Have you ever noticed how some people are consistently cheerful, helpful and kind? And some other people obsess over their fears, seek to manipulate or get pleasure from dominating, boasting or being superior? It’s tempting to write off these differences as part of the rich tapestry of life yet looking closer we can see particular patterns of behaviour. Using this knowledge helps us to become calmer, happier and less stressed in our own lives.
Yoga philosophy, first documented 1600 years ago, describes five mental states or afflictions that hold us back from a joyous and insightful life.
These destructive emotions are called The Five Kleshas: –
- Fear of Death
Ignorance, or Avidya in the Yoga texts, means mistaken beliefs about reality that hide the truth about ourselves or the world. There’s a myriad of possibilities. Destructive examples include addictions, excessive significance given to other peoples’ behaviour or views, and not realising that emotions come and go.
Becoming aware is seeing the kick of alcohol, tobacco or junk food as brief but with long term negative health consequences. Seeing the agendas of commercial interests in adverts, product placement and so on. Taking action like exercise if you wake up feeling gloomy. Ignoring the expectations of those seeking to impose their agendas.
Okay, who put a “stop payment” on my reality check?
Ego is often thought of as excessive self-importance displayed through social status signals like expensive houses, cars, watches, jewellery and so on. It’s easy to see people stressing their finances to buy these things if their income is inconsistent with the outward appearances.
Yoga sees egoism, or Asmitā, in a more generic way. “The sense of I-am-ness is when the powers of seer and seeing are as if one nature. Asmitā is people inflicting their understanding without consideration of the object of their attention.
Shine your soul with the same, egoless humility as the rainbow, and no matter where you go, in this world or the next, love will find you, attend you, and bless you.
Aberjhani, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry
Attachment, or rāga, in this sense means a strong desire that colours the ability to see things as they are. It’s a goal of advertising to create rāga so you’d hardly expect to see an ad for fat-free yogurt proudly flaunting its high sugar content. Desires are of course a normal part of being human. It’s only when they get extreme or for things that are not beneficial that there’s problems. Anything of importance or with major consequences is probably best left for a while to see if it’s still a good idea after the initial desire wears off. Who among us has not regretted eloping or paying over the odds for a pedigree pig? But if it’s small, just have another biscuit and be done with it!
Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.
Aversion, or dveṣa, means resisting, rejecting or avoiding something that is. It’s the opposite of attachment and can be caused by pain, loss, danger, violation, hurt and disappointment. Nobody likes the bad things, but life presents everyone with good and bad, ups and downs. Recognising aversion when something we don’t want happens lets us accept the aversion and not overreact to the bad things. A fast walk in “character building” weather will help banish gloominess. Or bite the bullet, get the sore tooth fixed and make that speech.
Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.
William James, Philosopher
Fear of Death
Abhiniveśāḥ, fear of death or the will to survive is perfectly natural but in some people causes fear and anxiety. We’re not talking here about those rare life-threatening moments like natural disasters or violent events when adrenalin takes over anyway. What abhiniveśāḥ is about is the unnatural worrying about death that puts a dampener on happiness.
The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.
So next time you are unhappy, you could have a think and see whether any of these destructive emotions are hiding behind the curtains. If you’re unhappy right now this minute (I am too, as my car won’t start), all the better; you get to mark them off on your emotional bingo card straight away, and it may be that understanding where the shadows fall will help you stand in the light.
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