“Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth.
– RAINER MARIA RILKE –
A significant rupture in a friendship over the last month left me angry and spiralling, unable to let the situation go. My go-to coping tactic is to call my sister, Amanda, to vent and validate my side of the story. In the midst of processing my discomfort and hashing out the details of my drama, Amanda said, “Steph, stop intellectualizing. Stop all the headstuff. You do yoga; quit writing about your life and go experience it. Go sit in solitude. Go sit and be with how you feel. That’s it. That’s the story right there. Take seven minutes to go sit and feel and listen to your heart and cut out all the intellectualizing and storytelling.”
I took her advice (as I often do), lit some incense, and breathed slowly as I’ve practiced in meditation. I felt the sharpness of anger. I cried. I clenched my fists in frustration. I turned my face to the dark clouds to mimic their ponderous glare. As the seconds slid by, my tears stopped. My heartrate settled. My body relaxed. I felt the frustration and sadness and I saw the situation for exactly what it was: an Ending. An unpleasant one at that, albeit inevitable and necessary. I breathed it in and then I let it go. I did that again and again until I was able to move forward without the acute anger poking at my ribs nor the stories I’d created pounding in my temples.
Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.
– Honoré de Balzac
Avidya; A Practice to Clear the Mind
In my last article, I talked about the kleshas (poisons of the mind) and how the kleshas may keep us bonded to suffering. One of the kleshas, avidya, comes from the origin vid (knowledge, reason, understanding). The prefix a denotes wrongful knowledge or ignorance of the situation. Avidya creates wrongful knowledge and misconceptions of ourselves and our reality. When we move from a place of misconception, we create stories that are rooted in triggers from our past which may cause us to react in ways we may or may not understand. The best metaphor I’ve heard to describe avidya is of a dusty mirror that obscures our ability to see ourselves. As we learn how to be with our emotions, experiencing the riddles within our mind, the dust may clear and we may get a fuller picture of ourselves.
Mistaking the transient for the permanent, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure, and that which is not the self for the self: all this is called lack of spiritual knowledge, avidya.
– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras II.5.
Questioning our reactions is the first step in confronting avidya. Emotions are energy in motion, and need to be expressed in order to move through us. Yoga is a tool that can teach us how to be with our reactions/emotions/thoughts without them dictating how we react or act to a certain situation. Everyone is entitled to how they feel, but to become more aligned with true knowledge/reality we must remember that we are not our thoughts or feelings, as our emotions will continue to change moment to moment.
Kaivalya Yoga vs A Purchased Narrative of Happiness
Raja yoga is one way to cleanse the self of avidya and the kleshas. Raja yoga is based off Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a philosophical text on meditation and guide on how to live a spiritual life. The ultimate desire of the raja yogi is to attain kaivalya, the Sanskrit term for solitude or detachment. Kaivalya encompasses a state of aloneness or isolation. The practice of kaivalya asks the yogi to let go of false stories relating to the ego, relationships, attractions, aversions, and the cycle of birth and death. In the practice of detaching ourselves from false narratives we witness the mind in its constant fluctuations and states of reactions to how we feel.
The mind is pervasive and powerful in creating biases and conditions based on conditioning and past experiences. This is why it’s so important to meditate and observe the fluctuations of the mind. Through direct observation, we can learn that our thoughts and emotions are not permanent. What we think is true one day, may not be true for us the next day as Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras.
In the practice of kaivalya, in solitude, we may discover that we are not separate from others. We create stories to maintain control, to secure our identity and assert who we are in the world. We tell stories to preserve history and create collective narratives to build community and culture. We share stories to bond with others and establish politics, philosophies, and ethics. Stories are the way we build our reality, which is problematic when it comes to competing narratives and an unwillingness to compromise, evolve with change, or let go.
The problems we face around the world concerning gender inequality, racial bias, and unequal distribution of wealth, are the direct result of competing narratives and ego-driven storytelling. We create stories to validate our ego-driven desires to varying degrees. We make false assumptions about the nature of reality. We focus on our own self-centeredness and become stilted by our fears. This is perhaps why we see public shaming, fear-mongering, and regression through guilt all over the news and social media. Thanks to Twitter and Instagram, everyone has their own microphone to fill the void with how they’ve been hurt; why their story is the best story; how their life is so devastated and/or desired.
When the yogi realizes that the perceiver in the form of consciousness is not the real perceiver but an instrument, the seer or purusa (Spirit) begins to discard its fluctuations and also its outer form, ego, so as to blend into a single unvacillating mind. This allows the single mind to merge in the seer, and the seer to shine forth in the light of the soul.
– B.K.S. IYENGAR
The aim of kaivalya is to see that the mind is the ultimate storyteller. It can help break through the false narratives and the emotional, ego-driven drama. The separateness that some of us feel is created by a story of materialism, of capitalist gain that tells us we need to purchase our happiness. When we buy into stories that are not our own, we create global narratives that shape the laws and social hierarchies that dominate the world. Catholicism, Trumps Republic, Nazi Germany; all are structures of ignorance manifest from the wide-spread, deeply rooted beliefs of people all over the world.
In Solitude; A Step Toward The Truth
We can’t avoid identity biases that have shaped some of our global infrastructure and discourage how we relate and express ourselves. In order for there to be significant change on a global level, we must sit with ourselves first. It starts with kaivalya, being in solitude and detaching from the ego and the stories it tells. When I sit in solitude and take space from the day to day and the competing narratives, I discover a freedom within that’s removed from all influences. When it comes to contributing to the narratives that shape the realities we share, we might ask what the dominating emotions are of those in power. Examine the language used and who’s being supported and/or denied. We might ask if this narrative is bringing us closer to each other, or, if the narrative is creating more hatred, disease, and chaos in an effort to separate and drive us apart.
Through supreme detachment toward even sovereignty and omniscience, the seeds of future karma are destroyed, which results in freedom (Kaivalya).
– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras III.50
With others, we might enjoy the sensations and wonders of the world. Through others we may acknowledge the space we take up and how we interact with reality. Through others we may indulge and express the stories that bring us together. Through solitude we may discover the immanence of the universe.
In solitude we meet our capacity to love, forgive, and let go.
In solitude we may come home to the truth.
Be happy about your growth,,