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.

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.