Raga/Dvesha

As a student of Yoga, I read, I reflect and I apply what I study to my life. This means that what I retain from my studies is influenced by what is occupying my mind at each moment. My understanding of some of the concepts is influenced by my experiences and observations so most probably, what I think today might change tomorrow because of further studies, new experiences and hopefully deeper understanding.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about the concepts of raga and dvesha. They are both mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, and I recently found out that they are two of the three poisons described in Buddhism as well.

Raga is attachment and Dvesha is aversion in Sanskrit. Two faces of the same coin. If you observe your reactions towards everything that happens around you, you either approve (like it), or disapprove of it (dislike it) this leading to you either wanting more or wanting to run away in the oposite direction. Sometimes, we also are indifferent.

This way of ranging things as either good (pleasant) and bad (unpleasant) is most probably part of our survival instinct, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. However, in the Yoga tradition, we are encouraged to move away from these two ‘troubles of the mind’ because they distort our perception and distract or even distress our mind. When we refrain from attaching to what we like or rejecting what we don’t like, our mind is calmer and we might be able to deal with every situation in a more skilful way. You enjoy what is pleasant being able to let go of it when the time comes, and you can deal with what is unpleasant in a way that doesn’t add more distress to the situation. You might also sometimes discover that what you label as bad, is just your own personal perception that doesn’t benefit you and those around you.

I’ve been thinking about it this week because I observe how in the society we live, we are too used to choose what we think is suitable for ourselves, what we like, what we want, what we think is normal, what we think is good, and many of us struggle to come out of our comfort zone even if this would benefit someone else.

Are we becoming a hedonist society? Are we raising up our children to become attached to their comfort zone, to what they like and justify them when they despise what they perceive as unpleasant? If our kids get bored, what do we do? Are we overdoing it in our efforts to give them a good life? What is a good life? A life devoid of pain?

I sometimes wonder if not by being so obsessed with doing, getting and keeping what we like and rejecting so strongly what we dislike we are creating more pain than gain. What we perceive as unpleasant is often what brings us up and forward spiritually because we learn something new about ourselves. If only, that we are resilient.

Sometimes, reaching out towards others who need it demand from us to get out of our comfort zone. It demands that we do things that we maybe don’t feel like doing. I am not sure I am right, but I keep thinking about one of my daughters. She is born with a syndrome that affects among other things her social skills. As she is growing older, she is struggling more and more to be accepted by her classmates. I know she can be challenging because she can have a quite rigid mindset, but she is also a lovely kid with many assets. She has many interests any girl her age has. I am afraid that the adults around her are justifying her isolation with the fact that she is ‘different’ and that her classmates are young and shouldn’t be ‘affected’ by her sometimes challenging behaviour. Shouldn’t we be encouraging already from young age inclusion? What do we do with all the people that do not meet our definition of ‘normal’? Can’t we give them a chance too? They need more guidance, they need to learn how to socialise, and they might not learn all the necessary skills, but they certainly have the same right to be part of society as anyone else. Can we teach kids to be kind, to sometimes even include just to make someone feel good even if this means that they ‘loose’ some time of ‘freedom’ once in a while? Do we always have to accommodate for kids to do what they like and sweep away from their path what they don’t like? What do we teach them then?

I read today that one of the secrets to prosperity is generosity. When we give, we become richer, not because of some miraculous multiplication of what we give but because we discover how much we can give without really loosing anything…but now I am moving towards another topic, the topic of asteya. This can be for another time.

"I am here for you"

A colleague lent me a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children quite long ago. This week, I used one of the sub-sections from the chapter about Strengthening Connections to prepare my Yoga elective at school.

I don’t have the book with me right now, but the main message was how to show love to those who are closest to us. The best gift one can give is to be present. The technique he suggests is to take a deep breath, feel your mind calming down, bring yourself to the present moment and think or say “I am here for you”.

Although Thich Nhat Hanh practices and teaches in the Buddhist tradition, I often find some parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Yoga.

What resonates with me is on one hand the best way to show love by being fully with the people we love. On the other, it is the importance of being there for our loved ones no matter what. This, I connect with the advice that Krisna is constantly giving to Arjuna to control his impulsive need to constantly like or dislike things, situations and people. “I am here for you” even when your behaviour is difficult for me to accept. “I am here for you” even when you are not doing well.

Isn’t this the purest way to love someone? What we call unconditional love? It sounds so pretty, but it is so difficult to practice sometimes. I observe myself that I keep playing the market place with the people I love. I give and give and keep giving as long as it is ‘well-received’, but the minute I sense resistance or rejection, my attitude and behaviour change. It is almost uncontrollable. It comes from fear and insecurity, I think. It is difficult to be kind when it feels like it is not well-received. I don’t know what to do next, and I know that what is required is even more understanding, even more kindness, but I rarely manage to control my impulsive reaction which is to mirror the behaviour, or even get mad.

And, what about “I am here” when you don’t want me to be here? How does this apply? People have different ways of ‘asking’ us to be present. Some want support, someone to talk with or even a hug. Others want space and may look for that space in a way that can be perceived as hurtful. The real art here would be to manage to say ‘I am here for you’ by taking a step back and hoping that the person in question knows that the gesture is out of love and compassion and not indifference or rejection.

My Yoga teacher usually says ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, I guess because according to the Yoga tradition, we will never run out of love. Love is what we are, we just have to peel off all our fears, all our insecurities and limiting ideas to realise it.

I like this idea.

17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.

Why develop compassion and forgiveness?

The yogis look upon all—well-wishers, friends, foes, the pious, and the sinners—with an impartial intellect. The yogi who is of equal intellect toward friend, companion, and foe, neutral among enemies and relatives, and impartial between the righteous and sinful, is considered to be distinguished among humans.’  (Bhagavad Gita 6:9)

How does this resonate with you?  What is your immediate reaction to it? Can you accept it? Why? 

If we define Yoga as equanimity of mind (Gita 2:48), does that change your way of understanding this quote? Why would this be important in order to have a calmer mind?

Although this quote doesn’t talk directly about compassion or forgiveness, for me, it is an invitation to practice both. Compassion is an important concept in many traditions. Have you ever thought about what compassion means for you?

When practicing compassion, we are always encouraged to start with ourselves. When you allow yourself to see inside your mind with complete honesty, you will discover both the bright and dark sides of it. Instead of criticising yourself, try to understand yourself. Try to understand why sometimes, you act and react in ways that do not serve you or those around you. It usually has to do with thoughts and ideas that are imprinted in your mind as a result of past experiences. When you are able to understand yourself, you are able to show compassion too. This is the first and most important step towards self-transformation. By observing, accepting and understanding, we create space between our thoughts and our actions, this space, with practice allows us to stop living a reactive life and start living an active life.

Once you are able to show compassion to who you are at any time, you will see that it is possible to show that same compassion towards others because you realize that they too, act and react according to their own mental limitations.

Compassion has two main benefits, the first one is helping you stabilise your mind, the second one is to interact with everyone in a more open and harmonious way.

Once you are able to show compassion, you might be able to forgive. Forgiveness comes from our willingness to let go of our expectations towards others. If you are struggling to forgive someone, try to think in the same line as with compassion. Someone once said that hating someone is like drinking poison and wishing the other person to die. When we go around with resentment towards others, the only affected is our own peace of mind. In addition, we can consider the fact that we all are seeking love, freedom and happiness, but we do it in different ways. We all act out of our patterns of thought and perception, and for some, there is a real feeling of no other choice. This can help us feel compassion and eventually forgive.

Recognise yourself in others.


What my Yoga practice does and doesn't do.

Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from getting frustrated. Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from getting angry. Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from feeling blue. But it helps me accept my frustration, my anger and my sadness. It helps me create a space between my emotions and my reactions. It makes me question my perspective. So I get out of my spiral of negativity faster. Yoga has taught me to find my balance over and over again. Therefore, study, practice and use what you learn on yourself. Fail, fall and get up again and learn. That is all we can do.