Monday, September 28, 2015

Five Obstacles Obscuring Our Light

Traditional Yoga philosophy claims that all we truly need for our own peace and happiness lies within us. Every individual possesses an unshakable inner wisdom to illuminate the path of enlightenment. Yoga itself is not something outside of us; instead, Yoga is the natural unified state of our consciousness with universal consciousness. Yoga means "union." The teachings of Yoga tell us that we are already whole; all we need to do is realize that wholeness. 

The thought that I am already yogic inside and don't have to chase after enlightenment uplifts, inspires and encourages me!

The second chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras presents the yogic methods to attain liberation. According to Patanjali, there are five major obstacles, the kleshas, regularly obscuring our latent brilliance. These are:

1. Avidya/Ignorance
2. Asmita/Egoism
3. Raga/Desire
4. Dvesa/Aversion
5. Abhinivesa/Fear of death

The translations given for the Sanskrit words above are rough. I will briefly explain each obstacle:

The obstacle of ignorance has to do with a case of mistaken identity. Avidya is mistaking what is false for what is true, what is not me for what is me, what is impure for what is pure. This type of ignorance obscures us from seeing our true self. Instead, we mistakenly believe that we are what we have, what we do, or what others think of us. Wayne Dyer gives a beautiful explanation of this false sense of identity we develop in the film, The Shift

Asmita is the type of egoism that preoccupies us with defining ourselves and defending our idea of who we are above all else: think labels, comparisons, judgments. Again, in The Shift, Wayne Dyer talks about this type of ego as EGO, Edging God Out. 

Raga is not a healthy kind of desire. Some desires are, of course, healthy! Raga is an imbalanced craving or attachment that keeps us chasing after one thing or person or another, in our minds, our thoughts and our actions. Raga keeps us on the run, constantly chasing fulfillment. 

Dvesa is the flip side of raga, the aversions that keep us running away or pushing away from people, places and things. Where do you find your dvesa? Fill in these blanks: "I can't stand ____. I won't be around ____. I am terrified of ______. I refuse to _____." What else can you think of that brings up your aversion? Try being with the feeling of aversion rather than acting on it. This is something we work on in both our postural and meditation practices. 

The final obstacle, fear of death, refers also to a fear of living your life to its fullest. It is a fear of impermanence, a sort of rigidity that makes us like stiff corpses. We try to make our existence fit into a neat little box by avoiding new experiences, staying perfectly safe within tired routines, shying away from sharing our love or gifts. Instead of truly living, we die little deaths every day, wanting to keep things just the way we like them in our tepid comfort zone. 

The most powerful book passage I can find about these obstacles obscuring our light is from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. 

We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that's death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn't have any fresh air. There's no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later we're going to have an experience we can't control: [fill in with your favorite examples of tragedy and disappointment].

The essence of life is that it's challenging. Sometimes it is sweet and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100% healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice, smooth ride. 

To be fully alive, fully human and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that's life. Death is wanting to hold onto what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say [abhinivesa] is fear of death, it's actually fear of life. 

Acceptance of ourselves and our circumstances, an ability to be present to our life, and a deep and abiding self-love will emerge from the darkness the more we become aware of our obstacles. 

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