During my last week’s yoga class my instructor brought up the Buddhist concepts of aversion and attraction, or pain and pleasure. Yin yoga lends itself naturally to these buddhist principles as certain held postures push us to our limits of pain and are then released in waves of sensational pleasure. These concepts can be applied to other aspects of our lives.
Buddhism views human nature as being mostly driven by these two impulses – aversion and attraction. These two areas represent pain and pleasure and it is our human nature to run away from pain and towards pleasure. In Buddhism there is no “good” or “bad”, just that some things give us greater pleasure and other things give us greater pain. Furthermore, our emotions distort reality, so our assessment of pain and pleasure is filtered through our emotions. For example, I might decide based on a few conversations that I do not like someone because of a series of events that skew my reality. If I had a conversation with a gentleman, and he had a similar morning to mine – too rushed and feeling overwhelmed with the day responsibilities, I might decide that I don’t like that person because of my negative emotions. Similarly, I might go to a buffet starved and feeling deprived because I have been on a diet, see all the desserts and look past the vegetables as my urges for the tasty morsels dominate my thoughts. It’s not that I don’t like vegetables, but I LOVE desserts and I haven’t had one in a long time.
Liberating Ourselves From Pain and Pleasure
Buddhism believes that when we can liberate ourselves from attraction and aversion we can become more spontaneous and authentic. We will no longer be controlled by our habitual perception of things. A person who is ruled by pleasure or desire is not free to express his own creative nature. Desires interfere with our happiness. The goal is to decrease our selfishness of our desires, stop those things that may harm ourselves or others, in order to find true happiness. In other words, giving in to our desires causes suffering which keeps us from finding authentic happiness.
Letting Go of Pain and Pleasure
The desire to let go of our impulses is the first step. By shedding light on what drives our behavior we become aware and enlightened. While holding a yoga pose I notice that my body starts to shake, some of my muscles begin to ache and my brain tells me to let go. I also am aware of how my shoulders tend to tense and my face grimaces when I’m uncomfortable, so I try to soften them. Even though I still have pain during the pose I begin to shift my thoughts on what does not have any pain.
So how can I can I extend my yoga experience into other aspects of my life? When I notice my negative filter while talking to someone, I tell myself to let go of these thoughts and to just focus on the words spoken and seek clarity where there may be confusion. When I have a craving, I notice it briefly and then I try to think about something else. I notice that cravings pass after a few seconds. I put another thought in my head. Furthermore, I try to keep my home environment safe – meaning I keep things that cause suffering like potato chips, cookies, and candy, out of the house. I realize that they may cause short-term pleasure but it is far more outweighed by the negative thoughts of undermining all the good work I have done. My actions are far from perfect, but I like to gain insight by what drives my behavior so that I can be a more authentic, happy person. I know that is where lasting happiness lies.