I am a hot mess when things don't go my way. I'm a planner. I have a very analytical mind, and enjoy spending hours with spreadsheets, calendars, and other planning tools. I love making my lists, and checking off the tasks I accomplish. I don't very much like it when things go off script.
The yoga sutras teach that my problem is one of attachment. I have an idea of what I want, and I get attached to it.
When I don't get what I want, when this idea of the future to which I have gotten attached doesn't turn out, I react poorly. In most situations, I feel disappointed and upset. Other times, devastation is a better description.
The next two klesas (afflictions) are deeply related. The first is raga which is strong desire, and the second is dvesa which is strong aversion. Both are actually a form of attachment; one is a positive attachment and the other is a negative attachment. An anorexic and an obese person are both attached to food. One is attached to avoiding food, and one is attached to acquiring it. Both think about food all the time. The important point is that both are attached. It is this strong attachment, whether positive or negative, that Patanjali warns the practitioner about in this verse. Pay attention to the strong swing of your emotional pendulum because you are likely to be drawn away from the practice of yoga at those times. Yoga Sutras (book 2, verse 3)
I recently booked a train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. My train was supposed to leave Philly at 3:27 and arrive in DC at 5:48. I then was going to head home, pick up my scooter, and meet a friend for dinner.
For once, I got to the train station early. I sat outside reading a book, enjoying the beautiful spring day for half an hour. About 20 minutes before my train was supposed to leave, I headed into the station. That's when I found out my train was an hour and 15 minutes late.
Because I've been noticing my attachment lately, that was the first thing that came to mind. I encouraged myself: "Let go. Let go of your plans for today. Let go of your plans for tonight. Let go."
But soon after, the attachment started to fight back. "See! You shouldn't have sat outside reading for an hour. You should have come right in. You could have caught the earlier train. Now your whole day is ruined." I was getting upset.
After my little tantrum spent itself, I resolved once more to go with the flow. I couldn't make the train magically appear. There was no way I would be getting home at 5:48. If I decided to hold on to my idea of how my day was supposed to go, I would begin feeling anxious, my heart would start racing, and I would be quick to pick a fight with anyone who crossed my path--fellow passenger, train conductor, or my friend I was meeting for dinner. None of those would have made a bad situation better.
I checked the board, noticed the next train wasn't leaving for another hour. That would barely get me home before my delayed train. With a surrendered spirit, I decided to talk with the ticketmaster to see if there was anything else I could do. I figured I had nothing to lose. Worst case scenario, I would get home around 7:15.
The message in the bible is the same as the sutras.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have.... You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. James 4:1-2b
So much of the conflict I face in my daily life is because I don't get what I want. Whether it's my boyfriend, boss, or ticket agent, I expect others to give me what I want. And when I don't get my way, I get upset, frustrated, and even angry. The person with whom I have the conflict responds in kind, and now I have a situation.
The ticket agent told me what I already knew, the next train wouldn't get me home any earlier. In fact, it too was delayed. My best bet for getting home before sunset was to buy an Acela train ticket for $75 more. At that moment, I had to decide: Will I pout and get upset, because the day is not unfolding how I had planned? Or would I choose to let go, and flow with what was happening?
I chose the later, paid the fare difference, and got a new train ticket. I wasn't thrilled to have to pay just as much to get home as I had paid for my original round trip ticket. But I would be getting home, and close to the original time. Rather than being upset and tense on the train home, I felt relaxed and could enjoy myself.
Letting go of my expectations, letting go of my attachment to what I think should be is hard stuff. But it allows a peace and calm to pervade my soul. That's so much better than always getting exactly what I want.
I've been working my way though a book called Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater. Here's a blog post about the ten most important sutras, including the one I reference here.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.