Aversion and the state of the World
The third and fourth of the Kleshas, causes of suffering, are two sides of the same coin: attachment and aversion. Experiences we all know too well. My last blog addressed our attachments and I have observed so many instances of attachment in myself since shining the light in that direction. Have you?
I realized as I was writing the previous blog during my stay at MountainSky Guest Ranch that I had been wondering the whole time why I didn’t have any massage appointments on my schedule. The week before, as I was busy doing massage with a very full schedule, I was wondering where I was going to find the time to write. There I was, attached to the exact opposite of what was gifted to me in the moment.
Isn’t it amazing how often we want what we don’t have and thereby miss out on the complete experience of what is unfolding in the present? Yes, even after 30 years of practice, I still catch my mind wandering off course, attaching myself to something in the past or the future. Thus, a lifelong dedication to meditation continues. Presence in the moment takes fortitude.
Along with our attachments, we also suffer from extreme cases of aversion.
Excessive avoidance of unpleasant experiences (dvesha) causes suffering (dukha). Sutra II.8
Dvesha is also translated as “hate, aversion”.
I don’t subscribe to the news. I usually avoid it. No TV. No newspaper. No radio. Is that extreme aversion? I don’t think so because I hear enough through the grapevine when events gets loud and clear. And I then expose myself (a bit) to what is being presented in our media. Therefore, this week I was moved to take a peek, and what an eyeful!
The recent killings in Dallas, Minneapolis and Louisiana cause us all to feel the suffering triggered by excessive aversion. In each of these cases, it was aversion to the color of a person’s skin. How can this be? Both attachment and aversion are emotional responses that alter our ability to see the world around us clearly and accurately. It is the great downfall of ignorance and non-seeing – the first and foremost of the kleshas – avidya – translated as lack of knowledge or wisdom.
Applying our powerful emotions from past experiences to our understanding of the present moment places a filter over our ability to see things as they truly are. We may see one aspect of something, and yet remain blind to many other aspects. Without active effort, our own emotions become hoarded and accumulated, and our filters become thicker and more distorted. These filters alter our judgment, and our ability to respond with clarity. – Amey Mathews
As I watched and listened to the gunman in a police uniform following his shooting of Philando Castile, it was the fear in his voice that most affected me. While so many are lashing out with hatred at the one’s that pulled the trigger, when will we begin to see that there is only the choice between responding through love or responding through fear. To begin to heal this state of ignorance and aversion, might we not ask, what is it that caused such fear? He, the gunman, was so obviously trembling with fright, confusion, and alarm. What drove him to the conclusion that this innocent black man was a threat? What is lacking in his life to form such a limiting belief? And how can our response begin to rectify the wrong?
Our desire to protect ourselves limits our options in life, and clouds our ability to see clearly. We can go to great lengths to avoid situations that we are afraid of – whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual. Over time, our sense of self-identity is largely formed by a long list of such likes and dislikes. We define ourselves as a collection of our previous emotional experiences. Fear and hatred are the downfalls of excessive aversion.
Surprisingly, I find myself empathizing not only with the victim of a crime, but also with the perpetrator for they too are victims. If we are to change and heal, we must get to the source of the problem. It is through the ignorance of emotional attachments and aversions that cause such fear to render acts of violence in our world. It is due to the lack of love and trust and acceptance that has humankind at war with one another. And we are all a part of both the problem and the solution.
In a state of non-seeing, we mistake pain for pleasure, impermanence for permanence, and the profane for the sacred. Someone or something that seems wonderful can later turn out to be a cause of much suffering. And, in our state of non-seeing, or ignorance, we mistakenly pass up on situations that could have granted us peace and insight.
As Nischala Joy Devi explains in her translation of the Yoga Sutras, “These two sutras represent the extremes of the swinging pendulum that tend to overshadow our lives: good and evil, pleasure and pain, love and hate. We tend to think toward the extremes. Actually, there are infinite possibilities between them. Realizing this, we can stop at any one of the midway points and find balance and comfort there. Our hope in practicing Yoga is that our life will stabilize in this way.”
Through the practices of self-observation, self-inquiry, and reflection, we can gradually increase our sense of self-understanding. First we become aware of our powerful preferences and distastes. Then, we become aware of the sources behind those tendencies. And over time, we are able to cease the behaviors that amplify such obstacles, and instead we liberate ourselves – opening ourselves to new ways of seeing and being in the world. And it begins with me and you. And it begins with love.