Sunday, August 2, 2009

153/211 pt. 2 - An Aversion to Aversion

The day 210 Meditation discusses aversion on the mat. Aversion is the flip side of desire. It comes out as fear, hatred, revulsion and all sorts of other nice emotions. According to Gates, aversion is largely the cause for the atrocities of the 20th century and for today's terrorism. Maybe so, and probably so, if intolerance is simply an aspect (or possibly a result) of aversion.

On the mat, aversion comes out in any of the things we try to avoid. Examples Gates gives are avoiding a pose, avoiding or disliking a teacher, harboring dislike for other styles of yoga, or even getting angry over a person putting their mat too close. The interesting thing here is Gates describes all these things as a kind of intoxicant. At first, I thought it a bit odd to think of anger as an intoxicant. But here's the thing: when we get angry, we are also telling ourselves that we know better, or that we would act better. The anger also feeds a sense of superiority. It gives a boost to the ego.

The same goes with other types of aversion. A while back in class, a new student came with some kind of chronic wrist injury. She let herself out of many poses, and did her own modifications instead of trying the ones the teacher suggested. She knew that she could not do certain things, and thus she refused to try. And she grew insulted and angry when the teacher asked her to try things another way, saying that she simply couldn't, and that she knew better.

At the time, my reaction was that she was being silly, If her risk was as disabled as she said, then trying something new wasn't going to make anything worse. She was simply going to end up with a wrist as badly disabled as when she started. This meditation makes me realize that there was more at stake. For whatever reason, she actually has something invested in being disabled, and she also needs to know better than others about what her wrist can do. For now, at least, those satisfactions are more important than actually making her wrist better. (As far as I can tell, she hasn't been back, but I could be wrong on that.)

I've shed lots of aversions. Putting my face down in a little puddle of throw up is a pretty good example. It's not nice, but it doesn't do any harm, and its about the grossest thing I can think of that I do (sometimes). But there are still plenty left. The mat placement comes to mind. I never get upset about where someone puts their mat in relation to mind.

But take Saturday mornings. It's almost always going to be a crowded class, and people know that going in. So why do people insist on setting up in a way that takes up the most space possible, by putting their mats just far enough away from the mat next to them so another mat won't fit? It happens time and again. And it always makes me a little bit angry. Why? Because I know better, which is exactly Gates point.

I've always been a bit amused by people who express tolerance for everything except for people who are intolerant. It's easy to take the same attitude towards aversion. When you find an aversion, force yourself. For a short time this might work: I certainly treated Locust this way for a while. But it's not a solution in the long term. When training a dog, you don't get the dog to stop behaving badly by trying to force it to stop the bad behavior. It simply doesn't work that way. Instead, you stop a bad behavior by substituting an acceptable behavior and rewarding that behavior heavily. Does the dog jump up all the time when people visit. Don't just tell it "No!" But get it to sit instead, and reward it for sitting. Same goes here. The trick to avoiding aversion is to focus on the poses and on the breathing, and to take pleasure in them. The aversion might then simply fall away, because we are too busy focusing on something good. Focusing on the aversion and telling it No simply adds one aversion on top of the other.


thedancingj said...

i can resist anything except temptation

Bosco said...

I think that the concept of aversion is, at its core, one's opinion or judgment that "what is, shouldn't be." Or, to compare it to the other side of its coin, desire, which in Meditation 209 Gates calls "the wish for thing to be not as they are," aversion is the opinion that things shouldn't be the way they are. All upsets, disappointments, angers, fears - I think perhaps all negative emotions, begin with "it shouldn't be like this." Each of the poses in the Bikram series, pushed properly to its edge, places me right smack dab in the middle of where I might scream out "This shouldn't be!", and the whole discipline of the yoga is to learn increasing peace and calm in the midst of what shouldn't be. This happens, I think, simply as we learn to let our judgments and opinions about our present reality go. As you point out, if you focus on and then obsess over how much this pose, or the heat, or the annoying neighbor, or the instructor with the grating voice, shouldn't be, the worse it becomes. That is, what you resist persists. And what you let go of is no longer in the way.

It seems to me this simple idea is one of the real keys to a happy life, and it's amazing how much it is put into practice every time you hit the mat.

Have a great time at the Lake!