Coffee or early morning yoga practice? The dilemmas of a mum on vacation and my understanding of the idea of pleasure in the Bhagavad Gita.

“Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda”, we say in Spanish. Basically, if you wake up early, you get a helping hand from God. For me this means that if you put all your effort towards your goals, you’ll get some help from the Universe. I thought of this recently while debating with myself on whether get out of bed and do my daily yoga practice or stay a bit longer in bed and then enjoy a cup of coffee on the couch.

I don’t always feel like getting out of bed early to do my asana and sadhana, especially when on vacation, but I know what a difference it makes in my day. Asana helps me get the energy in my body moving so I feel less lethargic and more motivated. Sadhana helps me cultivate a calmer clearer mind. Yesterday, I even got what feels like the only rays of sunlight available in days before it continued raining… the whole day…

This reminded me that it is important to keep on doing things that benefit me longterm even though it is not always things I want to do. When on vacation, a good cup of coffee while sitting on the couch is often more appealing than following the discipline of sitting in silence followed by yoga asana. The coffee on the couch requires less effort, but I know the benefits from keeping up with my practice so, most of the time (but not always), this argument wins over the pleasure of not doing anything.

I have been reflecting lately a lot about the principles I am studying while reading the Gita. Krisna is constantly advising Arjuna to cultivate a steady mind through, among other things, refraining from seeking pleasure and personal rewards through his actions. This is part of what is called Karma Yoga. I must confess that it has taken some time to understand the sense of this. It is not dogma. It is not because it is a “sin” in the way we understand the word in the Christian tradition. Seeking pleasure in the sensory world is normal because it makes us feel good, but it is not something that will bring us lasting peace of mind and happiness.

Sometimes, we believe we do something “good” for ourselves by giving in to indulgences. We even find some good explanations like feeling restless, stressed, sad, tired or bored, just to mention some. Yoga is not encouraging us to live an ascetic life, but it warns us from fooling ourselves to believe that sensory pleasures will bring lasting peace of mind and contentment.

Giving in to indulgences, especially when we loose control, can often end up on making us feel even worse than before. I have experienced to sit down for a cup of coffee with a chocolate square after dinner, and then have one square more, and one more “because it was a busy day at work” or whatever, and then end up eating the whole tablet. After the first feeling of pleasure, I feel almost nauseous and have bad conscience for not stopping after one or two squares. So the pleasure turn into a moment of discomfort.

Or sometimes I get so attached that I believe I can’t be happy without them. Because sensory pleasures have only a short lasting effect on us, we tend to seek them over and over again. Or we move from one to the next one, to the next one never being completely satisfied. It has happened (and still happens more often than not) with social media. I am tired, I know I would benefit from a good and long night sleep, but I check my mobile “one last time”. After verifying there are no important messages, I then pay a visit to Instagram, and I just keep scrolling , and then Facebook, scroll, scroll, scroll and before I know it, I will only get six hours sleep, again! What good did I get from it? Just instant reward of the senses. I’m not even sure what kind of reward though.

We are so lucky to live in abundance on this side of the world, most of us have all our basic needs covered, and we can have almost anything what we want. Still, most of us aren’t quite satisfied. We are running from one thing to another, we are tired, we are stressed. Often, because we want to make enough money to get more things, to experience more, to keep going, and we keep the circle going.

Yoga encourages us to work on building a sense of inner okayness called contentment which is independent of external influences. This requires practice and patience. Practice in the form of sadhana but also practice in every moment of our day by keeping certain principles in mind. Patience because the feeling of okayness is not going to come right away, finding pleasure in a quiet mind is not as straight forward as enjoying a chocolate, but the more we practice, the more we see the results, and these results are more stable and long lasting than the enjoyment of a chocolate.

The idea is not to stop eating chocolate or enjoying my cup of coffee in the morning, but to keep in mind that these are temporary pleasures, and the more I get, the more I want. So I need to create a very conscious approach to them. If I get my coffee, great! I enjoy it. If not, well, I can drink tea or water (haha). But first and foremost, avoid allowing the cup of coffee coming in the way for my more fruitful and balancing practice of yoga that brings more longterm effects.

At the end of the day, it all falls back to the same: I and only I am responsible of my own well-being, and I have to be very clear about what brings real well-being and what brings temporary well-being. This doesn’t mean that enjoying the pleasures of life is wrong. But if what I want is real contentment, real peace of mind, I might have to give up certain pleasures in life to work hard on a more longterm and lasting goal. It is said that those that have understood this principle enjoy the world more than anyone else precisely because they know very well the difference between temporary pleasures of the external world and the steady and balanced contentment of the self-cultivated inner peace.

Ultimately, when we read verses like this

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom. (Bhagavad Gita Ch2 v56).

It is not because otherwise some superpower will punish us. It is because any of these states of mind only create distress and is needless for someone that is trying to cultivate a steady mind.

The whole art in here, is to find the right balance, and that is a constant work in progress. In the meantime, after I publish this post, I will reward myself with a good cup of coffee ;)… if I have any left.

Choices

I must confess that, since I can remember, I have had this feeling that someone with superior wisdom than me, would one day come and tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to do better.

All my adult life I have been torn between doing what I think is suitable for me (and my family in the last thirteen years) and wondering if I am making the wrong choices. Should I be more stressed? Should I have more friends? Should I go out more? Should I push my kids more to do homework? Should I this? Should I that?

The root of these doubts is most probably fear. Fear of making the wrong choice and regretting for the rest of my life for not making the other choice, the right choice. Especially when it comes to my children and their upbringing.

Then, five years ago, Yoga came into my life and its teachings towards living a spiritual life made sense to me. I continue studying through the guidance of my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, who patiently guides me but never tells me what to do. Still, when studying the Gita, especially about Karma Yoga, I find myself wondering if I need to change completely something in my life to live a more spiritual life. Am I in the right place? Am I in the right job? Am I in the right relationships? etc.

Luckily for me, I do have some connection with my inner self, with this gut feeling we all have. I don’t always listen to it, but since patience is also an important aspect of the practice of Yoga, I stay mostly put, I observe and I tell myself that when changes need to come, they will come by themselves. Almost naturally. There is a very important concept in the practice of Yoga (as a lifestyle, not only as a physical practice) called effortless effort, and I believe in it. The less we push, the less we fight, the clearer our mind and the more skilful choices we make.

I think I am understanding now that the principles of Karma Yoga are not encouraging us to do something different but do things differently. It is the attitude we bring to wherever we are and whatever we are doing that makes the difference. By practicing these principles, we will then live a more skilful and harmonious life. For our inner peace but also for the peace of our surroundings. It doesn’t mean that I won’t make mistakes, but I will then deal with these mistakes in a more productive way.

Maybe, I need to move away from the idea that there are right and there are wrong choices. There are choices and by cultivating a calm and clear mind I can make more skilful choices. Choices that are appropriate at the moment I take them out of the information I have. It is very possible that not everyone would make the same choice, and that is ok.

Another thing that I have been reflecting a lot about lately is that for every choice, there are consequences, and it is how we deal with them that makes the whole difference. The first one being that I didn’t choose the other(s) option(s). In addition, almost every choice has a pleasant/positive outcome and some corresponding less pleasant/positive or even directly unpleasant or negative consequences. Sometimes, these consequences are possible to foresee, sometimes, they come as a surprise. In order to live a more peaceful life, I benefit from dealing with both the positive and negative consequences of my choices instead of living in regret and guilt for not making the other choice. Fortunately, sometimes, when we realise that the consequences weren’t at all positive we can then make adjustments or even choose again. Sometimes, choices bring mistakes and all we can do is learn, change our course and move on.

Why do I write about this? Because I observe myself and people around me struggling to stay mentally and emotionally balanced with the choices we make. We decide something with what we believe is a clear mind, but we also want that thing that we didn’t choose, and we don’t want to deal with the consequences the choice we made brings. We even sometimes believe the other choice would be better, we would be happier, but still, we stay “stuck” in the choice we made in the first place. Sometimes, we can’t make the most desired choice precisely because we understand that the cons outweigh the pros, and our wants and desires stay in the way for us to skilfully deal with the choice we made. For example, I really want to go on vacation to a sunny warm place, but I also know that I have to save money. I then choose to not go on a vacation and it turns out that the weather is lousy most of the summer where I live. Would it then help me and my inner peace to go around the whole summer complaining about the weather, regretting my choice, dreaming about how good my summer would have been if I had left for that sunny place, knowing very well that I cannot choose differently?

I guess it all sums up to being with what is and not wasting energy on what could be unless we are willing to take the steps towards it. Make choices out of a clear mind, deal with the consequences or choose again, but avoid to be mentally and emotionally torn between this and that. Avoid cultivating feelings of regret and guilt and rather learn from the mistakes we make and correct our course. Stop living in fear of not making the best choice.