Dear Beautiful Human,
This pandemic we are all living through has added so much change, instability and uncertainty to our lives. So, I have been watching myself more closely than ever. I have noticed how often I seek to have a timeline, a clear idea of when things will reopen, some kind on answers to my questions. But there are none. Literally, we have no idea what will happen or when. It could be weeks. It could be months. It could be years.
Putting my spiritual practices to work, I have noticed how often my mind takes me to crazy town or to really grim places or worst-case scenarios. Luckily, I catch myself and reroute. It’s had me thinking of the 5 causes of suffering. I have been aware of how much time and energy I waste when my mind takes me away from the present and away from the now.
The great sage Patanjali wrote a manual on how to practice yoga more than 2000 years ago called the yoga sutras. It’s not a “how to” text on poses or how to balance in a head stand. It’s a roadmap of the mind and of achieving inner states of advanced awareness. It’s a book on meditation. It’s a book leading you to YOU.
In this great text he explains why we suffer. He identifies the 5 causes of suffering called kleshas. There is a difference between pain and suffering. We all feel pain. But when our minds create stories or resistance to pain, we suffer.
The first klesha is avidya, or ignorance. Our fundamental misunderstanding is that we are ignorant of who we are. We think “I am a mom” or “I am a successful lawyer” or “I am worthy because I am pretty”. Or perhaps “I’ll be happy when…” or “if only I had this much money then I could be happy”. None of this is true and it inevitably leads to suffering because none of those things are forever nor guaranteed. They are not permanent. It’s a serious mistake which always leads to suffering.
Instead the key to freedom is to know ourselves at the deepest level, to know that part of ourselves that is timeless, changeless, luminous and vibrant. It’s to know our spirit. He wants us to identify with OURSELVES not with something outside of ourselves.
The second klesha is asmita, or ego. Ego is when we finally achieve that career benchmark or number in the bank account and think we are now better than everyone else. Ego is when we think we know it all and expect the world to be as we think it should be. When ego is in control we lack humility. Ego is always dependent on something outside of ourselves.
The third klesha is raga or attachment. We like something, we love something, we have a positive experience and we want to hold onto it for dear life. We literally cling to it as a source of happiness or fulfillment. This inevitably leads to suffering because nothing is permanent. Everything changes, it’s the law of the universe.
The fourth klesha is dvesha or avoidance. This is the act of avoiding anything we want to push away, likely from a painful experience we don’t want to recreate. There are so many things we simply can’t avoid. We are particularly confronted with this right now because there are things we cannot do right now and others we have to do right now. This probably means we are currently confronted with something we’ve been avoiding.
The fifth klesha is abinivesha or fear of death. Isn’t this the deepest fear of all? Don’t most of us want to avoid death at all costs? Well, we can’t. Death of the body is inevitable.
So, on any given day I’ve watched myself (sometimes in a matter of seconds) blast through all 5 kleshas in my head taking me all the way to death. It might go something like this: “Oh my god, my whole outer world is changing and I cannot handle it (ignorance)”, what if I can’t teach my students and lead those retreats, what will happen (ego), I have to figure out some way to be sure I can make those events happen (attachment), I have to avoid cancelling and losing money (avoidance) and what if everything falls apart, we have no money and we all die (abinivesha)????”
Then I take a deep breath and realize I have gone all the way to the absolute worst and unlikely outcome within in my head, none of which is actually true in the present moment. They may or may not happen in the future but right now they have not. And even if they do happen in the future, it will be ok and I will be able to accept and respond. Another deep breath.
Are you experiencing anything similar? Are you going to worst case scenarios in your head and causing your own suffering? Do you notice yourself clinging or avoiding? Maybe your ego has taken a huge hit during this pandemic.
Patanjali encourages us to gain control of our thoughts and to use techniques that reduce our suffering, like meditation. He gives three practices in particular called kriya yoga which I’ll cover next week.
In the meantime, notice when your mind runs amuck with the 5 kleshas: ignorance, ego, attachment, avoidance and fear of death. All of these, suck our energy and cause us to engage in activities that will never get us what we want.
Don’t we want more peace, ease, stability and clarity? These come from within and are not based on things outside of ourselves. These qualities have to be cultivated and practiced independent of our circumstances.
Love & Yoga,