Raga/Dvesha

As a student of Yoga, I read, I reflect and I apply what I study to my life. This means that what I retain from my studies is influenced by what is occupying my mind at each moment. My understanding of some of the concepts is influenced by my experiences and observations so most probably, what I think today might change tomorrow because of further studies, new experiences and hopefully deeper understanding.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about the concepts of raga and dvesha. They are both mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, and I recently found out that they are two of the three poisons described in Buddhism as well.

Raga is attachment and Dvesha is aversion in Sanskrit. Two faces of the same coin. If you observe your reactions towards everything that happens around you, you either approve (like it), or disapprove of it (dislike it) this leading to you either wanting more or wanting to run away in the oposite direction. Sometimes, we also are indifferent.

This way of ranging things as either good (pleasant) and bad (unpleasant) is most probably part of our survival instinct, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. However, in the Yoga tradition, we are encouraged to move away from these two ‘troubles of the mind’ because they distort our perception and distract or even distress our mind. When we refrain from attaching to what we like or rejecting what we don’t like, our mind is calmer and we might be able to deal with every situation in a more skilful way. You enjoy what is pleasant being able to let go of it when the time comes, and you can deal with what is unpleasant in a way that doesn’t add more distress to the situation. You might also sometimes discover that what you label as bad, is just your own personal perception that doesn’t benefit you and those around you.

I’ve been thinking about it this week because I observe how in the society we live, we are too used to choose what we think is suitable for ourselves, what we like, what we want, what we think is normal, what we think is good, and many of us struggle to come out of our comfort zone even if this would benefit someone else.

Are we becoming a hedonist society? Are we raising up our children to become attached to their comfort zone, to what they like and justify them when they despise what they perceive as unpleasant? If our kids get bored, what do we do? Are we overdoing it in our efforts to give them a good life? What is a good life? A life devoid of pain?

I sometimes wonder if not by being so obsessed with doing, getting and keeping what we like and rejecting so strongly what we dislike we are creating more pain than gain. What we perceive as unpleasant is often what brings us up and forward spiritually because we learn something new about ourselves. If only, that we are resilient.

Sometimes, reaching out towards others who need it demand from us to get out of our comfort zone. It demands that we do things that we maybe don’t feel like doing. I am not sure I am right, but I keep thinking about one of my daughters. She is born with a syndrome that affects among other things her social skills. As she is growing older, she is struggling more and more to be accepted by her classmates. I know she can be challenging because she can have a quite rigid mindset, but she is also a lovely kid with many assets. She has many interests any girl her age has. I am afraid that the adults around her are justifying her isolation with the fact that she is ‘different’ and that her classmates are young and shouldn’t be ‘affected’ by her sometimes challenging behaviour. Shouldn’t we be encouraging already from young age inclusion? What do we do with all the people that do not meet our definition of ‘normal’? Can’t we give them a chance too? They need more guidance, they need to learn how to socialise, and they might not learn all the necessary skills, but they certainly have the same right to be part of society as anyone else. Can we teach kids to be kind, to sometimes even include just to make someone feel good even if this means that they ‘loose’ some time of ‘freedom’ once in a while? Do we always have to accommodate for kids to do what they like and sweep away from their path what they don’t like? What do we teach them then?

I read today that one of the secrets to prosperity is generosity. When we give, we become richer, not because of some miraculous multiplication of what we give but because we discover how much we can give without really loosing anything…but now I am moving towards another topic, the topic of asteya. This can be for another time.

"I am here for you"

A colleague lent me a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children quite long ago. This week, I used one of the sub-sections from the chapter about Strengthening Connections to prepare my Yoga elective at school.

I don’t have the book with me right now, but the main message was how to show love to those who are closest to us. The best gift one can give is to be present. The technique he suggests is to take a deep breath, feel your mind calming down, bring yourself to the present moment and think or say “I am here for you”.

Although Thich Nhat Hanh practices and teaches in the Buddhist tradition, I often find some parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Yoga.

What resonates with me is on one hand the best way to show love by being fully with the people we love. On the other, it is the importance of being there for our loved ones no matter what. This, I connect with the advice that Krisna is constantly giving to Arjuna to control his impulsive need to constantly like or dislike things, situations and people. “I am here for you” even when your behaviour is difficult for me to accept. “I am here for you” even when you are not doing well.

Isn’t this the purest way to love someone? What we call unconditional love? It sounds so pretty, but it is so difficult to practice sometimes. I observe myself that I keep playing the market place with the people I love. I give and give and keep giving as long as it is ‘well-received’, but the minute I sense resistance or rejection, my attitude and behaviour change. It is almost uncontrollable. It comes from fear and insecurity, I think. It is difficult to be kind when it feels like it is not well-received. I don’t know what to do next, and I know that what is required is even more understanding, even more kindness, but I rarely manage to control my impulsive reaction which is to mirror the behaviour, or even get mad.

And, what about “I am here” when you don’t want me to be here? How does this apply? People have different ways of ‘asking’ us to be present. Some want support, someone to talk with or even a hug. Others want space and may look for that space in a way that can be perceived as hurtful. The real art here would be to manage to say ‘I am here for you’ by taking a step back and hoping that the person in question knows that the gesture is out of love and compassion and not indifference or rejection.

My Yoga teacher usually says ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, I guess because according to the Yoga tradition, we will never run out of love. Love is what we are, we just have to peel off all our fears, all our insecurities and limiting ideas to realise it.

I like this idea.

17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.

What is 'God'?

‘The grandest purpose of life (contrary to the implications of novelists) is not to know human love or to produce children or to win men’s fickle acclaim; man’s sole worthwhile aim is to find the everlasting bliss of God.’ 4:27 Yogananda, Paramahansa. God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita . Self-Realization Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

I like this quote, it gives us a bigger purpose than just chasing or being chased in the external world. I am now studying the fourth chapter in the Bhagavad Gita, and there is a lot of reference to God or the Divine to whom we can fully surrender and to whom we can fully offer all our actions.

The concept of God is somewhat difficult for me since I grew up in a Catholic country in a family that disapproved of the Church as an institution. God wasn’t a topic in my home, and the only idea I have of God is the popular idea: a man somewhere in the sky observing all my actions and taking note of them. Early in life, I decided I didn’t believe in this ‘God’.

Lately, through my studies of Yoga, I am revisiting the idea of God or the Divine. What my teacher says is that the Divine is not something outside ourselves. I think that many religions at their core say the same, but institutions have taken that away from people with the wish to control the masses. God is within us and it is in everything and everyone. He usually defines the Divine as ‘pure potential’. We all have pure potential. We all have a source of love, freedom and bliss inside ourselves, and our job in this world is to keep reaching towards it by slowly letting go the grip of tangible and ever changing things and ideas…

What does the idea of God mean to you? I observe that it is difficult for me to talk about God in most contexts. The moment the word God is mentioned in conversations, people get stiff, as if it was something ‘wrong’. But lately I wonder, if we remove completely the idea of ‘something bigger than what we see’, what remains? What is our bigger purpose in life?