The intellect is a unique human quality. Human intellect refers to the ability of the mind to come to conclusions, problem solve, adapt, and learn from our mistakes. It can save our lives. But the intellect can also make mistakes, some of which can become detrimental to our health and well- being. Ayurveda, the oldest continuously practiced health system in the world which originated in India, believes mistakes of the intellect are the fundamental root cause of all disease.
A mistake of the intellect (prajna-aparadha) happens when the intellect gets confused by the overuse, misuse and abuse of the five senses, use of time, and by our habitual unhealthy actions (mental, physical and verbal). Much like a computer that has too many open windows, information can get lost, crossed, or the system can shut down altogether. Take our unhealthy habits, for example. Why do we do things we know aren’t good for us? Why do we push ourselves past our limits? Why do we stay up too late, skip meals, drink, smoke or do any number of unhealthy behaviors?
Ayurvedic educator Gary Gran explains, “The intellect ... is often afflicted or overwhelmed by a fundamental misunderstanding, a cloudy memory, or subconscious impressions and desires triggered by our self-image.” These false ideas about ourselves create a disconnect to our true nature. He adds, “This primal ignorance comes from our seemingly endless fascination with the objects of the world….This feeling of lacking drives our desire for fulfillment in the world, but the world is full of change and will ultimately let us down.” Unregulated desires become a catalyst for a shift in ourselves. We become restless, anxious, depressed, or simply unhappy. Before we know it, there is a justification to continue our occasional guilty pleasure to self-sooth like a late-night binge watching Netflix, having a cocktail, smoking, or indulging in junk food. Lack of restraint and regulation of those splurges then turn into “bad” habits, that eventually turn into disease in the body like fear, anxiety, and weight gain. Finally, those habits manifest as symptoms: headaches, sleep issues, auto-immune flares and various other distresses. If ignored, symptoms can turn into full-blown diseases like heart disease, alcoholism and diabetes.
There is so much pressure to be on top in our careers. It’s no wonder we might swerve a bit while our pedal is pressed to the metal. Our constant drive to achieve, and stay on top, is part of our culture. When well-regulated, drive can be admirable, but when the need to achieve, and “win” at life becomes excessive, a mistake of the intellect is to blame. The mistake of the intellect supports operating in overdrive and eventually, pushes us over the edge into illness.
Thinking that our unhealthy habits are not harmful to our overall health is dangerous. Daily headlines report staggering statistics of the health decline of Americans due to stress and anxiety. According to Time Magazine in 2018, the reported general anxiety in this country rose dramatically with 40% of Americans reporting they were more anxious than they were at the same time the previous year. Chronic anxiety is disease in the body. We will, by nature, look towards some way to cope with our uneasiness. When our coping skills become unhealthy, disease will follow. We have an opportunity to reverse detrimental abuse to our health by paying attention to what we’re actually doing habitually to promote disease.
Focusing on observing your inner dialogue and refining the five senses is a great starting point for making bigger changes over time. Reversing unhealthy habits is not easy, or fast. Try starting with these suggestions and see what happens for you.
Reversing the Mistakes of the Intellect
- Observe the unhealthy behavior(s) without judgment.
- Become truthful and curious about what is happening in your life.
- Listen to your inner dialogue: Is it true? Was it true in the past, but not anymore? Is it judgmental?
- Identify how many of your senses are overloaded or “polluted” in your day-to- day experience. Our perception of the world is determined by how we take it in through the five senses; hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. How can you purify your senses?
- Pick one sense organ to nourish throughout the week. Rest your eyes, drive in silence, really taste your food. Focus on that sense for as long as it takes to feel a difference.
- Spend time alone in nature. Being outside nourishes all the senses.
The practices of Ayurveda are over 5,000 years old and have stood the test of time. Strengthening your natural intellect is the way to health. Pay attention, take action, and enjoy a healthier life.
Julie Konrad is a certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor, health and wellness speaker, and writer living in Shaker Heights. www. clevelandayurveda.com.