Sunday, March 1, 2015

Making Up for Lost Time

This week my assignment was to practice Asteya, or non-stealing. It can mean the literal stealing of money or possessions from another person or it can mean coveting another person's intangible qualities, like beauty or intellect.  I have to admit that this practice was not as clear to me as the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence) or Satya (speaking the truth) over the last two weeks.

The main way that I observed myself coveting was related to the idea of youth. Whether it is in my yoga class or at work, whenever I encounter a person in their 20's or even their 30's there is a small part of me that wishes I could be in their position. I am sure we have all thought about it from time to time and wondered how things might turn out differently if we could just have a "do over" in life. Especially if we could go back while retaining all of the knowledge we have gained.

There is a show on the VH1 network that I have been watching called Hindsight.  It is about a woman who goes back to her 20's to try and figure out where her life got off track. And she carries with her all of the knowledge of the events of the past 10 years.  Even though she is armed with all of that experience, she still struggles to make the right decisions.  Ultimately, the show makes us wonder whether we are truly in control of our own destiny or whether the universe has a master plan.

This weekend in class we talked a lot about the idea of reincarnation. Part of the philosophy of yoga is that our soul is unchanging and it just moves from one body to the next in each life. I guess you could look at reincarnation as the ultimate "do over."  There is a quote about reincarnation that I really liked. It is from a book called Jonathan Livingston Seagull:
We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
I guess I am straying a bit from the original topic of Asteya, but I am really curious about reincarnation and whether it is the universe's way of giving us another chance at life.

Back to the topic at hand. There was one other article I read on Asteya that helped me to put it in perspective. The article talked about stealing one of the most precious and non-renewable resources of all... time. This could mean being selfish with other people's time or wasting our own time.

As I move through life I become more and more aware how time is fleeting. That is why yoga teaches us to be in the present moment.

I know there are a lot of ways that I waste time. Sometimes I can immerse myself in unproductive thought patterns. Or I might invest my energy in people or situations that make me unhappy, just hoping that something will change. Even spending time watching TV or getting lost following a thread on Facebook and coming out an hour later can waste precious time.

Of course sometimes we may consciously choose to spend our time watching TV (especially if Hindsight is on). And that is ok. The purpose of practicing Asteya is not to judge our behavior, but simply to observe and learn.

If you tried to practice Asteya this week or if you have other thoughts to share, I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

This week we are practicing Brahmacharya, which is abstinence. Unlike most of the other Yamas, which seem to have more than one meaning, this one means exactly what you think it does. While you do not need to be celibate to practice Brahmacharya, you should focus on using your sexual energy to reconnect with your spiritual self and not in any way that might harm others.

As always, you are welcome to practice Brahmacharya with me. I guess if you aren't dating anyone special, this could be a pretty easy week!  Either way, I will be back next week to share more of my experiences with yoga teacher training.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Speak Your Truth

I spent this week practicing Satya, which means speaking the truth. Honesty is something that has always come pretty easily for me. If anything, I would say that I am a person who is too honest. I tend to speak from my heart and let my head catch up later.

In a way, I think my practice of Satya this week illuminated the same lesson as my practice of Ahimsa last week. Think before you speak. While the lesson was the same, the reasons behind it were much different. 

I had two experiences at work where I spoke the truth with very different outcomes. On Monday, I had another job interview with some very high level executives. One was a Vice President and the other was an Executive Vice President. They were both older men in their late 50's and they embodied the definition of the "old boys network" that you hear so much about in business. It felt like they should have been smoking cigars and drinking scotch during our meeting.

When I went into the interview, I was very nervous. These were powerful men and I tend to shy away from that sort of power because it makes me uncomfortable. I think it is an injustice that anyone should carry that amount of power or influence. 

As they asked me questions, I answered them honestly. I even ended up telling them about my yoga practice and that I am studying to become a yoga teacher. At one point in the interview, I shared my experience about working too many hours on my last project and I made it clear to them that I was only planning to work eight hours a day.

When I left the interview I felt a rush of emotions. I was proud that I had been true to myself, yet I was also worried that maybe I had shared too much. I was pretty sure the old boys network would not be interested in hiring a girl who studies yoga for stress relief and doesn't want to work overtime. Which was fine with me because I probably wouldn't fit in there anyway.

So you can imagine my surprise when my boss came to me a few days later and told me that the old boys network wanted to offer me a job. She went on to explain that they were more powerful than the other woman I was interviewing with and if it came down to a political battle for my position, the old boys would probably win. 

As she spoke I could feel the emotions rising up in my chest. They way she explained it made me feel like a victim, like I was a pawn in a larger game and I did not have a choice. As soon as there was a pause in the conversation, I just opened up the flood gates.

"I am a human being with free will!" I explained to her. "They cannot make me take a job over there if I don't want it. And if they offer it to me and I have to take it, then I will just start looking for another job somewhere else."

As soon as she left my office, I felt awful. Even though the words I spoke were true, there was no benefit to speaking them, especially not to her.

While it is easy to get frustrated with myself for the way I acted, it is important to remember why I am doing this in the first place. These weekly exercises are designed to provide insight. To observe my behaviors without judgement so that I can see myself more clearly.

Yesterday as I was reviewing my yoga homework, I started to understand. This information comes from a wonderful book called The Heart of Yoga, in case you want to read more. I was reading about perception and action. The author explained how we can think we perceive a situation "correctly" and act according to that perception. But in reality our perception is clouded by something called Avidya, which is translated to "incorrect comprehension."  

It is hard to recognize when we are acting on Avidya because it is deeply rooted within us. It is the cumulative result of many unconscious actions and responses that we have been carrying with us for years. What you may think is just a key aspect of your personality (i.e. that's just the way I am) may in fact be Avidya. 

There are four manifestations of Avidya that make it easier to recognize. The first is called Asmita, which is the ego. We want to be the best or we want to win. The second is called Raga, which is desire.  We want things we cannot have or we want things that we do not need. The third is called Dvesa which is rejection. We have a difficult experience and we are afraid of repeating it, so we reject people or things that we associate with that experience because we are afraid they will bring us pain again. It can also mean that we shy away from things that are unfamiliar, because we are not sure if those things will cause us pain.

The final component is Abhinivesa, which is fear. This is a very powerful aspect of Avidya that is often hidden to us. We have doubts about our position in life. We are afraid that people will judge us negatively. We fear change. All of these fears can cloud our judgement and affect our actions.

The goal of yoga is to help remove the cloudiness of Avidya so we can see things more clearly. When we see the truth and reach a level that is higher than our normal everyday understanding, something deep within us is very quiet and peaceful. There is a contentment that nothing can take away from us. This is referred to as Purusa.

When I think back on my actions this week, especially the conversation with my boss, I realize that the truth I spoke did not come from deep within me. My perceptions and actions were clouded by Avidya. I was afraid that I would not have a choice and I would be trapped in a job I did not want. And that reaction is based on my past experience (Dvesa) and fear of the unknown (Abhinivesa). 

Now that I see how Avidya affected me this week, hopefully I can start to identify those feelings before I act on them. Which brings me back to my original lesson of think before you speak.

So, did any of you try and practice Satya this week? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.  

This week I will be practicing Asteya, which means non-stealing.  Of course, there is a literal translation of not taking things that don't belong to you.  But it also means not coveting non-material possessions such as beauty, intellect or talent of another person.

One of the things I find myself doing in yoga class is comparing myself to other people and noticing who is more flexible or who is stronger in a pose than I am. That would be an example of Asteya and will definitely be a challenge for me this week.

Of course you are all invited to practice Asteya with me this week.  And I will be back next week to let you know how it goes.