Have you ever noticed that people in the society today measure you by what you do, what profession you’re in, what schools you went to, what degrees you got, and how much money you earn? The answers to those questions are usually the first impressions of the stranger we’ve just met. We live in a society that’s all about social status, and the respect that comes from it. We like to judge how smart a person is by asking which college or university he attended, and what professional degree he earned. We judge how successful a person is by his profession and the money he earns. We sometimes even judge a person’s personality by where he came from and where he grew up. We’re always judging, judging, judging. We structure the stranger’s answers to form our own illusions and opinions about that stranger. But what makes a qualified to judge others?
Why is it that rarely do we ask a new friend about his/her stories, history, background, and culture when these actually make up the bigger portion about the individual of who he/she really is? We only really start to know a person when his stories become part of you and part of your life, when we feel what he’s feeling when he tells his stories, when there’s a connection and understanding between the two of us, and when we have multiple stories that we feel we can share with that new friend.
In yoga, we call this phenomenon avidya, or ignorance, which is one of the five obstacles mentioned in the Yoga Sutras that we must overcome. The ignorance stems from our own mapping and idea about a person, which is not always the truth or reality of that individual. Our own thoughts and emotions get in the way of really knowing that person. Like looking down a murky lake, you see the lake and you see the water, but you cannot see through the depth of it. You don’t know how deep it is, what’s underneath the waters, and what the real color of the lake is. Your mind is like the lake and your thoughts are the murk in the water. You have to remove that murk to see past the surface of the lake, of the person, so that you see clarity. When you let go of your ego and opinions, then do you truly see.
The wise master of Ashtanga Richard Freeman actually mentioned this during the 6-day immersion this week. He said that in our life we meet many, many people, but we actually truly know very few. Most of the time when we meet new people, our minds are closed and we automatically put layers of figments on the new information that comes into our minds, making our own opinions about an object or a person. It is when we let go of who we are and step into the other’s shoes do we see, experience, and understand.
This is why I love the yoga community. Everywhere I go I feel like I’m part of a family. Indeed, most of us are brought together for our love of yoga, but it is also because most of us don’t judge one another by their occupation and schooling. We don’t care. We ask each other what has brought us to yoga, and some people have excellent stories about how they found yoga. I find it so easy to talk to other yogis, because we are mostly unafraid to share our stories. We give feedbacks and words of encouragements to one another when someone’s going through a tough time. Nobody is going to judge you. A few fellow yogis whom I’ve only known a few months have even heard some of my stories that some people I’ve known for years have never heard of.
Again, back to Richard Freeman. There he was in front of the class, demonstrating a pose. He said that if you can’t touch your belly to your thighs, then so what? Nobody cares. Now, if you can touch your belly to your thighs, then so what? Nobody cares. In other words, why care what other people think if you can do what you feel is comfortable and right for you? Just because you can put your legs behind your head or reach your chin to your ankles, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a smarter, kinder, better person. How you get into the pose is the golden process. Are you just laying the front of your upper body upon your stretched legs in paschimottanasana with a splat because you are flexible? Or are you really trying to feel each step of getting into the pose, each engagement of certain muscles and relaxation of others, each primary and counter rotation, each new wave of sensation with the inhale and exhale? Are you simply doing a pose because you want to show off your skills? Or are you doing the pose to really feel it, and be in it, be it?
Don’t let the opinions of the society shape your own opinions of yourself. Instead, work on finding yourself, wipe those glasses clean, remove that murk from your mind lake, unwrap the cocoon to reveal the beautiful butterfly that is you and you alone. Take a breath a see clearly for the first time.