancient cultures take the mind body connection very seriously, and encourage feeding and healing both mind and body- an improvement in each, it is thought, has no choice but to cause an improvement in the other. In addition, as Lakoff states instinctively, “…in most cases, the answers to the deepest questions of human existence will most likely be metaphorical answers. There is nothing wrong with this. We just need to be aware of just what our metaphors are and what they entail.” So it seems that while entirely eastern philosophical thought is too abstract to make for scientific advances, and uber-practical western thought is too precise to allow for leaps of growth in possibilities, the answer points to a combination of both where we maximize possibilities and opportunities. The answer is the simplest among the choices given? Shocking.
Dalai Lama & Piburn, S. MEDITATION BY HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA. A View on
Buddhism. Retrieved October 30, 2009, from
Lakoff, G. THE THIRD CULTURE. EDGE. Retrieved October 30, 2009, from
Image courtesy: http://yogapeeps.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/dayspa_ayurveda.jpg