The attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain (respectively) are responsible for most of the suffering we experience in our life. When we chase things we desire because they once brought us pleasure, we are never fulfilled. When something pleasurable ends, we are bereft because we have displaced our happiness to a location outside of ourselves. Lasting happiness is not realistic.
However, contentment is.
The secret to overcoming raga and dvesha is cultivating contentment, or santosha. Santosha is the deep contentment that arises when we are awesomely okay with everything. We become awesomely okay with everything when we can see the “okayness” in whatever is occurring in the present moment … even if it is discomfort.
Discomfort is a valuable tool that reveals to us our resistance, and anything we resist points us to where we are not yet free. When resistance arises, a yogi doesn’t shy away from it but rather revels in this invaluable information as a place to dive in and release whatever stifles contentment. Anytime resistance arises, it is a signal that we are disempowered and discontent. Like yoga, happiness is an inside job and learning to be content, or awesomely okay with everything, means that we moor ourselves to the bliss firmly rooted within us.
This practice is particularly poignant in terms of sensations of pain. We are hardwired to avoid pain—our own, or anyone else’s. It is often just as difficult to bear witness to the struggle of another as it is to endure our own pain, and so we do whatever we can to numb, avoid, or run away from that sensation. Pain, however, is an important signal of where care, healing, or comfort is needed; to actually sit and remain present with discomfort or agony is transformative and life-altering.
Interestingly, we sometimes also become comfortable with our own pain or discomfort! At a dinner conversation about healthy eating, I heard a person remark that she would rather take a pill every day to manage her irritable bowels than change her diet. Her stomach discomfort is her “normal,” and her unhealthy diet is her “comfort.” Even though change is difficult, imagine how achieving a new level of health and a much higher standard of “normal” as a result, is ultimately worth the mild discomfort of choosing healthy eating habits. Often times, our ability to both recognize discomfort and how our actions potentially enable it gives us the clues to begin to overcome these two klesha.
The goal in working with raga and dvesha is not to dull the sensations and emotions that make us human—the deep longing for joy and the grief that pain often brings—but rather to feel them completely while still remaining tethered to the contentment within us. This requires the practice of remaining present in the moment. This is an oft-repeated recommendation across the spiritual board, but it is particularly important in terms of sustaining a connection with personal bliss.
Being in the present moment and accepting and allowing life to happen exactly as it is gives us permission to fully participate in life. Rather than missing what is happening now by running toward an ever-elusive desire or avoiding the present moment by numbing out, staying present allows a full immersion into all the expressions of our humanness. This empowers us to bear all the experiences of our life because they are all awesomely okay. They are all a part of our growth experience and personal development, provided that we remain present for them.
I developed a simple mantra long ago to help me with this process: “This is what is happening now.” Use this mantra anytime you feel a sense of discomfort that you would prefer to displace by rushing toward the next thing or avoiding it altogether. “This is what is happening now” is a simple reminder to stay tuned to the present moment and practice overcoming raga and dvesha.
The importance of staying in the present moment cannot be over-stated. It allows for a full immersion into the grand life experience that is ours (including all the ups and downs) because every moment is carefully crafted to foster our spiritual development. Perhaps even more important is this: the experience of yoga, of personal bliss, can only occur in the present moment. Yoga, the state of deep personal connection and bliss, happens at exactly one time: NOW. That’s it.
Anytime we rush away or reminisce we remove the possibility for yoga to arise. We have likely already heard about the importance of the present moment, given Eckhart Tolle’s significant success telling us about the power of NOW. It is not just New Age jargon; it is real and challenging stuff. A decent portion of our battle in trying to overcome the obstacles that obscure our true blissful nature is simply trying to remain present in the now.
We worry. We anticipate. We regret. We think through every word in an argument before we have it. We plan every detail of an experience before we experience it. We relive the past over and over by replaying scenes in our mind’s eye. We spend a good deal of time in a past that is already gone or in a future that has not yet arrived. In doing so, we miss life. Your life is happening now, and it is this very moment that needs your full attention. Yoga is not something that will occur for us in the future, because the future has not yet come to pass. Even if we have experienced this connection in the past (or, even if we haven’t!), we cannot relive it in the past … we must feel it in the present.
In the present moment there is no worry, regret, anticipation, or anxiety. In the present moment, we have the opportunity to soften our conscious personality, which primarily lives in the future or past. In the present moment, everything is perfect exactly as it is, simply because it can be no other way. There is nothing to argue with in the present moment, nothing to avoid, nothing to deny, exclude, omit, repress, or push away. The present moment just is.