Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth. – Abraham Maslow
Let me be up front, this week we are talking about one of the tenets of yoga that I just really struggle with- vairagya. Vairagya describes the process by which we attend to the problematic behavior of constantly chasing and pursuing the next desire. In other words, the world is predictable: we see an object, we want it, we fight for it, we get it (or we don’t) we feel temporarily happy (or sad) and then the pattern repeats itself. One of the reasons so many of the yoga traditions are obsessed with alternative states of consciousness is because the current one we’re in seems a bit insane (not using that term lightly, insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results).
Desire is unrequitable… it’s a fact, and we are simply never satisfied.
Enter: Vairagya. So vairagya suggests that we approach life with dispassion. Note that dispassion is not apathy. Vairagya suggests that we still engage with the world, but we don’t assign commentary to our constant chase. For example, if you worked really hard to get a new job and then you get it, the idea is not to sit and revel in your joy- but rather accept it with a sort of detachment- I got the job, nothing more, nothing less. Even the process of working toward getting the job should be done with a neutrality. Pain and pleasure in life are unavoidable, but it’s the suffering resulting from our clinging to results that makes life messy. So you might feel a sense of pleasure when getting the job, or a sense of pain when getting a rejection letter but the idea is to not linger on those momentary pangs of feeling and to detach from your attachment to the results of how they will/ did make you feel.
I really appreciate how this teacher defines vairagya:
So you see why I don’t like this one? It seems impossible. And at first glance, it always feels like it’s stripping the joy out of life… but that’s why vairagya has a trusty sidekick- abhyasa (practice). The sages knew this would be damn near impossible because we are conditioned to crave good feelings and repel bad feelings so the recommendation is not only to have dispassion towards our reactions to life, but also to practice and hone this skill for as long as it takes (read: potentially life times).
One helpful tip I have learned from the Buddhist side of the house is to navigate the world with a half smile. Stub your toe? Manage a half smile. Folding laundry? Hold a half smile. Lose a loved one… woof, I don’t know if I can say ‘hold a half smile’ but you get the idea. And maybe one day I’ll be able to say that, but I’m still pretty attached to this life. My personal commentary on this tenet is I’m currently super attached to my feelings about life. Right now, at least, it gives my life vast depth and intrigue, but I can also admit that it only leads to a nauseating cycle of behavior. I can see the sages’ point and why vairagya matters, but I’m not sure if I’m ‘awake’ enough yet to fully practice it.
But hey, that’s why it’s a practice! So here’s to a week of looking at vairagya. I’ll see you (with no comment, joy or sadness –LOL) on the mat this week :).