Up and down ... up and down. Isn’t this how we feel most of the time? We fluctuate between feeling good and bad, happy and sad. We like this and dislike that. We try to attract joy and we attempt to avoid suffering. We act and react, over and over again ...
These opposite states of experience are described in yoga philosophy as obstacles along our path to freedom. When we feel up we usually want to stay there, so we develop attachment (raga) — the pull toward anything we like or want. When we feel down, we want to get away so we develop aversion (dvesa) — the pushing away from something. We experience dvesa when we encounter a relationship or sensation that does not feel good.
Two sides of the same coin — one causes longing if not achieved, and the other causes pain if not avoided. This up and down is a pattern of suffering that we pass through all day, every day, to greater or lesser degrees. And although natural, these emotional swings are inhibitors to our ability to sustain inner peace and lasting happiness.
Raga and dvesa are among the five kleshas or blocks that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras identifies as states of being that contribute to our spiritual ignorance (avidya). Until we can bring these emotional fluctuations under conscious control, we are at the mercy of our preconditioned patterns.
Just take a moment to consider since waking this morning, how many times you moved toward something you liked, or away from something or someone you didn’t like. It’s easy to see how — consciously or subconsciously — these polarities drive many of our decisions and behaviors. Until we come to a state of balance, where the seesaw of raga-dvesa stops tipping from one extreme to the other, we will not experience harmony in our bodies, minds or emotions.
According to the Yoga Sutras, the purpose of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind to perceive our true nature. We will never be able to dwell within our changeless essence if we are always tossed around by that which changes, otherwise known as the ego self.
We must practice even-mindedness to overcome our tendencies to move toward raga or dvesa. Choosing to be non-reactive and non-opinionated in more and more situations, is the key to getting off the emotional seesaw of the mind.
Here are six spiritual practices to help balance your emotions and leave you more even-keeled:
1. Notice the impulse to move toward or away from various things, and choose to remain neutral instead.
2. Practice being content with whatever is happening, rather than seeking to have your personal agenda filled.
3. Remember to be compassionately present in circumstances that might be undesirable or uncomfortable.
4. Choose to be a witness rather than indulge that which wants to be heard.
5. Practice non-reactivity when conflict arises and seek a balanced, peaceful resolution.
6. Attempt to be neutral rather than opinionated in most circumstances.
Even-mindedness is both the practice and the goal of yoga, despite the daily inner battle we may continue to experience. We can trust that every time we take a step in this direction, we get a little bit closer to freedom.