So there’s a thing I want to talk about but I can’t actually talk specifics. Not very bloggy of me, I know. No names, a little vague, but hey, my very intimate friend (a-hem) has this thing going on and the story is so familiar that I wanted to consider it here, together. As the title states, it is a tale of misapprehension, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity. It is a tale of Avidya in action.
This friend of mine started dating someone. That someone told her that he didn’t drink coffee and didn’t really like it. My friend loves coffee. It’s part of her routine. She started drinking it at 19 but started loving it at 6. As a child, she liked the smell of it on her dad’s breath. She liked the way her mom poured a cup and waked around holding the mug but hardly taking a drink. She always assumed she would share the love of coffee with the love of her life. Is the no coffee thing a deal-breaker for friend and beau? She doesn’t think so at first. She heard this bit of information from her special someone and she thought – “I can live with that. I can drink coffee and he doesn’t have to and I like him enough that not having a romantic coffee house date every once in a while or having the early morning cup of coffee together won’t be that big of a deal. Maybe I’ll even take a break from coffee and see how that feels.” She said all of that to herself, but deep down, she had this unconscious belief that he’d come around. Eventually, he’d see how great coffee really is and how nice it can be to share a cup of coffee with her and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, he’d change.
The relationship progressed. They both did a little toe-dipping into each others’ coffee/no coffee ponds. My pal convinced herself that she spotted early signs of a coffee-loving epiphany and with great anticipation, she let herself imagine the European roast they’d share when they traveled to Paris together, but it just wasn’t in the guy. He tried to like it because he liked her, but coffee just didn’t do it for him. He didn’t like coffee one month in. He didn’t like coffee three months in. And it turns out, he still doesn’t like the stuff. They broke up.
In yoga, there is the concept of avidya, the obstacles to clear perception. In the book, Health, Healing and Beyond, T.K.V Desikachar says this about avidya:
Patanjali describes avidya as misapprehension, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity. And these in turn lead to troubling emotions expressed as desire, anger, possessiveness, self-delusion, arrogance, and envy. In practice, the outcome invariably is Dukha – the constraints upon our physical and mental life that lead to illness and discontent.
Man, when I read this, I got it. Avidya. Wow. That description pretty accurately describes a big part of my part in my marriage. It’s the same complicated stuff that was going on with my friend. Thank you Sanskrit for so nicely packing it all into a single word: avidya. The cycle of Avidya-Dukha is unavoidable and universal – it touches each one of us and we don’t have to feel ashamed about experiencing it …but wouldn’t it be nice to have a little less of it around?
When I think about my friend’s situation, I think about the importance of svadyaya, self-study, of coming to know yourself well. This is an ongoing study. We are changing all the time and new situations, new dating-partners, give us more to work with… more information about ourselves. In a new relationship, there is so much heart-fluttering it is easy to confuse that excitement with love (misapprehension). We can want to be liked back so much that we don’t listen to what we want at a deeper level (confused values, insecurity). We can get really attached (excessively). I think the unreasonable dislikes usually come a little later. None of this is unusual and some of it is healthy. My friend might have discovered that she could continue to enjoy coffee without sharing it with her lover or maybe even realize that coffee is just one of many things that she really enjoys. It’s good to challenge a habit, not so good to have an attachment to the idea that someone is going to change for you.
Which leads me to the topic of svadharma. We need to know our dharma. Mr. Desikachar explains svadharma in this way: “Sva means “self ,” and dharma is that which protects, holds up and elevates. In the upholding of dharma every person has a role to play […]It is…necessary to be clear about the limits of this responsibility and not to interfere in, or worry about, things that fall within the orbit of another’s responsibilities. This distinction between what is ours, and what lies beyond our responsibilities is svadharma.”
Okay, so this is awesome and this very idea is one of the best things that has come from my latest year of intense yogic study. I like to think of svadharma in these terms: “I have responsibilities (plenty of them) and I don’t need to try to be in charge of someone elses likes, dislikes/life. I get to take responsibility for my dharma alone.” I think this is so liberating in a relationship. Once my friend’s unconscious expectation moved to consciousness (she wanted boyfriend to change for her), then she got clear about what he was offering (he wasn’t going to drink coffee for her) and then she got to decide if that was going to work for her and act accordingly(it wasn’t and they broke up). Nothing was wrong with the guy. She wasn’t rejecting him. He didn’t not like coffee and her. It just didn’t work. She took responsibility for herself.
Sounds simple? Breaking up is rarely simple. Feelings are hurt. Rejection sucks. Anticipation of losing movie dates and sleepovers can feel really sad. So how do you make the choice that is right for you (assuming that you come to the point that you know what that is) and not let the fear of what comes afterward stop you? Ishvara pranidhana—or as the Baptists of my childhood used to say, “Turn it over to God.” There’s a surrender to something greater implicit in Ishvara pranidhana, but Yoga isn’t talking about Jesu Christo or even Krishna. Ishvara is the supreme, all knowing, beyond-error teacher and if you are a Baptist, that’s probably the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you are Muslim, that supreme, all knowing, beyond-error teacher is Allah. If you are Hindu, there is a whole pantheon that might be your Ishvara. Yoga is neutral and whatever your higher power, it is there, in Ishvara. Acceptance and surrender to that higher power is Ishvara pranidhana.
In order to break up with someone, I think this trust that what comes after is going to be okay is really important. It isn’t just general trust, but trust that there is a higher-power out there rooting for you. Maybe that power takes the form of a robed and bearded man, maybe you know it when you smell the warm and wet earth, maybe you feel it when you are in a crowd at a concert and you feel everyone around you moving to the same beat. Maybe you know it when you are helping someone in need or receiving the gift of kindness when you need it. The surrender and the faith can be the anchor that helps in times of uncertainty.
This story offers much more than misapprehension, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity. It is also one of self-awareness, embracing the roles and responsibilities that are uniquely yours and the beauty of connection to something much bigger than yourself. This is yoga, people. It can ground a friend during a break-up, it can be an anchor through the tough times and the good ones. Yoga is so awesome.