You know how you go into a room—maybe some sort of conferency thing, and you think everyone hates you and then all this proof just appears? “I know her and she didn’t even say ‘Hi’ to me?” or “That person isn’t making eye contact! What a Jerk…This conference sucks.” You aren’t imagining this. That associate didn’t say, “Hi” and that person is a jerk. Does it mean that everyone hates you? Is it possibile that the scowl you walked in with, your deep interest in the pattern on the carpet, the fact that you are keeping to the periphery of the room and maybe even lingering behind the plastic tree in the corner sends a message that you don’t want anyone to say, ‘hi’? Does your attitude and your lenses of insecurity and “everyone hates me” influence how you see your situation?
I’ve been seeing this kind of thing happen in people all around me this week. Someone thinks something is true, behaves as if it were true, and then it becomes true. This mostly happens with other people, but for the sake of the blog, I started to look for an example of this in my own life. I had to look really hard because this pretty much never happens to me. (That ‘hates me’ thing was completely hypothetical.) I realized that this theme comes up in my relationship with Dave. We were married, had some kids, split up, now we are hanging out again. More accurately, we are dating. And this is what I’ve noticed… when I am feeling good and things with him are especially sweet and fun and tender, then my memories of our married years reflect that. “There really were some great things about being married and I loved it. I miss it soooo much…all those good times we had together doing what we did. Dating him is is so great.” When I’m feeling good, ours has the potential to be the best love story ever. On the other hand, I’ll feel anxious or angry or afraid about this endeavor we are undertaking—trying to behave and respond to each other in better ways than we have for the last 14 years, and “Married life was so haaaaard. I was so unhappy and anxious and why do I want to do this again?” When these lenses are on, I think I’m crazy to be dating him and I want to bail.
During both of those times, it’s still Dave. It’s still me. There are things that are great about dating again. There are things that are very, very difficult. But how I feel about the overall experience fluctuates according to an innumerable list of factors including but not limited to:
hormones (pms makes everything suck, ovulation makes Dave seem like a super-stud),
the amount of coffee I drank,
the song I heard when I woke up in the morning,
the way that my yoga classes went,
how much sleep I had,
how Dave said that thing he said to me,
how much he made me laugh,
how my kids are doing,
how regular my pranayama and meditation practice has been,
These kinds of things should not have the potential to influence the destiny of our relationship because they don’t actually have anything to do with Dave and me, who we are as people and what we want out of life and relationship. These things are prakriti. Prakriti is the material. Change is part of prakriti’s very nature so it isn’t a good basis for a big decision nor is it the stuff that should determine the outcome of a relationship. I’ve had moments when whim and whimsy carry me along, “everything is beautiful” to “this is impossible,” and I feel a little crazy. Basing decisions on feelings and changing stuff is crazy-making, so what’s a yogini to do?
On the other side of all of this prakriti is something very different. It’s something that doesn’t change. This is purusa, sometimes considered the soul, sometimes the True and Divine Self. Just knowing that this is possible—that divine is inside of me, it doesn’t change, and it can be my guide through decisions and life makes me sigh in wonder. When I can find and listen to this voice, then I know dating Dave again is worthwhile and quite beautiful even with all the feelings that come up.
It’s not easy to base all decisions on those feelings that come from purusa. Purusa and prakriti are both feelings so how do I know which one to listen to? B.K.S. Iyengar says*, “Though the soul is free from cause and effect, joy and sorrow, it is caught up with the turbulent activity of the mind.” Aaaahhhh, yes. I know something about turbulent activity.
Yoga says that when I learn to focus the mind, the feelings and voices quiet down and I can start to hear that one of these voices is not like the others. It has a different quality. It takes practice, self-reflection and the ability to focus to begin to listen for this. Asana can help develop focus. Donna Farhi** says asana “refines our process of inner perception.” I love that and happen to agree. Pranayama, pratyahara, japa mantra, meditation, morning and evening routines, less noise, less stuff, slower pace, checking in with the gut, pausing before reacting can all be good, too. Why do we need all these techniques and tools? Because listening to purusa is kinda hard. Mr. Iyengar goes on to say that “we check and focus the disturbed mind on a single point and link to a single thought.” This helps us to begin to distinguish between the changing and unchanging.
I’d like offer a blog-post conclusion that blasts open purusa-perception and makes all decisions clear and easy and right for you and for me. I’d really like to know if dating Dave is going to end up being a part of the best love story ever. I’d like to say I’m at a place in my life where I stay connected to my true self at all times and I just laugh and shrug it off when that prakriti tries to work it’s magic on me and make me feel crazy. Unfortunately, I can’t. This process of learning to focus the mind and listen to my Self/my purusa is long and slow, but it is also beautiful. It is part of the human experience and even at these very early days of my journey, I’m amazed at how profound this process of noticing the things that affect me and the listening for a clear and true voice can be.
*Light on Pranayama, The Yogic Art of Breathing, B.K.S. Iyengar, Crossroad, 2002
**Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, Donna Farhi, Holt, 2000