What are the 4 things that distort our perception and thus our actions?

August 19, 2014

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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Ancient Yogic Scriptures from the 2nd Century BCE) discusses the qualities of the mind and how we can influence it. As mentioned before Yoga is defined as “stilling the changes of the mind” in the Yoga Sutras. Why is that important to us? According to the Yogic philosophy our actions are determined through either “correct understanding/perception”(Vidya) or “incorrect understanding/perception”(Avidya). 

What usually happens when we perceive a situation? Either 2 things:

We either think that we perceive the situation correct and continue with our chosen actions, only to realize afterwards that we were wrong and that we did not perceive the situation how it actually really was and that our actions might have caused difficulties to ourselves and to others.

OR We do perceive/understand the situation correct, but we doubt ourselves and choose not to act , where it was needed  and beneficial to act instead of non-action.

“Incorrect understanding”(Avidya) can be understood as the accumulated result of our many unconscious actions (repetitive behaviour).  It is the actions and ways of perceiving that we have been mechanically carrying out for years. As a result of these unconscious responses, the mind becomes more and more dependent on these habits until we accept these actions as the “norm”. Such habituation in our action and perception is called Samskaras (impressions left on the mind from previous experiences). These habits or repetitive patterns of behaviour cover the mind as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer.

So what influence and distort our perception so much and could lead to some potential difficulties because of this common veil or film layer that avoids clarity in perception? It is seldom that we realize that our perception is wrong and it is easier to notice the characteristics of “incorrect understanding”(Avidya) . Branches of Advidya:

  1. Ego (Asmita) : (Either a feeling of superiority or inferiority) “I need to be the best”,  “I am right” or “Ï am not good enough” , “I am not confident enough”
  2. Making demands (Raga): We want what we don’t have. We want what we don’t need. We hang on to what we are asked to give away.  What we do have is not enough and we want more of it. We want something even though it may not even be good for me.
  3. Rejection (Dvesa): We reject a situation because we want to avoid getting hurt, disappointed or challenged. We have a difficult experience and are afraid of repeating it, so we reject people, thoughts and settings that relate to that previous experience, assuming that it will hurt us again. Or we reject things which we are not familiar with even though we have not positive or negative experience with it from before.
  4. Fear (Abhinivesa): Feeling uncertain or having doubts about ourselves. We are afraid that we will be judged negatively.

How can I apply this yogic philosophy practically into my life and why?

I think most of us can agree that we create unnecessary thoughts, feelings and actions in our lives that are based on a distortion of our perception and things are not always the way it seems. We are very good at either over fantasizing about something our taking our problems out of perception and making it a “drama” or a tragedy.

The goal is to reduce “incorrect understanding/perception” through being more attentive in order to act correctly.  Yoga is a scientific technique to become more concentrated and attentive, “tying the strands of the mind together” through asanas, pranayama, concentration and meditation.

When we become more attentive we become aware from where we are acting from. So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel unclear or uncertain what to do ask yourself: do I really need to think and feel this way or am I creating a “drama” though distortion of my perception?

Ask yourself:

Am I acting, thinking and feeling from my ego? Am I feeling superior or inferior?

Am I making demands? Is it a need or a desire?

Am I acting, thinking and feeling from a fear of rejection?

Am I acting, thinking and feeling from fear?

This knowledge /philosophy of true understanding through reducing “incorrect understanding” are not a “quick fix” and do not occur spontaneously, but it is something we have to practise daily. We have to practise daily to be more attentive to our choices and actions. We have to practise daily to be in the present moment in order to realize where we are acting from. Trough ongoing practise we will start to reduce the film layer of incorrect understanding (Avidya) and live more free, calm and centred. It will slowly but surely change the relationship with ourselves, the people around us and the world we live in. When we see and understand something correctly there is a profound sense of peace inside us. We feel no tension, unrest or agitation.

How do we reduce “incorrect understanding”(Avidya) through our yoga practise?

Patanjali list 3 things in the ancient Yoga Sutras:

Purification (Tapas) – which means “heat” or “cleanse”. We do this through the physical yoga asanas and pranayama (breathing techniques) to clear any blockages or knots (grantis) in our energy pathways.

Self-Study ( Svadhyana) : Getting to know our strengths and weaknesses. Placing emphasis on our strengths and accepting our limitations. Becoming aware of our repetitive behaviour or destructive though patterns. In accepting our limitations we can get closer to the roots of our anger, impatience or self-loathing. We can have a little compassion for the conditions and forces that have molded our behaviours and beliefs and in doing so develop more skills in handing and redirecting our self-destructive tendencies that could potential withhold us from evolving and moving forward.

Celebration of the divine (Isvarapranidhana): Recognizing that there is a higher intelligence and that we are co-creators of our life and being in flow with the Divine through means of surrendering our personal will to this intelligence so we can fulfil our destiny.

Our quality of action. Acting to the best of our abilities regardless of the outcome.  One way how we can practise Isvarapranidhana is to put some time aside each day to recognize an intelligence greater than us. You can do this though spending some time in nature, prayer or meditation. Spend some time to get quiet and clear to distinguish between our cluttered mind and the resonant intelligence that comes through intuition.

Source: The Heart of Yoga T.K.V. Desikachar

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