What's Hindering Me?
Klesas - Hindrances of the Mind
Wow. It says in the Sutras that, "Ignorance consists of regarding a transient object as everlasting". That one got me. I sat back and looked at my neighbors recycle bin after I read those words (as it turns out, it's recycling day so even his bin resting at the end of his driveway is transient ...he'll move it to the back yard later today...talk about a live example). I don't often stare at his bin. It just happened to be in my sight when I sat back after reading those words. But I digress, hugely. So, to move on to a more adult-like, yoga-oriented discussion here, "but, but, but I WANT some things to be everlasting!"
This is quite a wild set up isn't it - plopped here on earth surrounded by temporary thoughts, things, and feelings, but with a desire to keep it all from changing. Who thought up that design? It sounds like a TV show or something. A reality show called "Who's stupid enough to keep hanging on when we KNOW that only causes us to suffer and WE make the choice?". Of course a more marketable name for the show might simply be "Suffering". The ratings would go through the roof! People seem to watch TV to do exactly that - watch people suffer. Okay, I digress again. But thankfully my digressions are transitory too.
So...I suffer when I identify with something, merge with it, and think it will last but it doesn't. I have thoughts, feelings, desires, a house and all that, but I am not those things. Okay, I get that. So why do I keep going back to ignorance and identification and the resultant suffering? Maybe it's because I don't focus on...gosh I never know what to call this...the usual...god, divine, buddha, wally. Okay. Wally. It's "Wally". I chuckle when I say it, so it must be god, buddha, and the divine all wrapped up in one.
If I focus on Wally, I forget what the heck I'm talking about because I start laughing when I say "Wally". How cool is that - that's exactly the point isn't it? Forget about what I'm talking about and let it go...the heat and humidity or the cut on the finger or why my socks didn't dry. So now I have to suffer by going back down again to get them out of the dryer and oh my gosh how horrible that is. I think of Wally, the identification is gone, suffering melts, and I'm tossed into the mystery of Wally's Bliss. I guess that sums it up - just let go. Forget about it. It's done, over. I still have to get my socks of course, unless I can talk Patty into getting them when she goes down. ?
That may be confusing to anyone but me, so let me see if I understand. The yoga definition of Ignorance says that I'm simply identifying with and merging with something and that's why I suffer. I think that I am hot and humid rather than thinking it is hot and humid outside. Ah, so that's where pratyahara comes in - focus on Wally, forget about the sensory experience of feeling hot, and lose the identification and the suffering. Man that is SO MUCH easier said than done.
That's why they call it yoga "practice" I suppose. But why does it feel so much more exciting to complain about the heat and humidity? Control. Better I admit it here than talk this over with Patty and have her say it - I need to be in control. If I identify with the humidity and then complain, I feel powerful. I'm right, humidity is wrong. It is as if I know better than the weather gods and if only they would listen to me I could control it and get what I want.
But if I practice pratyahara and focus on Wally...then I have nothing to do but hang out and experience life, going with the flow. I have nothing to control. Well then I can't help wondering...if I'm supposed to just hang out and experience life, why do I have hands? All they want to do is control...the steering wheel, the soap, the door handle. These are some serious control monsters - the temptation is overwhelming. Does this all strike anybody else as just weird? It seems like a weird design issue in how humans were designed. Wouldn't it have been easier to skip all this and go right to a state of blissful spirit without having to ever turn a steering wheel? But to be sure, given how things work, I'm grateful to have hands.
This chapter on Klesas is a tease, and a challenge. My gosh...there is enough "stuff" to write about here that one could fill an entire year of yoga training with just studying the Klesas and barely scratch the surface.
Egoism (Asmita): The Yoga Sutras describe Egoism as an identification of the Seer with the instrument that Sees, identification with what I am not. When I think I am my thoughts or feelings or sensations, I feel jealousy or pride or other sufferings. Our Study Guide suggests writing out my answer to the question of "Who am I?". I'm sitting here looking at a cat across the street as I ponder that. My eyes and brain see the cat. But who sees?
I know I see the cat. And I know that I know that I see the cat. I even know that I know that I know I see the cat. I think I might change the word from "Seer" to "Knower". I think that better reflects awareness and consciousness, for me. But then again, I'm partial to Jnana Yoga. Even if I see, if I don't know that I see then I'm not conscious. How many times have I driven to work and suddenly realized I was at work without remembering the drive. Scary. So being the seer is good. Being aware of what I see is better. So, who am I? In simple terms, I have no idea. Take away all the thoughts and feelings and body and the humidity, and I'm just awareness. I suppose that takes on the form of electrical brain impulses, but it goes beyond that. It is a sense, yet not a feeling. A knowing. An awareness. See how circular this stuff is? If I know that I'm not things and thoughts, and then all I'm left with is awareness and consciousness - I get the same answer every time I ask, "Who am I?". I am just awareness and consciousness. I move away from that when I attach to anything.
Attachments (Raga): Oh boy. This could take a while so let me pick one or two points and explore them here. The need to be right has grown in me as I age. It probably better fits in the Asmita / Egoism category, but to release need that requires me to detach and dis-identify. But somehow along the way, I attached to the illusion of security that comes with being right and having things my way. I became too filled with ego by attaching to my "success".
What if I wasn't right? What if I admitted that I have no idea how to raise a puppy because I've never had one? Well gee, I suppose I'd have to listen to Abby (our puppy) more. She knows how to be a dog. I just know what I want her to do (desire, attachment).
Ah, this drives me nuts. I write these yoga essays and smack in the middle of them I get the "well duh!" experience. How simple is it...if I need to be right, I close off to outside information because it is too threatening to my obvious brilliance in any given situation anywhere I happen to be on the planet. Ya, a likely story. But, if I can humble myself and admit that I have no clue and I'm afraid of messing up and I'm afraid of looking stupid, then maybe Abby can teach me something about what it means to be a dog and I will actually hear it. And as I learn more about what it's like to be a dog, I can communicate with her in a way she understands. Well, isn't that interesting. It's the same with humans. Attachment blocks listening. And listening is exactly what I need to do to understand another human being, or my Self.
Aversions (Dvesa): As I noted above, I have an aversion to messing up and looking stupid. Looking stupid doesn't go over well with me. The odd thing is, I don't have to look smart. I just have to not look stupid. Well I'm glad I set my standards high on that one! Sheeesh.
I'm not supposed to look stupid. I'm not supposed to look like I don't know what I'm talking about. My father is an amazingly handy guy. I'm not. My one and only toolbox rusted. So while he was busy building and fixing things, I was busy trying not to look stupid. I developed research skills and a mind that has resulted in more than one boss' performance review of me noting, "can look at things from so many angles, outstanding problem solver, ..." and a bunch of other comments that proved I wasn't looking stupid. So I felt safe.
Then we got a puppy. Well, she doesn't care about my performance reviews. She doesn't care if I look stupid. The thing is, it just doesn't matter to her. I can look really stupid and she'll still want to play. But Wally-forbid that I look like I don't have control over her or that I'm stupid or that I'm messing up with her in front of humans. Of course the irony is that worrying about looking stupid IS stupid. Well that's weird - it just occurred to me that worrying about looking stupid is resulting in me doing the very thing I fear - looking stupid! Oh I just love these yoga essays.
Okay so I need to bring this to a close even though there is so much more to explore in this area. But I'm already over five pages, I think. Or, I will be.
Fear of Death (Abhinivesa): The day I learned that issues with my heart valve could lead to one, two, even three heart surgeries blew me away. I shook, cried, and felt fear like I never have before. I live daily with the knowledge that my heart, if I lifted too much weight, if I cycled too hard up a hill, etc...could literally blow out the aortic valve and kill me. By the time any medical personal arrived, it would be too late.
That scares me. It scares me every day. My initial reaction was aversion - sit still and quiet on the couch, don't move, don't test this.
But I can't do that. That would kill my spirit. So, I work with my cardiologist and I listen to my body as best I can and keep going. I jog slowly, I cycle at a steady pace, and I do yoga remembering that as long as I breathe, I won't do too much.
The study guide noted that aversions can be healthy. An aversion to lifting heavy weights, for me, is healthy. I go to the gym and boy is that an exercise in non-egoism. I'm not supposed to lift any weight I can't lift 20 times in a row. That means that I'm at the end of the gym with the small weights, usually surrounded by women, while the men lift those big things over there. It's a guy thing, but that clearly is an exercise in self-acceptance for me. So is letting people pass me when I'm out cycling. Not that I was competitive or anything.
Anyway, what I did just now in this paper is what I have done in my life - started thinking about death and then moved away from it and went on to another topic (egoism in this case).
Sitting with the information about my heart, as I wrote above, shakes me. Yet when I do that the clarity of life is amazing. There is no question about what my priorities are and how I want to spend my time. The leaves on the tress and my neighbor's recycle bin take on a deep beauty that causes me to observe in wonder. And I do mean the recycle bin - a mundane, taken-for-granted, dirty thing like that becomes beautiful. I begin to wonder who made it, were they happy with the quality of it, did the money they earned help their family, how long did it take someone to find the right shade of green before they decided it was just right, how cool it is that we have the technology to make paint and mold bins and machines to paint the letters on. Watching a recycle bin for 30 minutes becomes an amazing ride through human history and the technological revolution.
And then, it becomes too much. The ignorance and attachment to life, and the aversion to fear of death come in, and the ride ends. I block it out. I forget about my heart for a while so I can function and do really important things so I can prove that I'm not stupid, so you will like me.
But the fact is I will die some day. There will come a time when I....ah, wait, the Bhagavad Gita talks about how we can't die. We have always existed and always will. Laws of physics say we can't kill energy, we can just change its form. And so fear of death is really just a fear of losing the people and things I am attached to, and missing them.
Ugh. Jealousy! Fear of death might be wrapped up in jealousy and egoism! It just came to me as I sat here pondering. If I imagine, as asked to via our study guide on page 283, to imagine what the world would be like without me here, I get jealous. I couldn't use my kayaks or pet my cats. But the world would go on. Ya I might be missed for what is really just a blink of an eye in the timeline of the existence of the universe, but it would all go on without me.
So, is fear of death and the attachment that comes with it, really about jealousy? About the fact that no matter how successful I am or how well I can cycle or how not-stupid-looking I am there will come a time when nobody will give a damn and it won't matter? Two hundred years from now, will anyone alive care that I lived? Is all this just a temporary game in which the external stuff that I identified with along the way gets blown away or used by the next person without any glory for my ego, while I just morph into some other form?
Yes, apparently so.