Friday, December 26, 2008
Aparigraha-freed from assumptions and expectations
I trained my eyes to covet. I looked to my eyes to teach me how to be. I see someone who looks good and I want to look like that. I see some who is successful and I want to do like them. This is covetousness. To a degree covetousness is human nature. It’s how we learn to live in the world. Yet Aparigraha, the fifth aspect of Yama, suggests that we be free from covetousness to walk the path of yoga. And I can clearly see some benefit from not coveting things I see. I wouldn’t be disappointed when the way I do something results in a different outcome than the outcome of someone else, and have thoughts like, “Why does my life look like this, when someone else’s life looks so different, so much better or more appealing?”
In fact, yoga classes can be a site of covetous thoughts and resulting suffering. A student sees someone else’s pose and thinks that it looks effortless, and they ask, “Why is this pose so hard for me (when it looks so easy for another)?” Another way this might happen is in memory. A student remembers how they used to bend their knee so deeply, and now they can only go this far. This mental game makes students feel bad, either they’re “not as good as someone else,” or they’re “getting old.” And sometimes these frustrating thoughts cause people to quit practicing yoga. Who wants to live with thoughts of being “less than?” Who wants to feel inadequate? It’s awful to feel disappointed in oneself. So let’s give up! (I’m just kidding. Don’t give up.)
Yoga practice is an opportunity to develop inner strength. It is likely that in just about everything there are people who seem better or people who seem worse at whatever “it” is. And yoga really can help us physically with our limitations, and make life seem a little better. A person has to find the right class for them, of course. An aggressive fitness (workout-style) yoga class is not for everyone. All yoga classes are not created equally. So if you’ve found yourself dissatisfied with one, I encourage you to find another. Or find some way to inspire your practice. Yoga is the best thing I have found in life, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Love yoga!)
Another reason I see for approaching Aparigraha (non-covetousness) is that it’s disrespectful to myself to covet the lives of others. I have my own history, my own attributes, and my own perspective to bring to any given moment. And I think it reveals a lack of self-esteem when I think I want the life of someone else. It’s also the easy way, and a distraction because it keeps me from my real work. My work is to decipher myself, my situation, and my resources in the best way I can, and to apply what I have to this life experience, to contribute what I have, my gifts, to the world.
In terms of the yoga practice, the work of students is to bring their full attention, full effort, and most caring attitude towards the practice of yoga. In this way, a person can best obtain the benefits of practice. Notice that these suggestions have nothing to do with how fit one is, or how “good” the poses are done. Don’t let comparison with others confuse you. The practice is for you as you are. It is helpful.
Covetousness in communication and relationships. Greedy interactions.
I have observed myself (and others) dominating conversation. Bringing what I thought was true to words, without leaving enough room open for listening. I have spoken in this way, not really wanting, and even afraid to hear what the other person would say. This is a greedy way to interact in ordinary conversation. When someone does this, all of the “conversation space” is coveted by the loudmouth. And the content of the conversation is also jealously guarded by the speaker. There is a sense that a different viewpoint would somehow diminish the speaker’s truth or importance. This is fear, and far from the truth. There is actually an opportunity to explore truth with another person. In fact we can’t have a profound understanding alone. The illusion of this is a sort of mental masturbation. Our knowledge and truth is held by all of us together as a group. Greater understanding only happens when we come together and share our different viewpoints.
Greedy behavior springs from inner poverty. This is why the purely material view of life doesn’t work for me. What’s going on for me inside—invisible to others—determines how I interact with the world. Of course, what is going on for me inside, does show up in my behavior in the world, so others experience the after-effects of my inner world. This is why I seek to understand and develop my inner world. Just as light affects the chemistry and scientific processes of photography resulting in a specific photographic print, so the energy of my inner life shows up in my outer life with the same level of specificity and science as a photograph. What I see in my life is directly related to all influences from my past, like culture, genetics, animal processes (like what I’ve eaten), mental processes (how I’ve thought), and likely more.
So I seek to cultivate my inner life with yoga.