I’ve been reading the Yoga Sutras and have been thinking a lot about Raga – the clinging to past pleasure, and how this elicits duhkha (suffering). Raga is a huge player in the suffering most of us experience. When we cannot have something we desire – a repeated pleasure – we feel pain and discomfort. Even before it becomes a past experience, raga can play out in the moment, when we fear we will not experience it again.
In order to avoid suffering, we must let go of the attachment to previously experienced pleasure. Accepting the impermanence of feelings, moments, and experiences. Letting them be without having to be again. Letting go of those good times that gave us joy without struggle or remorse.
Not trying to recreate past pleasure or comparing our current experience to better ones we had before. Just letting things move along without grasping for pleasure or being disappointed when it fails to come.
I don’t know about you guys, but this feels like a monumental task. The possibility sounds alluring, yet I start to crumble under the weight of it.
Because I’m in paradise and have lots of time to ponder these ideas, I’ve come up with a few ways I will work on this practice. The practice of non-attachment to past pleasure, of reducing suffering due to the idea that pleasure won’t happen again, and the acceptance of impermanence.
The practice of mala beads. When I purchased my self-love mala beads three years ago I knew how to use them for meditation and setting intention. I knew about the different types of beads and the meaning associated with the stones. What I didn’t know was that the practice of mala beads also represent a practice of accepting impermanence. Of letting things go when it’s their time. Of taking it as a sign that it is no longer for you – even if your attachment to it feels strong and desperate.
I love my self-love mala beads – there haven’t been many days since I purchased them that I haven’t worn them. They have given me a sense of strength and compassion. A reminder while I forged new territory of mattering, self-love, and self compassion.
While rushing around the house getting ready for my trip, they caught on a doorknob and broke. My heart sank. I looked at the broken piece and went straight into figuring out how to fix them. Determined that I was going to put them back together so I could act as if nothing had happened. In this process I remembered someone telling me over the years about how when a mala breaks it means something. It signifies something. At first, I dismissed that memory and wanted to forget I had even heard anything to do with the breaking of mala – that all this was, was a piece of jewellery that I could fix and put back around my neck where it belonged. It sat on my counter for a few days – and on my to-do list – with my plan to fix it strong in mind. As time went on I kept thinking of what I had heard about there being a meaning behind a mala breaking.. and I finally gave into the intruding thoughts and looked into it.
Malas breaking signify that it is time to move on, that you no longer need that mala, that it’s time for a new intention, and the practice of accepting this transition and letting go is part of it. Practicing the reality of impermanence.
I’m not going to lie, after reading that I wasn’t fully convinced I should let MY mala go – I had a lot of resistance to this idea. Sure, I get it and in theory I love it and see the value – but I really didn’t want to let go of my favourite mala.
I see this as a type of raga – where I want to hold onto my past pleasure with this mala, and the resulting suffering I’m experiencing because it’s broken and I need to let it go. All the more reason to let it go.
So I’m leaning into the resistance, noticing the suffering my attachment has created, and comforting myself through the process of letting go. I did bring my self-love mala with me on my trip – but with a different intention. An intention to let it go. To mark the end of my need for a self-love mala, and not only accept it, but celebrate it.
Another way I see this practice playing out in my life is being present in the moment.
A beautiful brightly coloured bird lands on the railing of my porch. My first thought, “Oh shit, I don’t have my phone. THIS is why you should always have your camera ready, Jeana.” And then I pondered that. My preoccupation of trying to capture the moment was robbing me of the actual moment. For a picture that would always only be a picture. A photo of a missed opportunity. Unable to soak in the real experience, and proof of raga in motion. The driving force behind this of course being that I would be trying to preserve it for the future – to prolong the pleasure of this moment into the future. A simple, yet clear example of attaching to pleasure and how it could create suffering.
So the lesson for me – not to have my camera ready – but to always have my eyes ready.
The second unique bird I saw, a day after this aha moment, was a magnificent toucan – and this time I was ready. I let go of the thoughts of getting my camera, whether I would see more creatures, and even thoughts of how I would share this with others. I let it go and returned back to the moment. I fully engaged myself with taking in the toucan’s beauty and the gratitude of getting to experience that moment.
Embracing the moment. Not grasping at it desperately or looking for ways to control the meaning it will have or deciphering whether it could happen again. Not worrying about the impermanence, simply letting it be in this moment, on that branch, just a beautiful bird that I get to watch.
I had never seen a toucan before. Funny how the universe can test you.
The present moment can be a funny thing when you’re experiencing so much joy you don’t want it to be contained to that single moment. I often feel this way while going on adventures, or riding on the motorcycle. I’m enjoying myself so much that I can’t help go to how to get more of it; I find myself dreaming up the next adventure, or thinking of more rides we could take. It’s raga that makes me want to have a commitment to make the experience a tradition while I’m in it. That having that moment isn’t enough, I want to make sure there will be more, so I can relax into it and not fret about never experiencing it again. In this I am rejecting the idea of being present, and I’m fully attaching myself to the idea of past pleasure. Of giving into that desire to hold onto the good feelings I have now by planning and dreaming of identical future experiences.
Why is it so hard to just accept and enjoy?
There is a sadness that accompanies the joy when we acknowledge that this moment is also the end of this moment. And there it is again, the suffering due to attachment. I’m going to keep practicing being in this experience without planning more experiences like it. I’m going to bring myself back into the moment at hand, than fretting over how to make it last or repeat. And if there’s sadness in the moment because I let go of those ideas, then I will feel the sadness and have it be a part of this moment – until I reach the point where I can truly detach myself from raga.
The third way I see myself practicing this crazy concept of being unattached to pleasure is in changing how I approach my interactions and relationships.
I’ve sat here, at my computer, multiple times over the last two days, trying to find words to explain what I mean by applying this non-attachment of pleasure to relationships, and yet I lack the words. I cannot fully describe what I mean or explain how I will apply it. And yet, I knew I didn’t want to take this point out. I could have easily erased the last paragraph and left it at that. But it feels powerful. An idea, that even incomplete, is significant and should be planted in all of our minds. I continued coming back to the journal entry I wrote while first thinking of this, and feeling this sense of love. I couldn’t get past it or elaborate on it, yet I feel it holds within it everything I mean.
“We love each other with whole hearts that understand personal legends and being a whole person – and yet, it’s a love that feels so deep and moving that it’s even bigger and more pure than that of desperate mending or completing. We aren’t grasping each other – we’re embracing.”
Let’s loosen our grip and embrace.