The Season of Vairagyah 2018

Lessons from a set back

Vairagyah is translated as letting go, detachment, dispassion, non attachment, without color, remembering the Self (Sutra I.12 to I.15) [1]

Pain and suffering

Yoga practice sensitizes us to catch the moment when we transform pain into suffering.

We experience many kinds of pain: including physical (hunger, broken bones, illnesses), and emotional, (rejections, loneliness, fears, betrayals). When our mind fills with stories of past pains, we transform the pain in the present moment into suffering! The story we tell ourselves about the pain, takes a life of its own and can make us relive our suffering.

As we get skilled at observing the mind, we become aware as it creates a story out of our pain. By retraining our mind we can diffuse the story of suffering as we bring it back to the present, to the feelings of pain in the present moment. The heart beat, the sensation in the leg, the minute feelings with which we create the story.

The power of yoga is to train us to catch the moment that mind began spinning its sticky thoughts; and with self compassion, friendliness and humor, gently redirect our mind to the concrete moment of experiencing our breathing patterns, our bodily sensations. Yoga not only transforms negative habits into positive ones so that we can live the best life we can, it also illuminates the process of transforming pain into suffering.

Practice is the key, it cannot be hurried; like the breath it is with gentleness that we inhabit it. Pantajali teaches that practice goes hand in hand with detachment (Sutra I.12). To fully live we also need not only to practice with ardor but we need to detach from the practice itself!! We need to be non attached to the fruits of the practice, as Nishala Joy Devi writes we need to remember the bigger picture. Varyagyah has always been a difficult concept and reality for me!! I had the “good luck” to find myself in a situation these past months, where this aspect of yoga came knocking at my door with renewed intensity. I could not ignore it anymore.

For a year, I had prepared for my Junior 1 assessment. For a year, I had devoted myself to an intense practice of all the limbs of yoga, and as my assessment date was approaching, the intensity grew. Two weeks before I was supposed to fly to Arizona for the assessment weekend, I broke my left foot, a Jones fracture (gratefully not to the cortex, so no need for surgery).  Suddenly, in a blink of an eye, my situation changed drastically! I realized that it meant no assessment for me in 2018. Of course I was disappointed. So here and now, after a year of Abyassah (practice) I needed to enter the world of Vairagyah, letting go[2].

What are the steps to “letting go,” so that we do not transform pain into suffering! What is it that we need to realign when in the vairagyah season? [3]

Practice is a long process, and vairagyah needs to be reinvented as a long process itself, so I need to develop habits of the mind that will allow me to enter the process of remembering that change is supreme and accept reality as it unfolds. Below are a few of the ways I am developing my vairagyah muscles, creating new habits of the mind and integrating vairagyah into practice.

Closing a door, opening a door

I have always seen letting go as closing a door and opening a new one. Doors seem to close instantly, quickly, as with my accident. But somehow doors open slowly and we need to develop patience with the process. To open doors we need to become aware that they are present, we need to see clearly what door can be open. Seeing clearly requires a movement back into ourselves, a reckoning, a retracting, a soft inhale. It needs softness, patience, trust and clarity. We need to slow down and inhabit the new reality without running away from it.

Accepting change as the backbone, as the mid line of our lives

Accepting that change is the norm requires being agile, nimble on our feet and in our mind. How do we learn to relish the movement of the spine and the movement of the universe when they are not what we wish? With our mistakes and follies as teachers, we cultivate humor and a good dose of humility. We come to accept our restrictions and the restrictions of our universe. We accept what cannot be changed and appreciate the wisdom that these moments as well will transform! Accepting change is seeing that every action comes with a reaction. How do we become proficient in learning to be at ease with the movement of life? I tend to see myself as inhabiting places, I do not focus on movements between these places. Learning to observe and feeling the movement, the fluidity between the concrete places helps me pay attention to the flow of life. As I learn to pay attention to the ground, or the sky and not to the objects, places in it, I transform. Paying attention to getting to the places I inhabit, helps me grasp that we are all in motion, and that the place is just another movement that we solidify in our mind. In yoga, we not only pay attention to the final pose, (if such a final pose exists) but  also to the getting in and out of the pose. When we maintain the pose we see that behind the maintaining there is a balancing of myriads of action. We are never really static! When we pay attention to the silence, we see that maintaining the pose is an endless balancing act, full of noise.

Accepting the order of life is changing perspective

The Greek philosopher Heraclites said many centuries ago. We cannot enter the same river twice. I never fully understood that old saying and now I am comprehending, accepting the wisdom of focusing on the movement and not only on the places themselves. We want to grasp the places but it is in the going and coming that we live. The place exists in our mind as we define it as such, as static. The river is always flowing and the banks always in movement, they seem unchanging until our eyes get sensitized to see beyond the stability. We are endlessly moving toward stability, accent on “endlessly”! (balancing the Gunas sutra I.16). As we accept this order of life we transform and learn to shed what is not needed anymore, like the idea of getting back into the size 2 dress that we wore when 20. Maybe we need to cast off the relationship that is not nourishing anymore, the fear of getting old, of fading and let go of our ideas about the perfect pose. Changing perspective help us transform our stories of suffering. Learning to see the beauty in a few pebbles is the key to accepting our place in the order of life. The perfect pose is a pose where we bring integrity into the process. Paying attention with integrity to the movement of life itself is an act of prayer. There is beauty all around us, we just need to open our eyes. We are all in motion, nothing keeps still and by becoming friendly with that idea we enter the rehearsal for the major transformation of our lives, abinevesah (fear of death) and we live fully in the present with passion and dispassion intertwined together. We let Vairagyah be part of our practice moment by moment. 

Developing a healthy relation to pain and suffering

Accepting the pain without creating a story of suffering is our challenge (sutra II.1). Pain is not what we want, but pain occurs and comes to our doors without being invited. When like a spider I start spinning my sticky threads, I create my own suffering. Discernment allows me to choose what action is needed in the moment to help my situation, and I need the practice, the training that will allow me to open the right door.  And there is a moment before we open that new door, that all the possibilities are there and by choosing one, we let go of all other possible. As BKS Iyengar writes beautifully in the last chapter of Light on Life I will die, there is nothing I can do about this!! My challenge as a human is to quiet my mind enough so that I do not die a little every day but I learn to live with passion and dispassion a little before I die:

“I will not say Die before you die” I would rather say “live before you die, so that death is also a lively celebration”  B.K.S Iyengar Light On Life p. 266

[1]  Vairagyah is translated  by B.K.S. Iyengar as detachment,  by E. Bryant as dispassion, by Carrera as non Attachment, by Meta as without color; and by Nishala Joy Devi as  remembering the self. There are many other ways to translate this term..

[2] Rohit Meta in I.14 and I.15 proposes to see Vairagyah and Abyassah as occurring at the same time, not one after the other. He sees Vairagyah as a condition free from all motives (p.29). A condition that cannot be defined but only can be indicated, pointed to. Meta presents Yoga as a state of living in the present where we act from what is in front of us and not from past or future motives. A state which is free from past stories and future worries.

[3] To my wonderful friends and colleagues Jennifer Flesher, Betsy Hecker, Sue Mulski, Shari Goldin, Victoria Saldanha, Nathalie Greene and Elizabeth Ross  who are taking turns demonstrating for me in my classes, thank you!