Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Greed and Gluttony: Failing at Brahmacharya and Aparigraha

As an adolescent person beginning to look more deeply into the workings of things, I viscerally remember the depression I felt upon first encountering the Four Noble Truths. The world is filled with suffering and the only path to alleviate suffering is non-attachment? It felt so harsh and lonely to me, this idea of not being attached to anything and the assumption that this meant you couldn't love anyone. In my mind, the two were one in the same; the love I felt for my family was woven together with a desire that I would never be without them.

There's an old Taoist story concerning a farmer whose horse runs away one day. His neighbors express their sympathy and the farmer says, "We'll see." When the horse returns with more horses in tow, the neighbors are overjoyed for him. Once again he replies, "We'll see." The farmer's son takes one of the horses out for a ride, is bucked and breaks his leg. The neighbors are so sorry about this misfortune, but the farmer is unmoved: "We'll see." Soon the army comes around, conscripting young men for a war. Because of the son's broken leg, he is overlooked and left behind. The neighbors are again so happy for the farmer, but his reply is unchanged; "We'll see."

You may have noticed that what once brought you joy has the ability to transform into a source of suffering. It is near impossible to accurately discern which occurrences are "good" and "bad" because of the ever shifting nature of reality. Everything is changing, one thing turning over into another. It is also the case that frequently the joy has not become suffering. The joy simply becomes a thing that Was, rather than a thing that Is, and it is our clinging to it that causes us pain.

Many years ago, I became heavily attached to a man who brought me a lot of pleasure. I did not understand that he was not to be a deep well for me, but a happy hour shot of well tequila. What he had to offer was real and fun, but was limited to the moment, and I had yet to learn that the world is generous and abundant. Scarcity mentality combined with a strong predilection for feeling gooood trapped me in an illusion that he was the only source. It HAD to be him and if not him, surely I would never experience anything better. This makes for desperation and grasping, which ain't cute, kids.

It's not illogical to want to keep having fun when you're having fun. If you are able to connect well with someone, which is often half the battle in human relating, it makes sense that you would want to grow and maintain the connection. However, we have to be real about what's actually available. If you are at a restaurant that doesn't offer refills for your drink, what are you going to do? Scream at the server? Demand a manager? Write a nasty Yelp review? Perhaps, instead of causing so much strife, you could just enjoy the drink you had and if you're still thirsty, order something else.

There's a limit and lifespan to all things; bodies, relationships and pints of fancy vegan ice cream. I can't tell you how many times I've mourned something before it's even over, still in a place and already half-not-there. It's a way to inoculate oneself against the pain of loss, but it's also a terrible joy robber. My time with my old lover could've been a pure joy, still looked back upon with total fondness, if I had just welcomed it warmly and bid farewell with gratitude when it was over. I've managed this since then and it's a much healthier way to relate to people and moments. Open handed. Welcome, thank you, good bye!

It's also really fucking hard sometimes. Holy shit it is hard to gracefully embrace the reality of life when the reality is the absence of something that brought you so much happiness. I'll have strong words for the next person who assails me with the gross platitude Don't Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened(!!!) Seeing just how gluttonous and greedy you are capable of being can also be uncomfortable. I have stood outside myself watching myself, marveling at the sort of animal I have in me; unapologetically self-serving, insatiable, demanding and ungrateful. It does not feel like who I am, and is certainly not who I want to be. Yet I've found myself sending a fifth shrill text in a row, trying to get a bucket of water out of a well that's long run dry. Trying to manipulate reality to meet my needs. Suffering because of my attachment to what Was.

Zen Master Osho taught that when we cling to memories, we turn our back on the innumerable blessings available in the here and now. It is one thing to day dream a bit about the past, and another thing entirely to refuse to participate in the present because you're so sure that it will never get any better than what was. How will we know unless we try? Letting Go is an act of faith that the world is indeed generous and abundant, that the end of one joy is not the End of All Joy. This pain will become another thing which feels good and that'll become something else until we die and become the source of someone else's suffering in their missing of us. This is the way of things.

The adult self is learning that while attachment and love are not mutually exclusive, they are also not the same. One can be very attached to something that they don't actually love, and love something deeply that they are able to let go gracefully when the time comes. A high degree of attachment does not denote a superior sort of love. This is an ego trap. If you can't stop thinking about someone and/or feel that you can't live without them, this is unhealthy and bound for pain. In fact, the only way for something you love to never become a source of suffering is to remain unattached to it.

This is a pretty idea. I would love to be able to love this way; without need or grasping. Pure, free and perfect love. This is a tall, challenging order. There's a greedy, gluttonous sort of animal inside me who is slow to tame. Life will continue to present opportunities to practice this in the form of pleasures transformed into pain. Perhaps, someday, I'll be a very good yogi and master the yamas; brahmacharya (non-excess) and aparigraha (non-greed). Perhaps I'll be able to smile because it happened, to love with open hands and non-attachment. Until then, I will be an evolving human doing her best and that's okay.

My love isn't perfect but it is strong and sweet.

May we be able to let what comes, comes, and what goes, goes,
with equanimity, grace and gratitude.


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Fiery, Alchemical Force of Love

"Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, 'Go away, anger, I don’t want you.' When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, 'I don’t want you stomach, go away.' No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger."
—Thich Nhat Hanh

When I was in yoga teacher training, I let all my hair grow. For half a year, I didn't shave or cut any of it off. It was in part a respectful nod to the Sikh tradition of not cutting any hairs on the body, and part an experiment in self-love. Having been raised in a culture which shamed the presence of hair on certain parts of my body, could I let that hair be there and still feel happy and comfortable in my skin?

Since then, I have vacillated between shaving regularly and going long periods of time without. With the ebb and flow of my body hair has grown a sense of almost militant pride in who I am and this logical conclusion: I was born in a female body and this hair grows out of my female body, so how is it unfeminine? How can that which occurs naturally be unnatural?

Diving beneath skin deep, we can apply this same logic to the whole of our beings. We must lovingly care for every part of who we are, for what we recoil from in ourselves we will not be able to embrace in others. What we reject in ourselves will not leave. Repression forces our anger, pain, shame and brutality into the darkness, where it will remain until we muster the courage to face it. It will not be silent and inert; it seeps out and controls our behavior from the underground. These repressions are a festering danger.

Recently, I had a challenging relationship with a coworker. They were often harsh and demanding, rigid and determined to be right, no matter the cost. Experience has taught that most times we can either be happy or right, but not both. I would rather be happy than right, but sometimes had to strongly stand for myself in the face of attacks to my character. After a few exchanged blows and displays of my might, my coworker began to respect me more and it became easier to work with them.

It also became apparent overtime that they were operating from a place of fear, exhaustion and scarcity. They badly needed help but didn't feel comfortable surrendering any control to anyone else- they had been burned before, they cannot rely on anyone but themselves. With an equal mix of firmness and thoughtful care, I began to take control of what I could to ease their burden. I encouraged them to take time off to play, to take care of themselves. I consistently, excellently showed up and held the weight down, and they were able to soften and relax a bit. Through the alchemical force of my fierce love, I was able to transform the lead of our relating to gold.

Love is an alchemical force that turns lead to gold.

Love is the only force on this planet that can coax our anger, pain, shame and brutality out into the light. If we are to heal ourselves and others, we have to step into a place of softness and allowing. We must make friends with every part of ourselves, especially the parts that are hard to face. It is the difficult to love feelings and the difficult to love people that need a strong, steady embrace most of all. We can never be truly free until we are able to welcome anything that arises with gentleness and curiosity. "Hello! Welcome! What have you come to teach me?"

The first yama (code of right living) in the Yoga Sutras is ahimsa, to do no harm. While it's my sincere desire that all living things would feel totally loved in my presence, there should be limits to what one is willing to accept. As some yogis cheekily state, "Do no harm but take no shit." Love is often mistaken as a weak thing, but if you've ever witnessed a parent defend their child, you know how ferocious love can be. 

Love can be very soft and sweet, but it can also manifest as a fiery roar. It was a ferocious self-love that defended me against my coworker, that empowered me to stand strongly for myself and be unwilling to let another do harm to me. It was a fierce love that thoughtfully supported that coworker in their well being, while also holding them accountable for their maladaptive behavior. It is my desire that I will do no harm, but best believe that I will also take no shit. It's a fine line worth testing and a balance worth perfecting. 

May we cultivate an inner spaciousness that allows for both:
Embracing, allowing, softening, gentleness AND
Healthy boundaries, firmness, accountability

May our love be both sweet and fierce.

May we do no harm,
May all beings feel loved in our presences,
But may we also take no shit.