Aversion, the other face of attachment

Abhyasa and vairagya are two very important principles for the yoga practitioner. Very simplified abhyasa means practice and this encompasses the daily sadhana, but also practicing the teachings of yoga at every moment in the practical life. Vairagya is often translated as detachment. The less we cling to, the less disturbances we create in our mind, the clearer we live our lives and most importantly, the closer we come to the core of who we are.

The principle of detachment really makes sense to me, and therefore during the last five years, I’ve observed myself, and tried to detach from what does not serve me in my spiritual path. I have had to be quite honest with myself and let go of what causes disturbances in my mind. I am constantly looking at what I do, what I want, and what I possess, and I ask myself if this is a priority, or if I can let it go. This can be things, activities, relationships, habits…

The idea of detachment is not that we stop engaging with the world, on the contrary, we engage maybe even more wholeheartedly but with awareness. Without clinging into it.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the other face of attachment: aversion, and I have discovered that this one causes maybe even more trouble in my mind and in my practical life. There are different levels of it, the highest probably being hate or resentment. When we go around thinking bad of others, we can physically feel how it affects us, our heartbeat increases, our body feels restless, we feel generally unwell. A dear friend of mine once said in one of her workshops, hate is like eating poison and hoping for the other person to die. It really eats us up.

Luckily for me, I don’t hate anyone, but I do have resentment towards things people have done that have hurt me. I have been aware of that kind of aversion for some time now, and I constantly work with it. It helps me to think that people act out of their own perspectives and needs, just like I do, even if this sometimes means that they hurt others, just like I’ve done.

When it comes to the ‘lower’ degrees of aversion, I know now for a fact that I have a tendency to panic in moments of unpleasantness, either created by my emotions, situations or people around me. This often leads to me acting impulsively to get out of the unpleasant feeling making things worse.

Reacting with aversion to unpleasant situations is, of course, part of our instincts, and it is useful when we are in danger, but let’s be honest, in our everyday life, how many times are we in real danger?

Form now on, I will observe myself in moments where aversion arises and try to work with it by 1) Not reacting impulsively to it 2) Being courageous and sit with the feeling 3) Trying to understand where the aversion comes from and see if I can make some small adjustments in my perceptions and life in general. My yoga teacher often says that it is the people and situations that challenge us that teach us the biggest lessons about ourselves.

To achieve this, abhyasa is a very important element. During my sadhana (=daily practice which for me is sitting with myself), I can practice sitting with the unpleasantness, by using my breath to calm the mind and not feed into the feeling with analyses and judgements. And for the rest of the day, remind my limited mind that it is ok, unpleasantness is not the end of the world, it is trying to tell me something about myself and the way I interact with the world.

Can I say good things about myself?

A few days ago I wrote about my mental addiction to problems. I discovered that I had been looking for problems to solve for years and I became entangled in too many situations that did not really correspond me.

It’s part of my personality to help, but I decided to change my attitude towards life. Instead of seeing problems and trying at all costs to be the “universal problem solver”, take a step back and see where I can do something useful for the good of all and where it is better not to get involved.

In the end, we must accept that where more than one person interacts, there will always be frictions, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Of course, when I am the source of a problem, I will change my attitude or apologize, and I will go ahead without getting entangled.

I also decided to change my attitude, especially in moments where I often feel uncomfortable and focus on something positive. There is always something positive to recognize! As a teacher I know that the best way to push students up and forward is by focusing my energy on their qualities and the good they do, why not do the same in life in general?

Following this purpose of seeing the positive, the other day I sat down to write in my diary and I challenged myself to write positive things about myself. And what was my surprise when I realized how difficult it is to say good things about myself!

First I thought about writing my qualities, what am I good at? One of the qualities that I thought of first was creative, but I immediately thought that I am not as creative as my colleague who does incredible things, no matter what. Well, then what qualities do I have? Oh, I know! I am caring … But compared to my friend G, I’m not that caring. G is such an empathetic person, and he has so much energy! He is always helping others. I’m disciplined, but maybe also a bit stiff? … It took a while for me to realise what I was doing.

I was either comparing myself with people that I think have the quality in question “better developed than me” or I was finding arguments against the quality that I originally thought I had.

Reflecting a bit, I came to two conclusions. One, it is useless to compare ourselves with other people. We are all unique in our own way and we must truly find our positive sides and help ourselves cultivate and develop them. Not all inner work is about seeing our limits.

Two, if we play a little with the idea that we are all unique and have infinite potential, we then have all the qualities imaginable and unimaginable in the world! The trick is where we focus our attention and energy. Towards our limits or towards our qualities? What qualities do we think would be useful to live a more peaceful and meaningful life? Well, focus on them and stop seeing what others can or cannot do!

So let’s do the experiment of at least once a week to write all the positive things that we do and that we have inside of us. To choose our good sides and develop them to the fullest. Exactly the way a good teacher does with her students. Correct little by little our limiting perceptions, attitudes and actions, but without obsessing with them.

As Krishna says to Arjuna: Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the self alone is the friend of the Self and the self alone is the enemy of the Self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5.

Busy bee? Not today

I need to start creating moments during the day to take a pause. It doesn’t matter if it is five minutes, ten minutes or a whole hour. I tend to get caught in the misleading idea that every minute of the day needs to be used in a ‘productive’ way. Either at work or at home. Why do I keep falling into this silly pattern? I don’t know.

Sometimes, some extra time falls from heaven like today. Thursday last lesson, I teach yoga as an elective to some students in our school, but I had forgotten that their class was on a trip today. I prepared  myself and the classroom and nobody showed up. It felt so good to then spend the time to do my own asana practice and I even took five minutes to lie down in shavasana. It would have been too time consuming to change back to my regular clothes and tidy up just to try to get some work done before the end of the school day.

Sometimes, I have to create the time for myself like this week. I just didn’t feel like rushing through the house to get it cleaned during a weekday evening, I didn’t feel like hurrying up. Instead, I invited myself for a run by the sea in the gorgeous Spring weather, and left the cleaning for later this week. I genuinely felt revitalised that evening and the next day.

Everyday, I create a space and  time in the early morning to do my sadhana. This is non negotiable, but I keep forgetting that if I need something, the best person to provide it is myself. Never expect anyone to give you what you need, you need to take self-responsibility to take care of yourself. No one is going to ask you to stop spinning around because we live in a society that cultivates and encourages business, and you know what? That is nonsense.

Who do we benefit when we avoid judging?

‘He who is equal-minded among friends, companions, and foes, among those who are neutral and impartial, among those who are hateful and related, among saints and sinners, he excels.’  Bhagavad Gita ch6 v9

Lately, I have been reflecting on the idea of humbleness. This verse in the Gita might not be exactly about humbleness, but I think we need it in order to have the same balanced attitude towards everyone.

I have been asking myself if I am humble. Like anyone, in some aspects I might be humble, but I do observe that in other aspects, I get carried away by my opinions and I create a gap by opposing myself to things as they are compared to what I believe things should be, or to how people behave and how people should behave.

Why do I think about this? Well, I observe how, by going around judging situations and people, I create separation between me and the rest of the world and what is even worse, I create distress in my mind by labeling people and situations with either like or dislike.

My values, attitudes or actions are not “better” than others if they create distress. There is nothing wrong on being anchored in my own values and views but the challenge comes when I use them to place myself above others or to separate myself from others.

I might not like someone’s actions, but according to Yoga and other life philosophies, the action does not define the person. I sincerely believe that I benefit from accepting that someone acts in a way that I perceive as negative out of his/her own needs and perceptions, and then acknowledge that this person, just like me, is just striving towards his/her own well-being. I can also remind myself that just like this person, I have my limited sides and thus I have acted in harmful ways, I have made mistakes, and I will most probably continue doing so.

I once read an article about the gap that separates people with unreconciliable differences, and a way to find common ground can be to agree that they will never agree. I find this a beautiful example of humbleness, difficult to practice sometimes, but beautiful still. Why do we have to make those who disagree with us to our enemies? Can’t we just acknowledge that beyond our differences, we also have a lot in common?

I believe more and more that we waste quite a lot of energy by trying to make people change. The reason why I think this is because the more I look inwards, the more I discover how limited my mind is. I am aware of many of my weaknesses and negative attitudes, and still, I can’t just change them that easily. So if I can’t change myself so easily having access to my mind 24/7, what makes me believe that I can change others?

I also believe that it is natural to operate in this like/dislike realm, but we can try to be more cautious on how this affects us and those around us. What kind of environment do we want to create? If the answer is, a positive environment, then, do our negative attitudes help? We tend to forget that we always sit with the power of being the first one to take a step towards a space of acceptance and maybe even find a compromise.

Sometimes opposition can be a way to make people get together to create a group that feels cohesive and gives a sense of belonging, but how about rather try to create the space to include even those we disagree with? Can we see beyond differences and disagreements and recognize the human in everyone? Are we willing to create an even bigger group by including everyone instead of excluding some?

To achieve this, we need to cultivate values such as humbleness, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. We also have to be brutally honest with ourselves and recognize the imperfection in our own actions.

Self-compassion

Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the Self alone is the friend of the self and the Self alone is the enemy of the self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5

Compassion is an important aspect in the practice of Yoga and one of the core values in Buddhism. I recently asked both my adult yoga students and my teenage yoga students what compassion is for them, and their answers inspired me to write this post.

I can start like I did with my students by asking what is compassion for you? Take a moment to think about it before you read further.

The common definition that most of us use is being understanding and kind towards others. The definition in the dictionary is slightly different: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Very few students include themselves as an important object of compassion when defining the word.  However, according to the Yogic and Buddhist traditions, in order to cultivate compassion towards others, we have to first cultivate compassion towards ourselves. If this is a new idea for you, take some time to reflect on it. Doesn’t it make sense? But what does that mean? How do we show compassion towards ourself?

I asked one of my teenage yoga students how she shows compassion towards herself, and she answered “by eating chocolate”. Eventhoug there is nothing wrong with enjoying something we like,  I think this illustrates how we sometimes tend to misunderstand what self-compassion is, and that is why I opened this post with the quote from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita.

We often think that we are being kind towards ourselves by indulging in something, especially when we experience distress. It can be food, alcohol, TV, social media, you name it. In my perspective, this is only a way of escaping from that distress. We might get the illusion that we are alleviating it, but in reality we are just hiding it or pushing it away. That is not self-compassion.

Self-compassion requires courage, it requires the ability to see beyond our fear. We have to first have the courage to stop running away and face the source of our distress, which we often have the illusion comes from the outside world, but if we look closely, we will discover that it comes from inside us.

So, I wonder, when am I doing something ‘kind’ towards myself that will allow me to continue growing as a spiritual being and what am I using as crutches to avoid the fall, the pain, the distress?

I have already shared in a post the distress I sometimes cause inside myself because I get caught up in thoughts and emotions. I recently realized that I haven’t been showing self-compassion at all. Although it is positive to be aware of one’s flaws, one’s dark sides, it is harming to be judgemental about them. The advice in Yoga is so subtile, I think. We are encouraged to confront our inner darkness but we have to accept it first and then make small adjustments at a time. As a dear friend recently said to me, you need to embrace the monster inside you to move forward.

Only when we decide to live a life of awareness, of rude honesty towards ourselves, will we be able  be compassionate towards ourselves and thus lift ourselves forward.

In the process, compassion towards others starts to come easier and more naturally as we keep discovering our dark sides, our weaknessess and we then can identify with other people’s distress. This allows us to be less judgemental and more understanding, more tolerant, more willing to help.