We humans tend to have very rough ideas and perceptions of ourselves, of other people and of the world around us. Just last night, I was upset that my partner hadn’t come to bed, it had been over 40 minutes and I was so tired and wanted to cuddle with him. When he finally came up, I lashed out at him, accusing him of staying downstairs so he could be on the phone a little longer… it turns out, he had been cleaning the kitchen and getting his things ready for the bike tour he had planned for the next day…
In my last post, I talked about two of the five kleshas in Yoga (Attachment or Raga and Aversion or Dvesa). Today, I’d like to talk about the first klesha, Lack of Awareness or Avidya.
What are the kleshas?
According to the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, kleshas are emotions or instincts that arise when our buttons are pushed, usually leading us to react in ways that aren’t the best. Learning to tame these emotions is one of the main objectives of practicing yoga.
Avidya, Lack of awareness (ignorance)
Lack of understanding, lack of awareness, being in the dark about something, this is all Avidya. And as nowadays many of us know, ignorance is definitely not bliss. In fact, it is this first klesha that leads to the other four negative mental states. Vidya is the exact opposite and it means seeing clearly.
Perhaps you have this idea that you’re not good enough to practice yoga because you can’t touch your toes. Perhaps you think that your colleague doesn’t like you anymore because she didn’t say hello back this morning, when in reality she was in her own world, worried about the fact that she might be pregnant. Or perhaps you think that all lawyers are arrogant people because you went on a date with one and had a bad time. The thing is, as we grow older, our sight gets a bit blurry – and the only way to clear out that lens we see through, is through the practice of discernment (viveka).
Discernment, according to the Merriam-webster dictionary, is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.
In other words, shining some light on things. And for that, we need to step outside of ourselves from time to time and remember the truth.
I love the Four Agreements from Don Miguel Ruiz, which are very much related to what yoga is trying to teach us in this regard. Agreement number 2 tells us: Don’t take anything personally – remembering that everyone has a unique view of the world, and that the way we behave or react to things is usually our projection of our very own personal reality, allows to see clearer. If you’re colleague doesn’t say hello back, if your bff hasn’t called you back and it’s been a week, if you don’t get that job, don’t take it personally – while there is a reason for everything, that reason may not necessarily have anything to do with you.
In the same manner, agreement number 3 tells us: Don’t make assumptions – assuming leads to lots of unnecessary suffering, and I honestly think it is the number one reason why couples fight. As I mentioned earlier, just last night, I was upset that my partner hadn’t come to bed, thinking he had stayed downstairs so he could be on the phone a little longer… it turns out, he had been cleaning the kitchen and getting his things ready for the bike tour he had planned for the next day…
So how can we clean up that lens, become more aware, see more clearly?
1. Ask questions:
To yourself, to your partner, to the world. If you notice yourself becoming affected by someone’s actions or reactions, by someone’s comments, take a moment to breathe deeply, count to five and ask yourself, am I reacting to this from a place of negativity (fear, anger, judgment, etc.) or from a place openness? Can I take a moment and remember that whatever happens around me does not define me? That everyone, regardless of their background, is inherently a good person and that we are all doing our best (within our own very personal realities)?
2. Meditation helps, but how?
When we practice meditation, we practice being the observer of our thoughts. Every time you sit and close your eyes, you drift away into your own reality, thoughts come and go, and somewhere in between, you catch yourself thinking, then, very gently and without judgment, you bring yourself back to present moment, to the truth of what is right now. You practice awareness. This practice then becomes very handy on your everyday life – you are able to catch yourself thinking thoughts that may lead to unnecessary conflict or suffering.
3. Get curious. What if?
Seeing things, ideas, people, from a place of curiosity and openness allows us to see things more lightly. What if I do give yoga a try and it turns out that after 3 months I am able to touch my toes? And if I don’t, at least I got a good stretch on! What if I stop taking myself so seriously and I just go for it?
Living in this world is already hard enough, seeing it and experiencing it from a place of awareness and understanding opens up doors to wonderful things.