Know Your Nature
It’s easy to forget that we are intrinsically connected to nature. Long gone are the days (in the US anyway) of sleeping on mud floors, cooking over wood-burning fires, and bathing in rivers. It was easier to revere mother nature and sync ourselves to her rhythms when we were so directly dependent on her bounty.
Times have changed. Aside from the rare camping trip or hike in the woods, modern life keeps us segregated from nature. We’re protected from the elements and even dirt by our sterile houses. Our meat comes wrapped in cellophane and our milk in plastic jugs. We have hot water running on-demand.
Being so isolated from the world around us, we’re quick to forget our true nature.
There’s a reason why we feel so much ourselves again when we swim in the ocean or sleep under the stars. We’re actually a part of nature. Communing with mother nature is like going home.
It is ayurveda that enlightens us with this knowledge: the wisdom of our true nature. According to this ancient “science of life”, we are a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm. This means that everything found in nature is also found within. Once we understand this concept, we can no longer feel ourselves separate from nature, and it becomes apparent why syncing ourselves to her rhythms and even just getting outside is so important for our wellbeing.
This theory begins with the five great elements; what ayurveda calls panchamahabhoota. They are the four elements that we’re already familiar with: air, fire, water and earth; and the fifth and less familiar element of space. These are the fundamental building blocks of nature.
Their physical existence is obvious: air manifests as the wind, fire manifests as the sun, water manifests as the rivers and oceans, earth manifests as the soil, and space manifests as the great universe or “outer space”.
But the more intelligent, cosmic form of these elements are what we’re able to recognize within our bodies and minds. They have no form or dimension, but are understood through their qualities and functions.
Space is the subtlest of all the elements or bhootas. It is nothingness and gives the possibility for objects to exist. Space makes room for things to be present. It is all around us, being the endless container in which the world and everything on it is present. Space is within us, too. Space is present in our body cavities like the lungs, organs, and bones. Whether or not these voids are filled, space is the element which gives room for the other four elements to manifest.
Air is the element of movement. It gives direction, motion and change. We can observe air all around us; how it rustles the trees, roughs up the ocean and blows sand. It gives movement to everything in the universe, from the most minute subatomic particles to colossal whirling galaxies. And as everything in nature is within us, we of course have air in our bodies, too. Air is the principle that impels our blood and lymph to circulate. It fills our lungs and nasal passageways, and drives all the movement of the body.
Fire is the element of conversion. In nature, we can understand fire as the principle which converts wood to ash, or even the sun which converts seeds to plantings. Fire manifests within our bodies in a similar way. It is our principle of digestion: the subtle, internal fire called agni which transforms food to body tissues in a long chain of conversions. Fire helps to break down our food in the form of stomach acids, and to warm the body as our blood.
Water is the element of liquidity and cohesion. It binds and holds things together, giving a substance the capacity to exist without a fixed shape. Water manifests in the oceans and rivers but also in all things liquid; lava, mud, and oils. In the body, it manifests as our blood and lymph, our saliva, and even our cerebrospinal fluid.