We do not see things as they are.
We see them as we are.
Yesterday I said these exact words to my boyfriend, without even realizing they were from this ancient Jewish text. The wisdom behind these words is complete, because the first time I ever heard it from a yoga teacher (I forget which one, I just know I was practicing at the studio where I work in Miami, greenmonkey yoga)I got it immediately. Not one single person on this planet can truly know what it is like to get something from someone else’s perspective, because we are confined to our own always. We have great imaginations (vikalpa, which will be covered in my next blog post) that allow us the creativity and mind-exercises to be able to imagine other points of view, but truly the only experiences we can have are our own. This is important to know and understand because our practice of viveka, or keen discernment, allows us to take a step back and really see the things we are seeing without getting involved with them. It also gives us space to use pramana, the Sanskirt word for correct evaluation, to turn viparyayas into correct evaluations.
Here is the recap of all the Sanskrit terms and ideas I have covered thus far:
Part I: Understanding Key Principles
- Atha: Readiness and Commitment
- Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
- Purusa: Pure Inner Light of Awareness
- Drsya: Ever-Changing Mother Nature
- Viveka: Keen Discernment
- Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
- Vairagya: Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
- Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
- Isvara: The Source of Knowledge
- Karma and Samsakara: Action and it’s Imprint
- Parinama: Transformation
Part II: Understanding Suffering
- Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
- Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
- Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
- Pramana: Correct Evaluation
All of the work the yoga sutras strives toward is parinama: transformation. The transformation we are working toward is the daily cleansing of our citta, the lens through which our purusa (inner light) shines. Normal, functioning life clouds our citta, and it is the work of yoga and meditation, on and off our mats, that creates the clear space in order to let our own light shine, to give others permission to do the same.
Nicolai Bachman defines viparyaya as misperception due to lack of information, false assumptions, or our own distorted process of perceiving. This vrtti (recall there are five vrttis in total: pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidra, and smrti) is caused by a lack of knowledge or understanding and we remove it through clearing of our heart-minds.
Understand it is NOT a bad thing to not understand something or to lack knowledge. This is actually a great thing because it signifies what it means to be human: it speaks to our abilities to grow and individuals and human beings, and it speaks to our malleability as creatures in drsya, or ever-changing mother nature. There is always something to be learned, whether it is about the world our about yourself.
Bachman gives an example about blessings in disguises. How often has it occurred in your life where something “bad” has happened, only to have it benefit you later? Bachman gives the famous example of a man falling from his horse and breaking his leg. Initially this seems terrible, but then war breaks out in his country, and it seems he is spared from serving in the army due to his injury. Our lives are events in succession, and current events affect future ones, as past ones affect current events and future events. Practicing viveka (keen discernment) with our decisions with our goals and clear intentions in mind will aid you in achieving a sense of fulfilled flow in your life.
An example of a blessing in disguise from my personal life is when I was diagnosed with my heart condition two and a half years ago. I was told by my cardiologist (I have had a heart condition since I was eight years old that I have known about) that I had to stop lifting heavy weights because it was going to put my life in danger. At the time, I was very attached to lifting very heavy; I had done it for years as a collegiate sprinter, and I had just committed to training for the CrossFit Regionals at my gym, CrossFit Soul. I had to give it up completely, which affected me a lot back then, yet it gave me an opportunity (duhkha) to practice vairagya, or non-attachment to sensory objects.
The blessing in disguise in this example is this: if I hadn’t been diagnosed with my heart condition, I would not own two companies that I really enjoy (Red Cheetah Yoga and Cheetah Grounds coffee), I wouldn’t have so much time to sit and write which I enjoy doing very much, and I could have really harmed myself, even potentially fatally, if I hadn’t have learned about the condition when I had. To me, the biggest boon of learning about my mitral valve was the fact I got to dedicate my time to the yoga and coffee companies, which help a lot of people in my local community here in Miami, and it is really fulfilling work.
It was a lot of work for me to accept my heart condition as a reality in my life, but it was something I was able to do with time and a diligent meditation practice. I choose an hopeful attitude over a victimization one, and have gifted myself with the ability to “…bypass unnecessary suffering and anxiety.”
Viparyaya is harmful when it shows up in the form of delusion, which is when perception and reality don’t match.
“Our ego, responsible for maintaining our reputation, or ‘saving face,’ may prevent us from admitting we are wrong. This unbending attitude will alienate us from the truth and lead to actions based on incorrect information,” Nicolai Bachman.
The “need to be right” is like crack for us humans. Awareness is our most powerful ally, because it gives us the space to see when we are making behavior choices that alienate us from connecting with others; it gives us the space to see those behaviors for what they are, and to change them. In this case, it could give us an opportunity to practice open listening and give up our need to be right. What does being right get us at the end of the day? There are no trophies for it in the real world, there is only momentary satisfaction from dominating another person, and the practice of closing our listening ability. Letting people’s words sink in and be heard is a beautiful gift you possess to not only empower others, but to empower yourself, too. The more you listen to others, the more you will be listened to in return, and when it comes to decision-making moments, you will have all the information you need in order to make sound choices that are good for the moment, your future, and the lives of those around you.
Give yourself the space to hear what people are saying around you, and look with open eyes. These are the tools of transformation, parinama, from misperception to correct perception. This is when viparyaya is helpful. Viparyaya and the awareness of it is beneficial because it gives you space to ask impactful questions (the most simple the better sometimes! And give up any and all fear around asking questions that seem dumb, because they are not!!), to give up the need to be right: it’s ok and empowering to be wrong, which ultimately gives you the space to adjust your knowledge to meet the real world.
Remember, you are a malleable creature, destined for great things. The more open you are to learning, to more you allow to take in and the more diverse experiences you gift yourself with, the greater knowledge and wisdom you will gain, and the more great things you will attract into your life.
This chapter is a chapter about learning from our mistakes and making the courageous choice to move on and forward. This is a chapter that encourages you to be brave and seek out others’ opinions about topics that may inflame you, and to sit quietly and hear opposing sides of issues that you may glean new insight or information on. It will also give you an opportunity to connect with others on a deep level, and maybe even agree to disagree, and be in the practice of giving up anger around what you feel could be “wrong” about another’s point of view.
There are over seven billion people on this planet. To allow ourselves to get caught up in other people’s points of view all the time and to waste energy calling them wrong or bad is a waste of energy that we could be putting towards the things we actually love spending our time doing. By taking the time daily to get centered within yourself using your personal practices for clearing your heart-mind, your citta, you have the ability to let others’ opinions and misperceptions roll off of you if they try to harm you with negative words, and it also gives you the space to adjust your knowledge and learning to fit reality.
Give yourself the space to learn and connect. Come from the space that we are all connected, and that what you perceive may not always be the truth.
Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break.
This is true in body as well as in mind and spirit.
What I perceive is not always the truth.
I can adjust my opinions and behavior as I encounter new and better information.
I will strive to see things as they are at all times and not jump to unfair conclusions.
Tell people you are close to be up front with you when you are wrong about something. Request that they tell you in a polite way when you are incorrect, and allow their words to land. Notice what comes up for you emotionally and in your thoughts when you are corrected. Journal on it if you feel compelled to. Get curious if you detect sensations of getting upset. What is causing you to feel upset when you are corrected? Why is being corrected a seemingly terrible thing? Is it a need for you? What can you give up around being right? Be honest with your answers.