Category Archives: avidya

When it’s unconscious, it’s easy to overlook

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The other day, my daughter walked home from school with our neighbors.   When I went by to pick her up, she was busy playing with her friends so I sat down with my neighbor and we visited. This neighbor and I have had some nice conversations since she moved in last year. We talk a lot about our kids and the neighborhood school. We might share how the most recent trip went or who’s coming in from out of town for a visit.  This time, sitting at her kitchen counter, we had a different kind of conversation.  We talked about experiences of motherhood and marriage. We shared stories about other times in our lives. I confessed that I kind of like my husband’s work-travel and that it’s been good for me and for our marriage. My neighbor talked about how she felt when she lived abroad, what her life was like when her oldest was a baby, and how she’s learned so much about herself since then. There were things I could relate to and things that surprised me about what she said. The conversation was less like neighbors chatting and more like the start of a friendship.

Later that evening, I was fondly remembering our conversation and I started to wonder… why did I find any of what my neighbor shared surprising? I didn’t know much about her and she hadn’t talked about any of those things before. Why wasn’t all of it just new information instead of surprising new information?  As I thought more about this, I realized that somewhere along the way, I created a story about her and her life. My mind filled in all the missing information about her with some made-up, inaccurate details. When my neighbor told me about her actual, interesting life, I was surprised because it didn’t match with the boring story I had written in my head.  Through that experience, my unconscious assumptions were brought to light and I sighed with relief. This is goodAs I become aware of these stories, I can do something about them. Yoga and meditation practice continue to provide me with tools for self-reflection. I’ve seen many old hurts healed and my life gradually transform by means of this ancient wisdom and personal practice.  But at almost the exact same moment I felt the relief, I had another not-so-pleasant realization: Wow. There are thousands of unconscious and inaccurate stories running in my head and influencing my interactions with people around me all of the time. A woman reminds me of an elementary school kid who snubbed me on the playground and I make snap judgement about her. Someone’s posture, expression, clothes, or tone of voice trigger feelings and reactions based on past experiences and that colors my interaction with the person in front of me. I’ve dedicated time and refection to stories of prejudice, racism, and sexism that are out there and in me causing harm, but those aren’t the only ones that are operating. I now see that all sorts of inaccurate stories and unquestioned assumptions can get in the way of connection, not just the obvious or alarming prejudices. These stories, any stories other than the one about the present moment, are obstacles to clear perception and can keep me from getting to know someone. I still have plenty of work to do.

We may not be aware that we are coming into a conversation with impressions and assumptions about a person, but I guess that’s the thing about the unconscious — It’s at work and we don’t even know it. Personalized yoga practice gives us space and time for self-reflection, and can help us uncover the unconscious stories that play a part in our relationships. Yoga is a whole-person experience. Movement, breath and meditation work on us in subtle yet profound ways providing tools to support clear perception about ourself and others. This visit with my neighbor helped me to see that any stories, even the ones that seem harmless or neutral, can cloud my ability to get to know an awesome person…. one who happens to live  right next door.

If you’d like to know more about how yoga can help you to be more present with friends, family, co-workers, and yourself, and watch these relationships improve, use the contact form to send me a note.  I’d be happy to meet with you for a complementary 15-min call.  It’s a great place to start, and there’s no obligation.  I hope to hear from you!

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)