On wishes and desires

Most of us experience if not often, at least at some point in life wanting something that is difficult to get or even that we cannot have. I remember when we were trying to have our first child. It took us a while, and at some point, we were told we probably wouldn’t be able to without ‘help’ from specialists. I remember the feeling of desperation and helplessness. Of feeling that it wasn’t fair. Why us, why me? We talked a lot about it and decided we didn’t want to go through the process of trying with in vitro. I tried to understand why I had such a strong need to become a mother.

Thinking back, I think I was still relatively immature, but I was able to understand that I had a need to nurture someone, to give love to someone. I said this to my husband, and we decided that it didn’t matter if the baby was born from us or not. We contacted adoption agencies to start the process of adoption.

It turns out that the Universe had other plans for us, and I got pregnant some months after we received the papers with the information, and not only did we have one child but three! Almost one after the other.

I have had other periods in my life where I have felt a similar lack like the one when we were struggling to conceive. I have wanted to have something that I don’t have. Maybe the need to become a mum wasn’t the first need I felt in my life that was difficult to fulfill, and it certainly wasn’t the only one.

Yoga came to my life in one of these periods of lack. It has taken me years to understand where it comes from, accept it and direct my attention to what I have and can create. Yoga has given me the tools to go a bit deeper, to turn my gaze inwards. Of course, on the surface, there is always something out there that I might desire but looking closer and reflecting I realise that the lack was all a product of my perspective. Maybe the feeling of lack of validation comes from a deeper need to see my worth that is independent of what I do or don’t do. My lack of connection with someone might be a lack of connection with myself which then makes it difficult to connect with others. My lack of love might be my inability to see that I have love inside me. And so on.

The challenge when we seek to fulfill our needs with a very specific wish is that 1) we risk not seeing what we do have 2) we don’t realize that what we seek, is deeper than the material thing, and thus we can give to ourself and others.

I thought to write this post partly because I have teenagers in the house. They all want things, and of course, I think that this is partly positive since that is what drives us to keep going in the world. But sometimes, they can get so obsessed with what they “lack”, that they don’t see what they do have. I know, this is a typical phase in life, and there is maybe a scientific explanation to it, the problem is when we become adults, some of us might never realize what I describe above. We might spend a lot of energy and time chasing that single thing that we think will make everything be better.

Right before I sat down to write this, I saw a short video from a Yoga teacher I follow on Instagram (@yaeleshy1), and I was surprised to see that she was talking exactly about the same thing I’ve been reflecting on these days. She put it beautifully: when you feel you lack something, sit with that desire, feel it, and try to see if you can define what the deeper desire is. Is it love, is it safety, is it happiness? If yes, how can you create it for yourself and others? There is nothing wrong with wanting as long as we manage to understand where this want comes from and evaluate whether we want to spend all our lives chasing that specific form that we think this want or this need “has to” have, or if we can invest our energy and time in seeing what we have inside ourselves and thus what we are able to create around us.

What do you need?

I went for an evening walk with my youngest who is now 13 years old. Together with her friends, she is going through changes, and with those changes seem to come challenges related to friendship. It is interesting to observe that their conflicts are not that different from what we could experience as adults, but with the lack of life experience, these conflicts feel much more dramatic than we might experience them after a few years of life (45, for example).

She started the conversation by telling me everything that frustrates her with her friends, and I tried to patiently listen asking sometimes if it wasn’t her own perspective. It is tricky to try to give advice, but here is what I told her that I think can help even ‘experienced’ adults when in conflict, especially with close friends and/or in a romantic relationship.

  1. Try to always remember that the other person, just like you, has more than enough with their own insecurities, inner struggles, and feeling of lack, so, whatever they do, is 8% about you and 90% about their inner life. So, if a friend suddenly acts cold, ‘ditches’ you for another friend, or doesn’t want to do something you used to do together, before assuming it is about or against you, talk about it. Try to not talk when you are upset. Wait until things are calm and ask. AND, even when it is about you, it is often a matter of perspective. If, however, the other person tells you there is something you have done that has hurt them, be open to reflect and consider saying sorry and avoiding doing the same again.
  2. Avoid talking with your friend by listing what is ‘wrong’ with them, or what they do ‘wrong’ (Very difficult!) Focus rather on expressing how you feel (or felt) in a given situation and wait for a response. Listen with an open heart. Most of the time, the intention behind the action is not to hurt. But when it is, try to find solutions together. I know, this one is difficult for a teenager, but at least expressing how they felt is better than ‘attacking’ the friend.
  3. Say clearly what you need. Write a short list of what you think you need from your friend to feel valued, safe, and included. Try to be as concrete as possible describing actual actions your friend can take.
  4. Listen to what your friend has to say. Consider their point of view.
  5. Consider accepting some of the sides that you see as challenging for the sake of those you value/like. Write a list of the pros and cons of your friendship with this person and decide if you want to continue investing time in it.

As I have been hearing since I started studying Yoga, when we move the focus inwards, when we are aware of how we perceive things, what we need vs what we think we need, and what we can give, it often is easier to communicate with others. It sometimes brings you to a better space in a relationship (although it might take time), and it sometimes might mean you need to let that person go, but at least you don’t feel like you are constantly banging your head on the wall.

Reflections over Karma Yoga, Pancha Klesha and Yamas/Niyamas

Although the path to liberation from suffering described by Patanjali is through meditation, we cannot reach a state of meditation as long as our mind is a mess. In order to calm the mind, we need to live a mindful life, and this can be done through the modalities Patanjali gives us in the method of Ashtanga Yoga, which in some aspects, seem to me to be connected to the principles of Karma Yoga as I have studied them in the Bhagavad Gita.

I recently wrote a post about the Yamas and Niyamas which can be seen as values and observances that when used in our interactions with ourselves and others, help reduce and eventually eliminate the fuss in our minds (chitta vrittis). In the same scripture, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we learn about the five kleshas (pancha klesha) or afflictions which are described as the obstacles to cultivating a calm state of mind. As long as our actions are a result of these afflictions, we are stuck in the cycle of karma – cause and effect. If we, on the other hand, choose to live a life of awareness and apply the Yamas and Niyamas, we avoid increasing the karmic load for ourselves, and contribute to a better world.

II.12 The stock of karma has the kleshas as its root. It is experienced in present or future lives. -Patanjali Yoga Sutras

The five kleshas are: avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (attachment), dvesha (repulsion or aversion) and abhinivesha (fear of death – clinging to a life of delusion).

The klésha that keeps us in the loop of the other four is avidya, or ignorance. In the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the ignorance referred to is our inability to see what is called our True Self (Purusha) which lies beyond our thoughts and physical body. This ignorance bounds us to act out of attachment and/or aversion and their derivates such as anger, fear, greed and so on. Purusha is described as eternal consciousness or pure potential. It is said, that once we realize our True Self, we find inside us a steady state of peace, love, freedom, and happiness. The problem, and the source of our suffering, is that since we’ve lost contact with Purusha, we keep seeking for peace, love, freedom and/or happiness through our actions, but nothing in the world around us -called Prakriti in the Yoga Sutras and Sankhya philosophy- can give us a constant unchangeable feeling of peace, love, freedom, and happiness because the nature of the world is transient.

“II.5 Ignorance is the notion that takes the self, which is joyful, pure, and eternal, to be the nonself, which is painful, unclean, and temporary.” [Commentary: ] Patañjali here gives a very important definition of ignorance, the primary cause of all bondage: Avidyā, ignorance, entails confounding the nature of the soul with that of the body. The body is here described as painful, duḥkha; unclean, aśuci; and temporary, anitya, unlike the puruṣa who is joyful, sukha; pure, śuci; and eternal, nitya.” Bryant, Edwin F.. The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (pp. 216-217). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

I have to say at this stage, that I often see the path of Yoga as a game with levels. At the level, I operate today, the idea of Self Realization, or reaching a state of complete awareness of Purusha seems a bit far out for me and challenging to grasp. However, the path towards it is what motivates me to study and practice Yoga which, will lead me to develop a better version of myself by living more mindfully and creating less suffering for myself and others- note that suffering is used as a common term for distressing feelings such as frustration, anger, regret, stress, and anxiety.

Also, the idea of having, inside me, a place of peace, love, freedom, and happiness that is constant and independent of my mind and the world around me gives me comfort, even though I still have a long way to go, sitting down in silence, practicing breathing exercises and studying and reflecting upon scriptures such as The Yoga Sutras, bring peace and reassurance to my mind and body, especially when being challenged by life and/or my thoughts.

I believe that the two main ways avidya is at the source of all the other kléshas are:

  1. Since we don’t know who we really are, we identify ourselves with our physical body, our mind, what other people think and say of us, and all the different roles we play in life. From the moment we are born until we die, we become the child of someone, the grandchild, the sibling, the student, the friend, and as life advances, we keep adding to the list. We create, in a way different identities in relation to each role. Each identity has its attachments and aversions and whatever happens, through the lens of the identity (ego) will be liked (attachment) or disliked (aversion) leading to a specific thought and emotion in our minds and a possible action or reaction. For example, in my role as a teacher, if I step into a classroom and the students are unable to be quiet and listen, I can experience frustration and anger. Why? Because I expect the students to show respect since I am the teacher. If I go into the same classroom as a guest, I most probably won’t experience the same strong emotion since I have no attachment to the role of being a teacher nor expectations towards the kids in the room. On the other hand, if I start my lesson and things are flowing smoothly, I might feel a pinch of anxiety for the rest of the lesson hoping that the students continue displaying the same expected attitude (attachment). I can observe the same in every role I play. If my husband forgets something that I asked him to do in the morning, I might get offended because I have expectations towards him in my role as the wife. If I ask my neighbour to do the same thing and she forgets, I might not react the same way since my relationship with her and expectations are not the same as towards my husband. But I might get annoyed at her if she parks her car in my carport. And so we move around in the world, each role we play is the ground for likes and dislikes creating a bunch of emotions and thoughts in our heads.
  2. Since we don’t know that we are love, freedom, and bliss, we seek it outside ourselves. We use our identities to find them through validation, recognition, achievements, and so on. Every time we do not meet our own expectations in our role, we experience aversion to what we see as a failure or mistake. We seek our value in our roles and in other people’s opinions about how we perform in these roles. Here again, we get trapped in the cycle of attachment and aversion. One example can be that I get caught up in seeking pleasurable experiences to keep feeding into the idea I have of happiness. Overconsumption can be a good example. We believe our happiness is in having things. Clothes can be a good example for me. I wish for a specific pair of trousers, when I finally get it, the joy of having a new pair of trousers lasts for a little while until I find out that I also want the shoes that go well with them, or the jacket, or the sweater, and so on. In recent years, I have become more mindful of the impact the garment industry has on the environment, so I buy used more often than new. This summer, while tidying up in my closet, I realized that I have lured myself with this. I need to stop buying altogether! It happens also with our roles. I am attached to my idea of a ‘good mum’, My idea of a ‘good mum’ is, among other things, that she is liked by her children, so when I set boundaries, or are strict, and my kids show their displeasure, I experience self-doubt and thus distress because I am not getting the validation that I unconsciously expect from my children. This can lead me to be an unclear and stressed parent affecting also the well-being of my children – I realized this recently too.

So, because we don’t know our True Self, we identify ourselves with our body and mind and the different roles we play in life. For each role, we have consciously and unconsciously a list of likes and dislikes that trigger emotions and thus actions and reactions. When we are not aware of this, we trap ourselves in some sort of hamster wheel (the wheel of karma). Reflect on the following quote written by my teacher, Prasad, for the Yoga Sutras course from 2021:

“The wider the net of I, Me and My, the more our energy dissipates.”

This is the essence of the Pancha Klesha teachings, I think.

The theory of pancha klesha, Karma Yoga and the study and understanding of Yama and Niyama can help us develop better habits to calm our minds and thus live a simpler, more content life. This in return affects in a positive way our environment because we become clearer, more confident, and compassionate members of society.

One way I use to get myself out of an aversion-attachment situation is to tell myself that things are happening and it is when I add ‘to me’ and especially ‘to me in the role of ____’ that distress happens, or at least it is amplified.

Patience, Work in Progress

A few days ago, my husband took the initiative to do some home improvements. He decided to build a library in our living room. He didn’t take this task lightly and researched online for a day or two to find out the best way to approach the task. He finally decided to recycle a couple of shelves we had on the ground floor and add some more elements he bought at IKEA. To begin with, it was his project, but once the shelves were done, I started helping sort out books.

We moved into our current house almost ten years ago when our kids were aged 6, 5, and 3. We chose to buy a new house so we didn’t have to spend time renovating it in order to spend our spare time with the kids. We couldn’t afford to furnish it fully from the moment we moved in, which we thought was also an advantage since we felt we needed to get to know the house first and then decide how we were going to use the space.

Throughout the years, we’ve changed how we use some of the rooms, often ending up with a bit of a patchwork. The kids were young, we were tired between work and everyday life, and didn’t want to spend much of our spare time in the house since we enjoy being outdoors.

So, when we started searching for all the books we had in the house, we realized they were everywhere, and the moment I entered a room and started sorting ‘my’ books, I realized there were other things that needed to be sorted into three categories: to keep, to give away, to throw away.

Initially, I approached the task with enthusiasm, but towards the end of the second day of sorting and tidying, I started getting frustrated. We will never finish! , was my dominant thought. Then, I remembered that one of my goals for the rest of 2022 (and the rest of my life!) is to develop patience. What a great opportunity to work with my goal!

So far, the shelves have the books we want to keep, we have two boxes with books we would like to give away/sell, and are working on it, and we have thrown away old papers and other rubbish that we had accumulated during the last ten years or even longer.

This little project of ours has reminded us of other things we have been wanting to change in the house but haven’t taken the time to do. Again, I had to accept that we can’t do everything during our summer break because we want to do other things, and we can’t spend all our holiday money on changing the furniture and lighting in the house.

So, for the moment, things are good enough with potential for improvement, which reminded me again of my goal to be patient. If ten years of living in the house and adding things sometimes without thorough planning will take a while to declutter and change, imagine attitudes and patterns of thought that have developed for over forty years!- if we only count this life. During the last seven years, I keep studying Yoga, reminding myself to work with what I consider most important, but I keep discovering new ways I limit myself through my mind. I am a work in progress, and I need to be patient, kind, and compassionate towards myself.

I have discovered that a great way to work with my patience is during my asana practice too. I stay longer in poses or do more repetitions of the same exercise. I try to keep my daily practice even simpler than before to discipline my restless mind. When I sit in meditation, I stay a bit longer after my bell rings, just to let go of the impulse of ‘finishing’ and moving on to the next thing.

I am also trying to remind myself to take a pause before I speak while in a conversation (not being very good at this yet), maybe to realize I don’t need to say anything at all.

It is going to be interesting to observe myself go back to everyday life. Will I remember to work towards my goal? I certainly hope so.

Changing my prayers

I didn’t grow up in a religious family, but I still have had the habit of praying since I was a kid. I remember talking to ‘someone’ in my head asking for help in a situation or wishing for something to happen. Maybe it is a cultural thing?

Since I started studying Yoga, my concept of God has been gradually changing. I can relate to my teacher’s explanations about what God or Divinity is in some Yoga traditions. He often describes Them as Pure Potential. In my understanding of my teacher’s explanations, God is not a ‘super-being’ outside me but rather something bigger than me and at the same time something I have in me. It is a very nice way to define God because it also reminds me that every single being in the world is part of this same Whole as I am.

In Karma Yoga, we are taught that God has nothing to do with our joys and sorrows. The life we have is a product of our actions in both this life and past lives. Because we have lost contact with this inner-divinity – what in Yoga is called the True Self- we keep searching for lasting love, freedom, and bliss in the outer world oftentimes making mistakes that bound us to the circle of Karma – life and death. God doesn’t ‘punish’ us, we experience the consequences of our actions either here or in our next lives.

Furthermore, we are here to experience the world through our mind and senses but to transcend both the world and our idea of ourselves so we can see this True Self. Therefore, Faith is an important part of the Yoga practitioner. Faith in the process, Faith in the Guru, Faith in Divinity, and Faith in oneself.

I believe that Faith is very important because non-attachment is a very important part of the spiritual path. We are invited to let go of what we don’t need for our spiritual development. The path of Yoga is a path of letting go of the attachments that create pain in our lives. It can be ideas we have of ourselves, it can be material things, and it can also be people. We need to surrender to this idea and have Faith in the process to be able to let go.

Coming back to the title of this post, I am changing my way of seeing life and its challenges. I have always been the cautious type and dread difficult situations. I don’t like the idea of meeting obstacles and challenges. I often worry about the well-being of my family and loved ones. In short, I don’t like suffering.

However, according to the Yoga tradition – and other Indian traditions such as Buddhism- pain can be the path to self-development when approached with the right attitude, and even better, since the nature of the outer world is to be transient, no pain is everlasting.

I have been reflecting on my worries and anxieties during this summer, and realize that they are most of the time (if not all the time) unfounded and they rather limit me. Every time I have encountered a difficult situation, I have been able to get through it, and there is always a lesson to learn at the end of the tunnel. Maybe difficult situations are often invitations to let go of our perception that makes the situation painful?

In any case, we all know well that meeting the world with fear is what brings suffering for us and for others because fear blinds us and hinders us from acting in a skillful way.

So, lately, when I catch myself praying to ask for a problem-free situation, I rather ask for the strength and clarity to better handle the situation no matter what, and I must say that it makes me feel freer and lighter than when I ask “please let this happen like this, or like that.”

I have created the habit to connect with this Divinity or Pure Potential every day and especially before I go to sleep to give thanks. I give thanks for another day here. For the moments experienced and for having a nice and soft bed to rest in until the next day. I think Gratitude is an important part of my prayers that also help me change my mindset from worry to positivity.