Tag Archives: Yoga sutras

Fear effects our thinking, actions and relationships

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There are times when we must endure life-threatening situaitons and fear is a part of our mechanism for survival. There are also times when something in our life feels threatened, and this, too, can arouse fear and the host of symptoms that go along with it. When fear is operating at the lower levels of the spectrum and the symptoms are more subtle, we may not even be aware of the effect it is having on our thinking, actions, and relationships. But it is. Fear is powerful.

There was the time when my manager thought we should change my class schedule and drop one class. I freaked out. I couldn’t even consider the proposal. I started to worry that I was less popular than the other teachers and no one would come to class ever again and how would I make up the income… I put all my energy into fighting to keep things the way they were. I couldn’t see it any other way.

Since the election, the same thing’s been happening. I’m freaked out, and I keep feeding this fear with news, news, conversations about the news, and more news. It has been obsessive and I’ve been distracted by it. I must also be uncharacteristically short tempered because last week my girls both asked me if I was mad at them. This made me stop and think about my tone of voice and my lack of patience. I pulled them in close and apologized and told them a little bit about what was going on (none of it is their fault). Then I turned off my NYTimes alerts on my phone and started to wean myself off of talk radio.

The yoga sūtras give us a list of five ways that we can incorrectly perceive something, the kleśas (YS II.3-8). Patañjali says there is a general misperceiving, avidyā, we mis-identify, asmitā, we let our likes or preferences decide for us, raga, or we let our dislikes to determine what we do or don’t do, dveṣa. The last one in the list is abhiniveśā, or fear. Patañjali describes this version of misperceiving by saying that when we experience it, it’s like it mounts us and tells us where to go. The rider is directing our action and behavior. The rider is fear and our body, system, mind, responses… those are the horse. (YS II.9)

And that’s totally how it is. That’s what this obsessive behavior feels like. Part of me is watching while I read another alarming article and it’s like the watcher has almost no power to stop the doer from doing it. Something else is in charge. The fear.

So what do we do about it? Patañjali offers two very useful suggestions:

  1. If you see a kleśa, take action! Do something to oppose the symptoms when they are small and make some effort to come back into balance (II.11). This might be yoga practice, taking a walk in nature, disconnecting from devices and connecting to a person you love, or taking care of something – your garden, your pet, your house, someone in need.
  1. Meditate on something that is appropriate (II.12). When you give your full attention to something, as with meditation, your whole system benefits. The appropriate thing might be something that helps you feel connected, safe, or loved. It might be something that gives you hope. If you have a prayer practice or a connection to higher power, this can be very helpful.

I’ve finally had some breakthroughs with my most recent fear. I’m starting to notice a cycle and a process that I go through when something seems new and threatening and that cycle takes time. Neither of the solutions above are instant fixes. They are ongoing and helpful practices. As I start to feel a little less afraid, the concerns haven’t gone away, but the fear-based responses have less of a grip. I imagine they aren’t gone for good, but I find it so helpful to remember and connect with these teachings from the sūtras. I hope you do, too.

RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

I'm now enjoying chai in the mornings...

I’m now enjoying chai in the mornings…

Coffee is one of my favorite things but when I drink it, over time it starts to have this cumulative effect of gradually increasing my anxiety. I’ve tried to will this side-effect away, to ignore it, or to pretend that it isn’t all that bad, but after a few months steady coffee intake, the anxiety reaches a point where I can no longer deny the problems it causes me and I resolve to quit. Again.

The kleśas are five ‘afflictions’ or ways that our perception can cause us problems. In a nutshell? We suffer because we don’t see things as they are but instead, misperceive. This isn’t ignorance. If I’m unsure what time the appointment is, then I’ll open up the calendar and see that it is scheduled for 10:00am. But if I know that the appointment is at 1:00, then I leave the house at 12:15 and drive to the office. I miss the appointment because of my avidyā, misperception. We knew incorrectly. Because we believe that the way we see it is the right way, we take action based on that misperception. This causes us all sorts of problems.

Patañjali describes particular ways in which we misperceive.

  • We misidentify, confusing what is happening in the mind.  We say, “I am angry.”  “I am sad” etc.  We think we are these emotions and if we act from this place, this is Asmitā.  It would be better expressed if we said, I feel angry or I feel sad, giving space to observe the experience rather than identify with it. (*Edited 8/28/16 see below)
  • We have a positive or pleasant experience and want to repeat that experience of pleasure so we go after it even if it may no longer be appropriate or helpful. I think of this as also misidentifying what it is that will be truly satisfying. Raga!!!!
  • We have an unpleasant or negative experience so we avoid the thing that we associate with the problem. Dveṣa
  • Fear makes us see things in ways that may not be accurate or correct. We all know that when we are afraid, many things can seem threatening or dangerous even when they may not be. Abhiniveśā.

Why do I struggle with coffee, so? .

Patañjali nails it with raga. When I’m out of balance, underslept, or over-committed, then the attraction to the morning bev can overwhelm the more practical voice in my head. “I waaaaant it” is the beginning of the story I start to tell myself. “I like it. I like the routine. I like the little jolt and I want to repeat it every morning of every day. Why not? My parents drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee. It’s for sale everywhere.“

This is how I’ve known it to start. It seems good at first, but inevitably, unpleasant effects show themselves. If we see a kleśa at the foundation of any action, Patañjali advises that we take action early when they are small. If we don’t, the suffering may eventually be great enough, and provides motivation to change.

 

** read more about the Kleśas in the second chapter of the yoga Sutras or join us NEXT WEEK in Ojai, CA for our women’s retreat and get in on some great discussions on how this applies to daily living. http://handson-retreats.com!

Edit 8/28/16: When I originally published this post, I confused asmita and moha YS.II.32 “We think we are “wife” or “mother” or “yoga teacher” but then something changes and that role is no more or needs to adapt in some way and this can be very painful.” This is moha.  Asmita is something that happens with how we are thinking… confusion in the mind with how we are perceiving. (see above)