In asana (yoga postures) classes we talk about practicing without ego. Ego in yoga is like a toddler with a sharp object. Nothing good can come from it. Ego breeds injury and separates the student from the kind of inner quiet that asana is so good at cultivating. Ego in asana is the devil on your shoulder that compels you to look around and see who else is getting the pose before you even try it yourself. It’s the voice that says “you did this last week, why can’t you do it today?” It causes frustration and fear. Like most things we encounter on the mat it’s present in our non-pretzel lives as well.
Because you read this blog I’m going to assume that in addition to the desire to become healthier, you have at least a rudimentary interest in yogic philosophy. That makes at least two things we have in common. I’m not interested in spouting verses of the yoga sutras to you, or studying them as one would a verse from the bible. I certainly wouldn’t want to preach to you or attempt to convince you in any way that my views are the right ones. I find though, that many of these concepts are useful in helping me make sense of my life and relationships. “The 8 Limbs” of Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, and even Buddhist paramitas or guide to perfection are all ancient road maps to enlightenment. The goal of every casual yogi, right? Yeah, I’m not thinking enlightenment is for me. It seems pretty inconvenient really. I’ve got a job, a house to take care of, kids that test every skill I’ve ever had ( many I don’t yet have) and honestly I’m pretty fond of earthly vices. I’m not sure if a modern girl can be enlightened and get really really happy about a new pair of shoes or catch her kids puke in her hands occasionally but my instinct says “no”. While I do not aspire to perfection I do wonder how to be a better person, a better mom, fiance/wife, teacher and so on. I find that many of the concepts outlined by these very wise ancient men are still very relevant. I’ve been thinking about ego lately and also about the quality of patience. I decided to marry the two for my big blog post this month. I’ll be introducing Khanti parami later but for now just stick with me.
Ego in my opinion is responsible for the two most useless human emotions: jealousy and guilt. I’m not talking about Freud’s Ego, or even the ego we invoke when we call someone egotistical. I mean rather, the ego that tells us we are either too good for something, or not good enough. I blame ego in fact for most of the opportunities that I have missed in my life. And even more experiences that I did not fully commit to and enjoy. I think that without ego I would have more peace. Obviously I can’t even begin to hope for a less rigorous work schedule, or a calmer morning routine with my kids, or more money in the bank. I mean to say peace within me. Like most women I struggle with jealousy and guilt. These two seem to tag team perpetually. It seems as if we have no choice when these emotions come up but of course we do. It’s a sign of maturity to admit that we can never control our surroundings or the people in them but can have peace inside.
When my daughter, now 8, was younger going to birthday parties was really awful. She would cry and fret for days before. Even when it was her own brother’s birthday. When asked why she would say that it was because she was jealous, or at least feared being jealous of the child getting all of the attention and gifts. She hated that feeling! We as adults have learned to assimilate jealousy and even develop our personalities and relationships around it. We justify it and even use jealousy as a reason to do and say awful things. As a child though we recognize that it is a horrible feeling and want to avoid it. My daughter was to young to understand that this wasn’t really the existential crisis it felt like, it was just run of the mill envy. A valid emotion yes but useless and impractical.
Guilt too, you may know is destructive. When I divorced my x-husband my children were 3 and 1 1/2. Hello guilt. I was truly crippled for months by it. I would cry into the phone to my sister and best friend for hours during that time. One day she said sympathetically: “Guilt. It really is the most useless human emotion” . Right then I realized I had a choice. I could weep incessantly about something I couldn’t change or I could let it go. A big part of me had trouble with that since I didn’t want to give up on what I wanted which was to have a stable home for my kids. I was also so afraid of what people would think of me. I simultaneously believed I deserved better and that I really deserved the worst. Ah, ego, how you really *&$% me up in those days.
Back to Khanti parami. Khanti is the 6th Paramita or practice of perfection in Theravada Buddhism. Khanti means patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. Many of the stories of Buddha that demonstrate this Paramita involve men who have been treated abominably in war or other conflicts but chose not to retaliate or seek revenge but rather forgave therefore experienced peace. Wikipedia goes on to define Khanti as “The practice of exercising patience toward behavior or situations that might not necessarily deserve it and is seen as a conscious choice to actively give patience as if a gift, rather than being in a state of oppression in which one feels obligated to act in [a certain] way.” So in a man’s world it makes sense that this Parami would involve conflict and forgiveness; manly virtouosity of the highest order. But here on earth where projectile vomit is sometimes caught or blocked by a mothers hands, school clothes are dirtied while still in the 10 minute window of having put them on and the nuts and bolts of nurturing countless relationships makes us long for peace; it makes sense that women would choose to see these virtues in a different light. The subtext to this Parami is that when we allow the obligation of culture or society to dictate how we should feel in response to conflict of any kind we experience oppression. Self inflicted oppression which can be lifted or tightened at any time by our own will. I guess what I am saying is, we get to choose. We can allow our culture or peers silently dictate that we should feel indignant or shamed but in doing so we lose liberty. Through the concept of Khanti we can begin to have peace through patience and forgiveness. Nay’ may I even say love for the poor souls clambering up and falling down the same social ladder that has been poised over our necks since pre-school. When we practice forgiveness toward others we are no longer obligated to hold ourselves to these arbitrary statuses. We become free.
I find this concept particularly important for the women and men who come to my classes and feel so out-of-place because of their larger size. They are taking the same class as everyone else but chances are their commitment to yoga will be a short one. Their own arbitrary ideas of what a person who does yoga looks like makes it impossible for them to fully enjoy the experience. Ego again! The not good enough variety. What about you? What choices would you have made differently if ego hadn’t gotten in the way? What opportunities have you missed because something or someone was not good enough for you or too good for you, or would have been viewed as such by your peers. What kind of peace could you have if you considered not only your response to situations but your emotional response before taking the road more traveled? It’s an interesting question that I have been thinking about recently. Forgiveness for me is easy, forbearance, I do it like breathing but patience, oh that’s a hard one. Let me know how it goes for you yogis. Namaste