’My Octopus Teacher’, Elemental Puddings, and the Art of Authenticity

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Authentic, real, true – what do these words conjure for you?

Merriam-Webster has announced the word of the year for 2023 is ‘authentic’. “With the rise of artificial intelligence and it’s impact on deepfake videos (…) and academic honesty, (…) the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ has become increasingly blurred, as more and more what’s real seems to become less clear”.( 2) “For this reason, authenticity is ‘something we’re thinking about, writing about, aspiring to and judging more than ever’, the company said. The dictionary has several definitions for the word, including ‘not false or imitation’, ‘true to one’s own personality, spirit or character’, and ‘made or done the same way as an original’, among others”. (1) And if you’re one of the many searching for greater authenticity in your life, there’s no better place than to start with the Doshas. For this trio of natural forces, called Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are comprised of the raw ingredients of Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth – so they’re clearly not false or imitative. And what’s more, they always stay true to their individual character, despite everything we throw at them. They are then the epitome of original, and so what could be more real than building a relationship with these most authentic of energies? 

In the Academy Award winning documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher‘, the unlikely story of the friendship between filmmaker Craig Foster and a common Octopus, reveals how observation can deepen any relationship – even an inter species one. It shows Foster implementing “a daily diving regimen in the freezing kelp forests at the tip of Africa” as he tries to “re-energise himself”, after suffering “a loss of purpose”.(3) As the octopus shares the mysteries of her world with him, she and Foster begin to form an intimate bond, as their year together gently unfolds. And as Ayurveda like any science, involves the act of inspection and scrutiny, if you wish to build a similarly deep bond with the Doshas, limbering up your powers of observation is a prerequisite. For like the octopus, Vata, Pitta and Kapha are constantly sharing through their ever-changing signals, the curious conundrums of their elemental world. And once you begin to pay attention to these signs just as Foster did, over time you’ll be able to build a beautiful and mutually beneficial relationship with them too. And the more effort you put in to being observant, the greater depth of intimacy you’ll build, and the added energy and purpose you’ll benefit from as your most authentic self slowly begins to emerge.

This is because as you adjust your lifestyle in response to each signal, the happier Vata, Pitta and Kapha will become. And it’s then they’ll be able to lend you their most attractive traits and charms, ensuring you’re more likely to display the positive rather than negative facets of your individual self expression.When we keep Vata agreeable, she gifts us her creativity and flexibility. When we do the same for Pitta, she grants us her intelligence and understanding. And when Kapha’s in a congenial mood, she delivers us her love, calmness and forgiveness. But when they’re out of balance and begin to reveal their darker sides, Vata shares instead her fear and anxiety, Pitta her anger, hatred and jealousy, and Kapha her attachment, envy and greed.

Every choice we make throughout our days impact our Doshas, so we’re all elemental puddings of sorts. This means we need to stay constantly vigilant, as retaining our elemental balance is key. A pudding needs space in the basin for the contents to rise, air so it can become light and fluffy, fiery heat so it can bake just so, and plenty of oily liquid to bind the earthy ingredients smoothly together. Our puddingy selves are no different. We also need space in our lives to allow for flexibility, air for the birthing of our creative ideas, sun for our light of understanding and intelligence, and water and earth so we can become our most lubricating and supportive calm, loving and forgiving selves. And puddings, Christmas or otherwise, always also taste best when the ingredients we use are in their most authentic state. So take stock of your life by asking yourself the following questions : Are you allowing room for all five elements to thrive? How real is the data you’re consuming, how natural is the food you’re eating, and how authentic and balanced are the people you’re spending time with ? And are you reaping a bounty of enjoyable elemental rewards, or are you harvesting a crop of less agreeable qualities ?

Creating an authentic life is an art form that requires not only owl-like observation, but also attention to the most minute of details, as you sculpt your daily lifestyle into the optimum one for you. Paint a life filled with more lightness, by noticing the seemingly minor and inane messages your body and mind are sending you, and by becoming familiar with the lists of Dosha ‘Signs and Signals’, ‘Aggravators and Upsetters’, and ‘Soothers and Balancers’ on this website. Then after you’ve observed a signal, start responding to the elemental changes taking place by tweaking your lifestyle, and notice the seismic shift in how much better you begin to feel. For example, if you discover when you eat hot, spicy food in Summer you begin to feel hot-headed, stop eating hot, spicy food in Summer, and begin to introduce measures that cool Pitta down, such as cooking with coconut oil. Or, if when you’re rushing around in the Autumn winds you notice you become more anxious, schedule less on the to-do list and try to help settle Vata by taking a warm bath. And if you’ve worked out you always feel dull and heavy and begin to get rather attached to the couch on overcast wintry days, help Kapha re-energise by incorporating more exercise and by playing some bright, boppy music. If you’re becoming anxious, fearful, angry, jealous, greedy or attached, one or more of your Doshas are out of kilter. And from an Ayurvedic perspective, this means your best and most authentic self is being thwarted from glowing at full beam.

Oxford University Press (OUP) has also just announced a Word of the Year – ‘rizz’. Believed to be a “shortened form of the word ‘charisma’, it’s defined as ‘style, charm, or attractiveness’, and as ‘the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner’. “President of Oxford University Languages, Casper Grathwohl, said “ Given that last year was ‘goblin mode’ after the pandemic, perhaps after a challenging few years, we’re finding confidence in who we are”. (5) This may well be the case, although according to Merriam-Webster many of us are still searching for more authenticity. Nevertheless, you understand now that if you want more ‘rizz’ in your life, keeping your Doshas in balance is the key, because the attributes of flexibility, intelligence and calmness beats hands down any day, those of anxiety, anger and greed.

Recently gone viral, is an image of a koala sitting on the ground of a service station in Victoria, Australia, whilst gazing up at a man and young girl who are “seemingly unaware of the animal’s appearance as they fill the car with petrol”. Some have commented on the “cute” photo, and others on the “grim sign for the iconic animals future”.(6) But to me, what stands out is the man and young girl’s disconnection from their surrounding environment, like many of us are guilty of much of the time. On the other side of the world in Northumberland England, there are reports the ‘Sycamore Stump‘ has become a huge tourist attraction, as hundreds of people visit the remains of the tree that was chopped down not long ago, in an “act of vandalism”. It was previously thought to have been “one of the most photographed trees in the world, after being featured in the 1991 movie  ‘ Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves”. People making the pilgrimage to the tree have been visibly moved, and The National Trust who owns the land, have placed a sign by the stump that reads : “ This tree stump is still alive. If we leave it alone, it might sprout new growth”. (7)

Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-large of Merriam-Webster has said, : “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis in authenticity. What we realise is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more” (4) What do you value in your life, and how alive do you feel ? What signs are the Doshas revealing about the tastiness of the elemental pudding that is you? And how can you improve the quality of the ingredients you’re taking in, so as to encourage new and vibrant self growth ?  Life is a finite container that requires space if we’re to have the freedom to observe. And observation is key to achieving authenticity. So, as the year draws to a close, and you dream of being your best self in the days to come, start prioritising and allowing time for just that. Observe, observe, observe. It really is that simple.

KNOW YOUR DOSHAS

References:

(1) “Merriam-Webster’s 2023 Word of the Year Is ‘Authentic’ “Smithsonian Magazine, 29/11/23 Teresa Nowakowski

(2) Merriam-Webster online ‘ Word of the Year ‘ 27/11/23

(3) Sea Change Project website

(4) “Ditch deepfake, A 1 and post-truth as Merriam-Webster chooses it’s 2023 Word of the Year.. and it’s about being true to yourself” by Lettice Bromovsky 27/11/23 Daily Mail

(5) “ ‘Rizz’ announced as the 2023 Oxford Word of the Year” by Melinda Spanoudi 04/12/23 The Bookseller

(6)”Viral photo of a koala at a Victorian service station was called ‘cute’-but wildlife experts say it shows a grim reality for the endangered animal” by Pranav Harish 16/12/23 Daily Mail

(7)”The Sycamore STUMP is still a huge tourist spot: Hundreds of people have visited remains of world-famous tree three months after it was cruelly chopped down in ‘act of vandalism’ “by Mark Lister 17/12/23 Daily Mail