These are complicated times. And we are all navigating them in our own ways. Despite the Omicron spikes, some people are partying and participating in large gatherings, being generally happy go-lucky. Then there are people like me who have been cautious, sheltering at home, because they feel a moral responsibility, and fear catching the virus.
Up until recently, I used to get really upset at other people’s actions that have negative consequences on the society at large. What is the need for large gatherings when you know it adds to the spread? What is the addiction to partying during the pandemic when Omicron is easily transmissible? Many of these people lost family and friends to COVID. Didn’t they learn anything along the way? I wondered if karma ever taught fools any lessons, even though I didn’t want anyone to fall sick. I guess I couldn’t comprehend why people couldn’t think about others besides their own instant gratification and selfish goals. After all, I didn’t celebrate my birthday with family and friends because I wanted everyone to be safe and didn’t want anything on my conscience.
I am often described as someone who smiles easily and is happy most of the time. Gosh, I spent the first few weeks of the New Year seething! I felt trapped and this emotional “heaviness” weighing me down. Looking for answers, I sat frustrated and stuck inside my New York City apartment. My head was ready to explode. No socializing. No gym. No walks with friends. No meals with family. No hiking with friends or even hanging out in the park. No solo dates at the coffee shop. All this while so many others pretended that COVID was nothing more than a conspiracy theory and continued to live life.
Then, one day, something shifted. I was on the yoga mat in a virtual yoga class. The instructor suggested getting into parivrtta parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose). This is a standing pose. Instead of pressing my palms together to gain depth in the twist, I decided to stretch both my arms. Meaning, I got into the pose in my own way, and it felt right. Inside my head, the choice made sense because I am also a yoga teacher and know what works best for my body.
Parivrtta parsvakonasana also helps digest emotions (along with food). As soon as the class got over, I asked myself why was I so upset about people disregarding CDC’s guidelines? Why did I label them reckless or selfish? As a coach, writer, and yogi, I am aware that I am responsible for my actions, not anyone else’s. How did it matter to me if others were hurting themselves and not realizing? Why was I losing sleep while those socializing didn’t give two hoots? Why wasn’t I able to detach from others and just be happy with myself?
In Yoga Sutra 2.3, Sage Patanjali mentions the five kleshas “Avidya-asmita-raga-dvesha-abhinivesa-klesha” as being responsible for all our sufferings. The kleshas are the obstacles to our spiritual growth; they are tendencies we all have.
Asmita: I-ness, ego sense
Abhinivesah: fear of death, clinging to life
We are all born with these kleshas. The first step is to understand these kleshas and then try to eliminate them. All of these afflictions are tangled together within our egos.
I found the answer to my suffering: avidya, the hardest klesha to overcome. Avidya is not knowing the way things really are. Of course, we tend to see things from our own limited perspective based on previous experiences. Assuming what drives their behavior is ignorance, avidya, asmita, my ego, was like a little devil sitting on my shoulder. I decided to take the high road and expected others to join me on the journey. We don’t know everyone’s motivations and reasons for their behavior. We are all burnt out and exhausted from not knowing when this will end. People might be making risky choices to honor their mental health. Being trapped inside my apartment was creating an attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha) towards conduct I deemed unsavory. I wasn’t even trying to rationalize my thinking. While I might believe that staying at home during the spread is the best choice because of my autoimmune because I am more vulnerable and would like to not fall sick (abhinivesha); it might not be for others. Just the way I chose to get into a yoga pose differently, people might have thought of traversing the pandemic in their own way.
Kleshas can hold you back from a life of joy, fulfillment and truly being happy. You can choose to live your life that is in alignment with your highest values. You don’t have to agree with what others do. You don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions. The only thing we can control in this world are our thoughts, which impact our actions. Just don’t become an obstacle in your own happiness.
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” Yoga Sutra 1.33
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