Words I Love: Rasa

Earlier this year I took part in a writing challenge led by  Susannah Harwood Rubin, a writer, artist and yoga teacher. Susannah challenged us to write each day, a minimum of 30 words, inspired by a chosen word related to the topic of Yoga, and one of these words was Rasa, a favourite Sanskrit word of mine.
Rasa is one of those amazing words that can be traced back through Indian scripture all the way back to the Vedas, and like many words with that much history it has slightly different meanings depending on the time and the context in which it is being used. And so Rasa can mean sap, juice, essence, flavour, taste, emotion, mood & feeling.
In the Bhakti traditions it carries the meaning of devotional moods that can overtake one, in Indian dance it refers to the 9 emotions that one can express and feel. These 9 emotions are;

  • Sringara: romance, passion
  • Hasya: comedy
  • Karuna: compassion
  • Raudra: fury, ferocity
  • Vira: heroism
  • Bhayanaka: fear, terror
  • Vibhatsa: disgust
  • Shanta: peacefulness
  • Adbhuta: wonder, awe

I have always loved the teachings of the 9 rasas and love to contemplate the ways in which I experience them in my life. Part of my healing path has been to open myself up to feeling the full range of emotions that life has to offer, and to learn how to remain anchored and spacious within each of them. I am interested in a life that offers me a full spectrum of feeling and experience, and I have learned that to say no to one aspect of experience is to numb myself to others too.
To truly experience the sweetness of peacefulness we must understand the power of fury, to truly be compassionate we must be familiar with the suffering caused by our own self disgust, and there is no capacity for wonder in our lives if we don’t allow ourselves to also feel passion and fear. 
The word rasa is also deeply familiar to me through my Ayurvedic studies, in which it is primarily used to describe the 6 tastes, which are;

  • Madhura: sweet
  • Amla: sour
  • Lavana: salty
  • Tikta: bitter
  • Katu: pungent:
  • Kasaya: astringent

Similar to the teachings of the 9 emotions, Ayurveda recognizes that all six tastes are needed (in differing amounts, at different times, for different people) for true health and digestive wellness. Each of the tastes is created by two of the five primary elements used in Ayurveda (earth, water, fire, space, air) and has an effect on mind, body, and emotional states. I love this as it takes the topic of food and nutrition, which is so rife with neurosis these days, out of the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” foods and instead asks us to inquire into which elements or qualities are needed in each moment to create balance. It is a very alive and present way to eat.
Most of us tend to preference certain tastes and emotional states in our lives, that is to be expected, while others are more of an acquired taste (pun intended). But the concept of the rasas as both tastes  and emotions reminds me that real life is a full spectrum of flavour & experience, some of it sweet and joyful, some of it bitter or terrifying.
Joseph Campbell said ” People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
And I couldn’t agree more…..