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The Western World ~ The Eastern World ~ Sharing Perspectives

Sharing my observations ~ as always this is just food for thought ~ Keep in mind, these are all generalizations. Of course, there's exceptions to everything. Just presenting things to think about.....

During my most recent trip to India, my dear spiritual sister and I were leading a group on a very unique journey that we had mapped out. Ganeshpuri is like, "Going Home" for the both of us. We have deep roots there. Kerala is vastly different, offering so much from an Ayurvedic perspective, which is the perfect compliment to what we were doing in Ganeshpuri. We love them both!

It was an exquisite journey on so many levels. It left me thinking about the culture clash between the east and the west, and how we can understand each other better. Keep in mind, when I say, "East" I'm specifically referring to Indian culture in this post.

The east and the west cannot be compared, because they are 2 completely different entities. If we look at the eastern world, with a western mindset nothing will make sense. In fact, it will be alarming, disturbing and possibly revolting, and I'm sure this holds true in the other direction.

The very first thing that became apparent is the concept of time. In the west the concept of time is very linear. It has a very clear beginning and a clear end. Time is measured by precision. Punctuality and deadlines often define the success of the individual. There's an underlying sense of urgency to "use time wisely." Time is also viewed as a commodity. For example, westerners often equate time to money.

On the contrary, in the east time is viewed as cyclical, which is a very different way of understanding the concept of time. They tend to flow with the rhythm of nature. There's more of a focus on the present moment rather than past or future. Time is more fluid and less rigid than in the west. The east sees time as omnipresent, where as the west sees time as finite.

A westerner, holds people accountable to their time schedule, and there's consequences involved when time is, "mis-managed." In the east, time is fluid and it allows for the completion of things, vs. an abrupt ending because time, "ran out." In the east, time doesn't "run out," it flows into the next segment. It's a continuous thread of things weaving in and out of each other, as opposed to a bullet pointed timeline of events. This concept was challenging because we had a daily schedule, which we had to continually adjust due to the "time" perspective. When a westerner says, "lunch is at 1pm," lunch is at 1pm, and if you are "late" they will start without you. In India, because time is fluid, there's a general idea of when things will happen, but they are lead by flow, which takes precedence over punctuality. We jokingly refer to it as, India time.

In the west, everything is compartmentalized. Everything, starting from our minds, our finances, our appearance, our relationships, and so on. As long as it looks good on the outside, it doesn't matter what's happening on the inside. That white picket fence is up and everything is just rosey. If it can't be seen, then it doesn't need to be addressed, talked about or exposed. We hide what we want to hide and show what we want to show. We decide it all. This is generally the way of western life. From a holistic health perspective, this is the root of the anxiety pandemic we are experiencing in the west. The compartmentalization of everything is causing us extensive harm, beyond what we realize.

On the other hand, the east exposes everything. It's all there for you to see or not see. The choice is yours. Nothing is separate and nothing is hidden. Life and death happen simultaneously, as it does everywhere, but in the east they are not compartmentalized. The garbage, pollution, dirt, animals, people, and vegetation are all flowing in a rhythm. There is a definite rhythm and it's palpable. Dogs die in the streets, as children are playing in what appears to be dirty water, while food is being cooked alongside them, while workers are doing their labor, and everything is being seen and celebrated.

This is life being exposed as opposed to compartmentalized! Life is being lived. Everything is there to be seen, felt, experienced, grieved, and celebrated. For westerners this can be very uncomfortable. Beauty in the east is the rawness of everything, whereas beauty is the west is that picture perfect presentation.

The eastern culture takes everything into consideration. The sun, the moon, the planets, the ocean, the stars, the seasons, the soil, the ancestry, all the beings, all the elements, all the senses, and on and on. They understand that it all works together and that one thing affects another.

In the west, these things are often seen as separate entities, as opposed to one flow. For example, we do not see our bodies as a collection of molecules that have been put together by compilation of divine elements. This makes it easy for everything to become dismissible and disposable. Without a deep connection to anything, it's difficult to see the value in things. The general western mindset is that everything is disposable and replaceable. There is little reverence or devotion placed on all living things, including nature. Generally, western culture struggles with the concept that humans are part of the natural rhythm of life. We believe we are superior to nature, not that we are a part of it. We have removed ourselves from this equation. The western mind believes we create the rhythm, and we control the rhythm, while the east celebrates the rhythm and engages in endless devotional practices to honor the rhythm. The west has gotten to a point where nothing matters and everything is replaceable. In eastern culture, every little thing matters. Every hand gesture, every head nod, every little detail and exchange. It's so interesting and so beautiful to experience.

Now, let's take the concept of Yoga and break it down from each perspective. As I've mentioned in other posts, the word Yoga means to unite, to yoke. Yoga from an eastern perspective, is a practice of uniting everything, which is a devotional way of living. Every time I travel to India, people always ask how much "Yoga" I will be doing? Will I bring my mat? India? Why India of all places? All sorts of questions.

The practice of Yoga in India, is being, "In the flow" all the time. They live in Yoga. Even the cities, are in a flow. Mumbai may look like complete chaos. However, if you look deeper, there's a flow. There's an order to the chaos because there's an understanding that life is happening. No one is yelling out of car windows, or getting upset. They all just carry on. Yoga happens everywhere in India. It starts in the home and in the communities. They are reverent by nature, and devotional by nature. They understand that everything has a cause and effect and they live by that. The land and history definitely help to support this. There's no comparison between an country that has been in existence for thousands of years, verses a country that is merely a few hundred years old. Because if it's age, India is like the mother of the planet in many ways.

In the west, the word yoga is understood as a physical practice, called asana. It is simply viewed as a physical practice. Again, the Yoga begins when you start the class, and it ends when the class is over. Then, the yoga is completed for the day. This is another example, of the cartmentalization that happens in the west. Here's an example. When we were in Ganeshpuri, one of the daily practices was to walk to the temple at 5:45am in silence. We arrive at temple at 6am for Aarti, which is a devotional practice of receiving light. After we receive darshan each morning we were free to mingle and talk again. After a few days of doing this, there was some questions, "where is the yoga." This was so humbling to hear, because the expectation was that we would be doing an asana practice daily. However, through this daily ritual, it became completely clear that the practice was learning how to live in the flow, which is, in fact Yoga. The reverence and devotion was understood. I hope this makes sense.

Next let's look as the western mind vs. the eastern mind. Again, they are hardwired in completely different ways. The western mind is very critical in it's thought process. This is a very goal-oriented way of thinking. Everything is under scrutiny. Everything is analyzed, everything has a cause and effect, everything has to be solved. This creates a very black and white perspective of life. It also creates this wrong and right perspective. This leaves very little room for the brain to experience another point of view. The moment the brain processes information from a critical perspective, the essence of what is in front of the person is often lost There is little ability to see a broader picture. For example, we are so hyper focused on figuring out the precise distance between the sun and the horizon line, and completely miss the bliss of the gorgeous sunset.

Looking at the east with this mindset, will leave a person utterly confused.

The eastern mindset, can also seem chaotic to a westerner. It can seem like they are all over the place and scrambling around because it doesn't seem orderly or systematized. This is because the brain is also in the flow. They are processing information from all sensory levels and experiencing things beyond the brain, which allows them to be expansive and be one with their surroundings. Yes, the eastern brain also functions on a critical level, but it can fluctuate and be malleable. This is not to say that western brains can't be, remember this is just a general observation. Regardless of culture, developing the capacity to expand beyond what is literally right in front of you, will open you up to a new world.

So, after reading this, look at this an an opportunity to do some self reflection. This is not to imply that one culture is better than the other, but to bring awareness to the differences between them. It is only through sharing experiences, that we can learn from each other and expand our capacity. Afterall, we are ONE planet. We are all connected more than we think we think we are.

There's so much we can learn from each other.

What can we learn from a culture as old as India?

Where can we be less critical in our thinking, or in our lives in general?

Where can we allow more space to create a flow of life?

Where can we be more reverent and devotional?

Where do we see separation, and where do we see oneness?

Where can we merge and expand instead of compartmentalize?

This is just an overview to offer a shift in perspective. Anything is possible if we believe it. Looking at different cultures offers us the opportunity to see beauty in all the world.

Written by ~ Leelah Lakshmi

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