“There was that day when you lost your charm”
–From the song “Arms” by Seabear
This morning, I woke up cranky. I felt off and uninteresting. I wasn’t digesting well and I had the painful realization that I’m neglecting important things far too often and I spend way too much money and now it is probably too late to ever recover. This all came on the tail of some unfortunate incidents: My car broke down last week and I had an expensive repair. My plumbing leaked under the cement foundation and the plumbers tore up my floor and then mixed cement in my house. Ugh. So messy. My little one started kindergarten and my friend left town for graduate school, and my “no coffee resolve” dissolved. There were the circumstances that left me feeling blegh and there were the feelings, but it gets worse because right after registering this initial funk, another layer of sludge came over me. I was angry with myself for feeling off. My unconscious and I have an unspoken belief that I should always feel special and happy, no whining and no exceptions.
If you ask me if I believe that I should always feel happy, there’s no way I’d admit to it. At an intellectual level and after many years of yoga and therapy, I know that there is a healthy range of emotions that we all feel. They can be useful and informative and we can learn to look at them from the eyes of a neutral observer in order to discover things about ourselves. Svadyaya or self-reflection can help us understand these patterns and problems. We can recognize that we are not our feelings, that instead, we are something unchanging and divine and when we practice listening to that voice, the unchanging voice of our true self, we experience a lot less suffering. We have a clarity and perhaps more peace about all the things that do change because we know there’s something that doesn’t. It sounds like I’ve got it, right? When I’m balanced and happy, I’m really good at keeping these things in mind. I’m very comforted by this perspective. But then a few crummy things come my way and I forget. It’s like the me of 10 years ago takes over and I forget all about being kind to myself and things that are temporary and tuning into my feelings. Any deep understanding that might come from self-reflection is missed because I’m too caught up with the disappointment of not feeling happy.
Yoga has a way of describing this experience. The five Klesas describe ways that we misperceive and the problems that arise. When some part of us mistakenly operates as if these changing things that come up (car, crankiness, digestion) are permanent or are who we are, this causes suffering for us. The yoga sutras say that if we act based on a misperception, it doesn’t turn out well. It always leaves a stain. Avidya is the mother of all misperceptions. It is based on what we see and believe to be true, which feels really true, but maybe we miss something or confuse what we see and we haven’t actually gotten it right. Believing I always need to feel happy is definitely avidya. Feeling all the things that come up, not stuffing them down or refusing to look at them, gives me a much greater chance at contentment and balance which might lead to happiness… but when avidya is in effect, I have this misperception that I should be able to maintain constant happiness. When I’m not happy, this makes me more unhappy.
The other four Klesas are all based on avidya. Asmita is a tendency to confuse our identity. We mix up who we are with things that aren’t really who we are. Asmita says “I am a cranky person,” but this could more accurately be expressed as, “I feel cranky today”. Raga is the belief that something outside of me can make me happy. If only Summer could last a few more weeks and I could hang out with the girls, then I’d be happy. Dvesa is the belief that something outside of me can make me unhappy: Car and plumbing issues. Abhinivesa is fear or even fear of death: I might never feel happy again.
It’s crazy that I should believe (again, not at an intellectual level but more at a gut/cellular level) that I should be happy all of the time. I’m really glad I recognized it, because when I was able to notice I had this “you WILL be happy” thing going on, I could chill out a little bit. I was able to take a look at what was going on and why I was feeling off and I was able to allow myself a little time to acknowledge my week of emotions. I miss my children and I’m worried that I wasted the time when they were home with me. Car and plumbing problems suck. etc. As this happened gradually and throughout the day, my mood shifted and I could see the genuine happiness that was in me already.