I moved to Santa Barbara in July. After spending seven months in Albuquerque and what felt like 40 years (due to several mishaps with the rental trailer) crossing the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona and California, I was never so happy to see water. Lots of water. Water is gushing everywhere. The Pacific Ocean. Lagoons. Rivers. Creeks. Mountain springwater swimming holes. Oh, and not to forget the water in the sky – the fog and marine layer, which I found out are two different forms of the water element. How these two different kinds of condensation are formed and named is based on weather conditions. But to borrow off a Dylan quote, I don’t need a weatherman to know that the dance between the water and air elements here in Santa Barbara is gorgeous divine magic. I love watching the fog waltz in and over the mesa, then pass through the canyons. What the locals call the “June Gloom”, which this year lasted until early August, was a welcome sight and feel to my rasa depleted body.
Spending the first half of the year in the high dry desert with intense winds, high elevation, and low humidity was rough on my body and spirit. The extreme conditions left my skin, hair, brain, and spirit a bit dried and fried. To put in Ayurvedic terms, I was rasa depleted in the physical and mental bodies, as well as my creative spirit. The ’49er miners came to California for the gold. I came to California for the rasa. And I’ve struck it rich. Rasa is gushing everywhere -the aforementioned bodies of water and abundant dewdrops, plump succulent plants, fragrant orange groves, and verdant grape vineyards.
And just what exactly is rasa? Is it a precious commodity? A precious treasure? Yes to both. Rasa is useful and valuable. It is vital to health and happiness. Rasa is a Sanskrit word and has several meanings: “essence of life”, “the flavor of a substance” and “the first of the seven dhatus(tissues) in the body”. The function of rasa dhatu is nutrition. Rasa is the juice of life, whether it’s in the form of plasma, lymph, chlye, or amniotic fluid – all which nourish the physical body. Rasa in the more subtle form is faith, passion and creativity – all which nourish the mental and spiritual bodies.
In the system of Bhakti Yoga, there is a story about how the Vaishnava Saint, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, gave one drop of the ocean of rasa to Srila Rupa Goswami and that one drop was enough to create millions upon millions of universes. When rasa is abundant in our body, we create abundance in our lives. Where the rasa flows, creation goes. Rasa nourishes every cell and the reproductive system.
I also believe rasa is a delightful nectar which nourishes the tanmatras (the five senses); whether it is your Nana’s oatmeal cookies, your lover’s embrace, your child’s smile, smell of jasmine on a summer evening, or the sound of Emmylou Harris singing. Rasa is anything which nourishes the heart and soul. One of my favorite Ayurvedic teachers, Dr. Claudia Welch, once said, “Nourish the rasa and you will nourish the heart; and then the body will be nourished.” Living in Santa Barbara is nourishing my rasa and my heart. Since I’ve been here, rasa dhatu has balanced and I now feel rasa abundant in body, mind and Spirit.
The Westward Bestward Journey
After living here a mere two months, I’ve put down roots. This is quite amazing because since I departed Nashville in autumn 2009, I’ve been a bit of a migratory bird, mostly making my way west on the I40. My time in the desert earlier this year was nothing but a part of my flight plan to the West Coast. It was a place I landed for awhile- a little layover between Nashville and Santa Barbara. Before I returned to Albuquerque last December, I spent a few months in Michigan. Sandhill Cranes spend the summers in the lakes and ponds near my sister’s home. At dawn and dusk I would watch flocks of between 15-30 cranes in the fields behind the house.
About the time I left Michigan, the cranes began their journey southward. The Sandhill Cranes east of the Mississippi River fly south for the winter. Sandhill Cranes west of the Mississippi migrate to a little town just South of Albuquerque. Although not the Michigan flock, as I drove westward to Albuquerque last fall, I thought of those cranes as my fellow journeymen – my wingmen. I figured if they could survive a few months in the desert, so could I. But I knew for the love of rasa, I could only stay in the desert climate a little while. Eventually I had to return to a place near abundant water. Come summertime, the cranes and I would need to navigate our ways to habitats which nourish and support us. When the calendar turned to June, I was ready to move to Santa Barbara.
You see, I am like a Sandhill Crane. When I move, I migrate near water. I need to live near water. Water is a necessary and familiar habitat for me. I was born a few miles from one of the Great Lakes. The backyard of my childhood home was bordered on three sides by small creeks. My playground was a ravine. I lived a few miles from Lake Michigan and the Saint Joseph River. As a kid, two weeks every summer were spent at Nana and Pawpaw’s cottage on the Mississippi River. As an adult, I’ve always lived near water. At one time my home was right next to an Adirondack lake.
My natural constitution needs water in order for me to flourish. Being vata pitta predominant, the water soothes vata’s dry quality and cools pitta’s hot quality – keeping rasa dhatu healthy and happy. So after living more than half of 2011 in the high dry desert, my migratory instincts led me once again to water. Arriving in Santa Barbara, my heart confirmed I found the perfect place to build my little nest.
Come with me my love
to the sea
the sea of love.
I want to tell you
how much I love you.
“The Sea of Love”
Phil Phillips and George Khoury
You can’t get much more rasa than the ocean. The West Coast is the hostess with the most-ess of rasa. Over the past two months, I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach. Partly because I felt I was making up for lost time away from water during the months in the desert. My body craved the water. Within a week my skin plumped up thanks to Mother Nature’s age defying secret: rasa. Physically I felt more grounded, nourished and exuberant. But something was also happening in the subtle body. After about the third visit to my favorite beach, I realized my heart was craving to be at the ocean. One afternoon while sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in, seaweed shimmy on the surf, dolphins swim by, seagulls fly overhead, and the brown pelicans dive into the water, it dawned on me just how easy it is to sit and be still at the ocean. Sitting next to the huge body of water which is always moving, I felt stillness hush my rush of thoughts. In Ayurveda, this could be called the prabhav effect, where the effect of the ocean’s movement creates an opposite action – that of stillness.
In Sanskrit, the word for ocean is “samudra.” Samudra also means confluence, as in “a coming together, meeting, or gathering at one point.” My recent experiences at the ocean have awakened me to the magical realm where movement becomes confluent with stillness. I sit on the shore and feel the pull of the tide on my body; yet the tide’s movement creates stillness in my mind. When teaching pranayama in a yoga class I encourage students to imagine their breath being rhythmic like the ocean. So, while sitting on the shore, I will breathe in tempo with the waves. The pause between the water rolling in and the water rolling out is similar to the pause between the inhale and the exhale during pranayama. In pranayama the pause between breaths is the space of Absolute Awareness. The pause is the shoreline of stillness along the ocean of pranayama. This place of stillness is the confluence of the human being becoming the Divine Being. It’s the merging of individual consciousness into Supreme Consciousness…into Purusha.
Going With The Flow
Rasa’s nature is to flow. Lymph, plasma, maple tree sap, compassion and creativity – various forms of rasa, all flow. Flow is movement. Movement is governed by vata dosha. Too much movement, (i.e. moving across country, into a new home, and around town to find new yoga gigs and Ayurveda clients), increases vata dosha. This can create feelings of anxiety and ungroundedness. Excess movement can cause the dry guna(quality) of vata to dehydrate rasa. Rasa is necessary for proper flow of all life functions, especially when navigating a life change. Balanced rasa allows one to go with the flow, instead of fight the current of “what is” or worse yet…giving up in the midst of challenges and running your ship aground.
Pranayama is the most effective medicine for calming vata. In balancing rasa and vata, I’ve discovered oceanside pranayama is the wonder cure. Watching the tide helps me process the many changes which come with a major move and life change. On the beach, I am able to sit on the shoreline of my mind and watch the waves of thought after thought roll in and roll out. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the thoughts and view them like ocean waves…coming and going. And ultimately surrender and allow them to return to the ocean of consciousness.
Watching the waves, I realize I am watching the ocean breathe. The ebbs of her exhales and the tides of her inhales balance her body (of water). As does my breath, it balances my body and mind. Any fears and anxieties about my recent life changes are transformed, as I sit with the thoughts and watch the breath. Fears and anxieties flow out of the mind; trust and patience flow in. The mind shift happens because I surrender to the rhythm of the breath…the rhythm of the ocean…the rhythm of the Universe. I notice when my mind shifts, my mood lifts. Then I see the truth in change, which is: stillness exists amid change. Just like there is always a pause between the wave coming ashore and returning to sea. Just like there is always a pause between the inhalation and the exhalation. We only need to become aware of that pause.
When breathing with the ocean, sometimes I’ll sit on the sand, enjoying the sensation of sitting still right next to so much powerful movement. From this practice, I’ve learned the art of appreciating the importance of rest during periods of major life change. Other times I’ll stand in about a foot of water and allow the waves to move me back and forth. Feeling the sensation of the tide against my body, I learn to appreciate the importance of surrender to the unknowns which arise during change.
Oceanside pranayama teaches me about the ebb and flows of my mind. And how easy it is to get carried away by a thought; healthy positive ones take us out into the great sea of supreme consciousness where we float. This is Bliss. Unhealthy negative thoughts drag us into a rip tide and can even sink us to the bottom of the sea. This is suffering.
Rasa, Balance, Joy
Here in Santa Barbara, this paradise by the sea, I am the lucky recipient of some powerful Rasayana – Mother Nature style. Rasayana means rejuvenation. The root word “ayana” means “path”. For me the current path to physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation leads me to the ocean – to the sea of rasa…the sea of love. It’s here amid the movement and sound of the waves and seagulls, I find stillness in my mind. In that stillness, life becomes flavored by rasa. Rasa, the sweet life giving nectar, brings balance to the body and mind. Rasa gives joy to the heart. It gives joy to the world. And “joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me.” May we all enjoy and savor the sweet taste of rasa today and always.