There’s this pair of shoes which are just perfect. They would really, really suit me. Silver, strappy, chunky, cool. They will look great and will perfect so many outfits. They will make me happy. If I can just have those shoes I won’t want anything else. Right?
When you make it to five thousand followers on Instagram, that will be mega-satisfying for you. And what about buying the car, achieving the asana, passing the exam, getting the promotion, writing the best-selling novel? These will all be happy moments, no doubt about it, and especially so if the desired outcome has been preceded by hard work and dedication.
They will also be moments tinged with something else. Is it fear that the happiness will soon come to an end? Oh yes, here it comes. Inevitably: the next ‘what next?’. Our human experience is so chocka full of desires we barely notice them most of the time. Desires which may or may not be satisfied. A chronic hankering. When we achieve satisfaction of a particular desire, another arises to take its place. This is the nature of desire; it can never be satisfied. Ever. This is because we spend our lives trying to satisfy the cravings of the self, rather than existing in the true nature of the Self (the individual self with a small ‘s’, which is manifested through personality and all the costumes of external worldly existence, as opposed to the universal Self with a capital ‘S’, the spiritual core common to us all). We will go on wanting and wanting and then we will die. And whilst we are dying we will be wanting to stay alive. Unless we decide to practise not wanting. In advance of dying. Hopefully we have a little time, but you never know, so best to get started.
In yoga, practice (abhyasa) goes along with detachment (vairagya); these are often described as the twin pillars of yogic discipline. They must be built together, in unison, block by block, in order to hold up the roof. If we build one without the other it all crashes down. Consider. Practice without detachment builds up the ego, and detachment without practice becomes fanatical, isolationist Self-denial. In both scenarios the roof caves in and there we are, buried, miserable and desperate, beneath the rubble of our own hubris. Every inch the tragic hero.
Practice is probably the easier of these pillars to understand. It is tangible: it makes you strong physically and mentally and allows you to face challenges with equanimity. But why detachment, and how far do we take it? Any popular psychology magazine will tell you that to form healthy attachments as a very young child is important for continued mental health into adulthood. So why as yoga-practising adults are we then trying to un-attach? To de-tach? Those lucky enough to have formed healthy attachments in childhood are provided with the foundations from which to detach effectively from unhealthy and unhelpful cravings (for people, for substances) in adulthood. Others may need to work out more as they go along. In both cases yoga provides an extremely clear and effective road-map.
The practice of asana and pranayama is the laboratory of themind. Notice the condition of the mind when you practise trikonasana. Do it with the aim of perfecting the pose in all its refinements of action, extension, contraction, alignment, directionality; with the aim of performing BKS Iyengar-style perfection in trikonasana, with all the benefits. Strive to do a trikonasa to be noted, a trikonasana to be seen, and once seen to be applauded. Observe the state of the brain and the heart in this situation. Expansion or contraction?
Now do trikonasana again. Do a good trikonasana. Your best, your most perfect pose; but this time with the aim of opening the heart and, from the stable frame of the asana, literally pouring out any beneficial effects. Consciously gift any good that arises from your practice of trikonasana to a higher and nobler universal principle. Be in the pose from the Self, rather than doing it for the self. In this situation, again observe the state of the brain and the state of the heart.
What is the difference between the two trikonasanas? What are the conditions of body, mind and breath? From the outside they will look the same. And they both require a certain motivation and ambition in order to occur at all. But notice the contraction or expansion, the hardening or softening of the brain, the heart, the mind, the breath. It’s what happens inside that counts, the unseen, that cannot be judged by anyone but your own inner teacher, your intuitive intelligence, your buddhi.
So when we are craving whatever it is, the silver shoes, the likes on Facebook, the perfect house or job, the company of a beloved absent friend, maybe we can take our body-mind back to the mat, go back to the lab, and decide that rather than striving for transitory happiness for the self and its subsequent continuous craving, we’ll work to put another block on each of those pillars, raise the roof, and rest, even for a moment, in the state of blissful contentment that is the Self.