Have you ever tried to break a bad habit or start a new positive and healthy one?
Was it a piece of cake or a major challenge? If it was a major challenge you are not alone.
Most of us begin with fresh enthusiasm and a certain amount discipline and conviction, perhaps getting through a few days or weeks of whatever it was that you did.
Chances are it was a part of a patterned way of being; a routine or tradition that we’ve followed before, laden with expectations whether they be positive or negative.
This tendency toward acting out tradition or carrying out routine is as ingrained in us as eating and breathing.
We’ve all been conditioned in one way or another through our families and our culture to attach our actions to expected results, to operate from a place of labels for both positive and negative results and to act accordingly based on averting pain or chasing happiness.
Routines and patterns are useful; our minds and bodies crave order, predictability and discipline.
As anyone who has a child or has worked with children can attest, if you don’t have a predictable pattern for kids to follow they tend to be scattered and unruly. In adults this shows up as not being grounded, of feeling unsafe or not trusting others, not sleeping well and getting sick frequently.
Routines and traditions are not the problem. The real problem is attaching to a specific result or only feeling happy or safe if things remain the same predictable way.
Many of these ways are outlined in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is one of the oldest written records of yogic philosophy and practice. Within the Yoga Sutras is a verse dedicated to the five Kleshas.
These obstacles are what get in the way of remembering the original state of wholeness and peace. They are what get between us and our inner peace—our unshakable faith and contentment in our lives that everything is exactly the way that it is meant to be.
At the heart of every being is a pure unconditional love and peace, one that can’t be taken away by mere circumstance or an emotional wave.
Through the consistent practice of witnessing our patterned behavior and discerning which new thoughts and actions will bring us back to our state of balanced peace we can unlearn the negative behavior of attaching to objects or things having to stay the same for us to be happy.
We have everything we need to be happy. We just need to remember.
The 5 obstacles as they appear in The Yoga Sutras and their basic definitions are:
1. Ignorance: Ignorance is defined here as ignorance of the true self that is within all of us that never ages and never dies. When we mistake the impermanent for permanent, such as mistaking the temporary pleasures of feeding the senses with the lasting bliss of merging with our spirit, we suffer. It’s what causes us to seek pleasure or happiness outside of ourselves.
2. Egoism: Egoism is not the part of us that thinks we’re better than everyone else. Instead, it is the mistaken identification with the body as our true self. It then leads to an attachment that we form to the body and the suffering that is caused by fear of its loss and the physical pain that the body experiences along with aversion to the aging process that we must all endure.
3. Attachment: Attachment is what we do when we cling to our possessions, our bodies and our loved ones in the hope that they will never change, break or get sick, be stolen or die. We become attached to what we love because we fear its loss. It’s also what makes us so uncomfortable with change. We attach to things with a need for them to stay the same or be a certain way to be happy.
4. Aversion: When our desires are not fulfilled, our circumstances change or when we lose what we are attached to we become distressed or sad. This can also turn to discord towards others who either get in the way of us fulfilling those desires or take away the means to fulfill them. In turn, aversion is created towards anything that gets in the way of keeping our relationship in tact with our attachments.
5. Fear of death: When we fear death we stop living life in the moment because we are afraid of everything that can happen to us that could cause our death or the death of those we are attached to. We live in fear of aging and disease for both ourselves and our loved ones because we are afraid to lose them. We cling to youth and are afraid to lose our loved ones because we are attached to them and our own bodies, all because we fear death. Ultimately we fear death because of the first obstacle which is our ignorance of our true selves, the part that is immortal, unchanging and permanent. Thus the cycle of the human condition is perpetuated until we choose to break the cycle of suffering with the knowledge of the true self.
The order of the obstacles is significant because one begets the other; because of ignorance of the True Self, egoism comes.
Due to egoism, there is attachment to things for the ego’s selfish pleasure alone. Sometimes the things we are attached to do not come or are taken away, so we are filled with hatred for those who got in our way. Finally, because we are attached to things and are afraid of death, there is clinging to life in the body.
Sound familiar? Welcome to the human condition.
Through the conscious witnessing of your patterns you can be happier, right here, right now in your present life and circumstances. Offer yourself a moment of pause and gratitude for all that you have loved and hold it lightly in the open palm of your un-grasping mind.
Realize that it is all a part of life to begin and end: to be born, to live fully, to become ill, to age and to die. The more we sit with that truth instead of running from it while clinging to our possessions and the past the more you will realize that your happiness is not something outside of you but is the very nature of your soul always.
So take your resolutions and hold them lightly, make goals but don’t attach to the results. Ride buoyantly on life’s waves and stay open to the process with yoga as your life raft.
Enjoy all there is to love and let go of the pain when it’s done so you can embrace the next good thing to come your way. Obstacles are merely something new to get around, something to teach you something new about yourself.
Gina Lee is the owner and principle yoga teacher at Bearfoot Yoga & Wellness Center, a family-friendly yoga studio in Bay Shore, NY. Gina brings her eclectic background in traditional Hatha and love of Native American spirituality into her classes as well as her life. She has 2 energetic sons and enjoys finding new ways to make mundane tasks a sadhana (spiritual practice) like cleaning her bathroom in a Cleopatra headdress. Check out the website for a full class schedule and information on workshops and teacher training or find us on Facebook.
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Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Bryonie Wise