Independence from the Inside Out
Warming my toes in the sunshine with Emigrant Peak looming in the distance, I relish this view here at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch. Asked to offer yoga and massage for a few weeks this summer, I jumped at the chance to revisit this little slice of paradise. With a cabin in the woods, a stellar studio, and miles of hiking trails in all directions, this is my definition of independence with the freedom to do what I do in a place of peace and splendor.
As our national celebration revs up to salute Independence Day, I am drawn to consider just what freedom means to me, certainly not a scene of bombs bursting in air. Though I do send out my appreciation to the warriors who fought that battle, my experience of freedom comes from an inner attitude of gratitude for the abundance of beauty, love and joy in my life.
Yoga teaches us that the path to freedom is to resolve the obstacles within ourselves as a means to personal liberation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.3 – 2.11clearly define these five specific obstacles know as kleshas.
1) Avidya (ignorance)
2) Asmita (Egoism)
3) Raga (excessive attachment)
4) Dvesa (excessive aversion)
5) Abhinivesha (fear of death)
Sutra 2.2 introduces the key purpose of Yoga very clearly: “The goal of Yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking: it is the realization of what is already present. Yoga practice removes the obstacles that obstruct the experience of our inner freedom.”
Let’s explore avidya closely as it is the root cause of all the other kleshas. I will follow up with the other four so that you can address them one at a time and work on them gradually so your mind and body can come to understand and integrate the removal of these obstacles. Only through understanding are we able to grow and shed unnecessary habits that obstruct a life of freedom to be your true Self. Have fun!
When we refer to avidya as ignorance it does not mean ignorance of content knowledge or skills. It refers to ignorance of our own nature. Avidya is a misconception of our true reality, our lack of awareness of our true nature, which then disconnects us from Truth or not knowing the way things really are.
We are all very good at developing a false understanding of our true nature! The way we talk about ourselves is a good reflection of this. For example, we may catch ourselves saying things like “I’m stubborn, I’m a Taurus!” or “I’m this way because my mother is like that…” or “that’s just the way I am!”. We start becoming attached to our personality and mistake it for our true identity. This is avidya – ignorance of our true nature.
To cultivate awareness, consider how often you do the following:
– Mistaking the impermanent for the permanent:
We tend to live our life as though we believe we are immortal. If we lived remembering that life will end, we would worry less! In case you haven’t yet noticed, everything in life tends to change. Take a moment to look back on your life and see all the things you thought you could never live without … but something happened and you managed to readjust! Hold the acknowledgment that you can adjust!
For example, if you are a smoker, drinker or sugar addict you may claim that you couldn’t possibly live without a cigarette, alcohol or sugar in your diet! Or perhaps you are still attached to a relationship that has ended and you believe you can’t go on without this person. But this is simply untrue. You CAN change. You CAN move on. If we live with this deception that we can’t live without certain things – mistaking what is impermanent for something permanent, we suffer.
What limiting beliefs are you holding onto that no longer serve you? Are you willing to change to experience more freedom?
– Mistaking the impure for the pure:
This can be seen as ‘mistaking a lie for the truth’. Sometimes we can convince ourselves that something is true, when deep down we know it is not. In other words our thoughts can become clouded if we habitually delude ourselves to perceive the world a certain way. We begin to believe our own delusions of truth! Our truth (that which is pure) now becomes impure.
Try this: Find a picture of you as baby! That is Pure you before adding the layers. I have a picture of me as a baby on my altar. I look at it when my inner judge starts making false statements about myself and my life. Looking at this photo as a child, before life added layers to me, gives me a sense of my unlimited potentiality – which we all have. This is the freedom to be exactly who we are. Your innocence and purity is always with you; remind yourself of this.
– Mistaking pain for pleasure:
A lot of things give us immediate pleasure but they often imply we will experience some form of suffering in the long term. Think of eating fast food or enjoying the indulgence of pleasures like sweets or chocolate. You grow to enjoy and even crave this food, but by no means does this food offer pure nourishment to you! So we start to habitually eat these foods mistaking them to be pleasurable when in fact in the long term, will cause us pain.
What habits are leading you to pain over the long term? Are you willing to let go?
– Mistaking the non-self as the Self:
We get very caught up in our roles and identities. If I asked you “Who are you?”, you most likely will respond with an identity you associate with, for example, “I am a female, I am a teacher, a mother, a yogi.” We get caught up in our identities as though they ARE us: Our jobs, our likes and dislikes, our clothes, as though all these things define us.
So who are you beneath all your layers? Without your job? Your possessions? Your hobbies and achievements? Rather than what you do, how do you want to feel and be in your life? Get in touch with your own truth by stripping down the layers of your outer identifications.
What’s the first step?
The first step to relieve suffering is to acknowledge yourself as the person responsible for your life – for the world you inhabit, for your happiness and freedom. It’s all up to you.
Take a look at the false perceptions you carry about yourself.
What false perceptions of yourself do you carry? Admit them.
What ignorance (avidya) do you hold about “the kind of person you are?"
Next time you catch yourself saying “that’s just the way I am” or “that’s not my kind of thing”…consider if that way of speaking or thinking really helps you discover the path to Liberation – awakening to your fullest potential.
This is the kind of Freedom I am talking about. Freedom from the inside out.
Happy Fourth of July! May you enjoy celebrating the Freedom within your Heart!