The outcome of this lack of practice is always negative, not only for myself but for those around me. Frankly, when I am not practicing, I don't much like the person I become. I am haunted by ghosts of depression, anger and impatience. I treat others without compassion. I treat myself without compassion. I lack energy and joy in my daily life.
So the big question is: why, if I understand that my life is better in every way when I practice, do I ever stop?! My friend had some different insights into why this is the case in her life. In my case, I think it is most simply defined as sloth. My use of this term in the context of yoga practice is borrowed from Donna Farhi's Bringing Yoga to Life. She describes this problem as follows:
The sloth is a bearlike creature giving to hanging upside down and moving so slowly that algae gives its brown coat a green tinge. [see image] Of the nine obstacles to the yogic path listed in the Yoga-Sutra, four can be attributed in some way to the effects of dullness, laziness, and inertia. Sloth makes it almost impossible to establish a firm ground for practice, and even if we are able to do so, sloth may prevent us from sustaining any ground we have gained. Most of us have a sense of what's good for us. This knowledge of the medicine we need bypasses the central dilemma: How are we going to get to the medicine cabinet? (pg. 163)Of course, spiritual seekers of many faiths have been aware of the danger of sloth for a very long time. It is one of the seven deadly sins; Thomas Aquinas described it as "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds." What is this sense of inertia that causes us to spend our energy unwisely and keeps us from pursuing a path of joy and good deeds? And how do we combat it?
Farhi suggests that a common solution in many traditions is the contemplation of death. Awareness that our lives could end at any moment can help to open the heart and connect with life fully. It is the lack of awareness of our interconnectedness that allows us to live our lives carelessly and without attention to the practice. If we can realize that all this will one day pass, every moment becomes a opportunity to connect with what is eternal and precious. If we can honestly consider the reality of our own death, we will be forced to consider what is truly important, what gives meaning to our lives here on earth, and what leads us to happiness.
This practice sounds deceptively easy. It isn't. For whatever reason, I persist over and over in cutting myself off from joy. It is very easy to sit here in front of my computer and type these words of commitment, very hard to interrupt my habitual numbness and teach myself to be present. Having a community helps, and this is why I spend the money to go to yoga class or attend conferences, to find this inspiration. And this is why I am writing this blog.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says that "The wise see suffering in all experience... But suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented. The preventable cause of all this suffering is the apparent indivisibility of pure awareness and what it regards" (2.15- 2.17). This is good news: future suffering can be prevented, and there is a way to do this, there are specific practices we can follow (yoga!). We can detach ourselves from our suffering and from the material world, realize that all of that is not who we are, and abide in pure awareness.
And yet here I go again, journeying through the world, grasping so fiercely at everything and perpetuating my own suffering - and when I suffer, I contribute to the suffering of others. Trying to find a path that will allow me to maintain awareness, so that I can let the world go with each exhale. Beginning this practice, again and again. I don't think I have the answers to the question of what causes sloth and how to overcome it, but I am willing to listen to any suggestions I can find.
Farhi has some parting words of wisdom:
When inertia and joylessness is our primary coloring, it is helpful to envisage some moment in our life when we felt infused with vitality and happiness, even if all we can conjure up is a single instant... Vividly contemplate the details of this experience... Then, as you consider your present situation, allow a creative solution to suggest itself to you.Amen.
Yoga teaches us that the way to joy is through joy. When we get a taste of this delightful state of equanimity, there is really nothing left to choose. When we are wedded to life it will seem ridiculous to use our energies for anything but strengthening that marriage. When we make a commitment to this inner relationship, life chooses us and we become instruments for fulfilling its purpose. (pg. 174)