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.

A week of turmoil and Bhagavad Gita ch6

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the tendency to get overwhelmed by the world around me. Or maybe it would be more correct to say, overwhelmed by my perception of the world around me. I don’t know why, but I tend to overthink and get carried away by my emotions. My dad used to tell me that I take life too seriously.

During the last five years, I have been studying and practicing Yoga with the hope that this side of me would fade away, but I still have periods where I get overwhelmed by all and everything, and to be honest, there is nothing to be so overwhelmed about. These episodes are maybe even stronger than before because emotions pile up as I want so badly to have control over my thoughts and emotions and I see how they get stronger and stronger until I can’t control them anymore.

I was listening to episode 94 of Secular Buddhism yesterday about The Five Hindrances in the Buddhist tradition: desire, aversion, disinterest, agitation, and indecision. One of the main points in this podcast is that we learn about these hindrances to be aware of them when they arise in our mind and to be curious and mindful but not to try to get rid of them.  I still have a lot to learn about my mind and what I can and cannot do about it.

I discovered that one of my biggest hindrances is that I believe that through the practice of yoga, I will no longer experience challenging thoughts and emotions. When they arise, I push them away, but after some time, they come back even stronger and that is when I lose my patience with myself and the rest of the world around me. Desire to control gets in the way of achieving a calm state of mind. The more I desire to be patient, the less patient I am.

My Yoga teacher encouraged me this week to study chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita. I am to savor one verse at a time allowing the message to sink in. So, here’s verse 1:

“Without dependence on fruits of action, he who performs action as duty, he is a Sannyasi and a Yogi. Neither without fire nor without action.”  

In this verse, we are encouraged to engage in the world with a sense of purpose and without any expectation. Everything we do, we do it as our duty, putting our best effort into it, and running away from our roles (like I sometimes really want to do) will not help.

Further, in verse 2 I read: “What they call renunciation, that know to be disciplined activity. O Pandava, for no one becomes a Yogin who has not renounced his (selfish) purpose. No one becomes a Yogin without renouncing expectation.”

The way I understand it we are encouraged to observe what drives us to act and discern between acting out of duty and acting out of need. We should then refrain from acting out of need, or at least be very aware of the motivation behind these kinds of actions and know that the outcome will mess up with our expectations.

So, I will experiment with this. When the need arises, I will sit with it, I will not reject it, but I will not put it into my actions because the outcome most probably will not meet the desired one and I will then again engage in the turmoil of my emotions. I will act out of duty, do my job in this world with my best intentions and efforts, knowing that the result is not in my hands.

I will continue with my daily Sadhana without expecting it to “fix” me. I will remember to be compassionate towards myself.

This is the path of spirituality, isn’t it? One step at a time. Learning, unlearning, adjusting our perceptions. Falling and standing up again. And in the meantime, hoping that those around us have the capacity to forgive our bad moments.

What I wonder about now is what are my real duties in life and what are my perceived duties?

Stormy weather and refining the mind

Early one morning
feeling the storm coming
I went for a walk
I reached the shore promenade
the mood in nature was in sync with my heart
When the storm hits my heart
I believe in the stories my mind serves me
These storms form somewhere deep inside me
So I walk, and I kindly ask my mind to cease
For I won't blame it on the world I perceive
I keep walking, until I stop to observe
The sea is moving with the wind
A bird in the sky is flying in the wind
The trees are moving with the wind
For what I see no one blames, no one feels guilt
The storm is just here doing its thing
Has the storm in my heart a function?
Why the need to blame or regret?
I don't know why this storm comes
but no matter how much I reject it, it keeps coming back
Today, I'll be like the sea, the bird and the trees
I'll allow the storm to be
Maybe one day, I'll let go enough
To allow the storm be the guide towards the place it needs to take me.

We all suffer from mood swings, I presume. I think I have already talked about mine in other post. I have periods where I feel overwhelmed by everything and everyone. I have periods in my life where I feel alone.

My mind serves me with a bunch of thoughts to engage with that will feed into these challenging moods. All from analysis to justifications of why I feel how I feel. So lately, I try to observe my thoughts and tell myself that I am getting entangled in my stories again . I let go of the stories so I stop blaming everything and everyone for my mood.

What I discovered today is the level of self-loathe that I experience now when this emptiness hits me. I feel guilty for going back to that space. I feel helpless as it seems like I can’t get myself out of it so easily. But what if I just accept that I have these stormy days? What if I allow the storms to come instead of try to run away from them?

I know about these moods, and I am working on refining my perceptions. I obviously can’t stop these moods from coming yet. Can I accept that? Maybe these storms just need to happen, and the less importance I give them, the less damage they make.

Interestingly enough, after acknowledging that, I felt some relief.

I recently heard on a podcast that mindful living is a full time job. Refining the mind is so too. When we think we’ve got it, we discover it is just the tip of the iceberg. It might help to think that we are explorers in unknown lands, and approach the mind with the enthusiasm an explorer has. 🙂