I find it strangely consoling to know that humans have been confused and suffering in the same way for thousands of years all over the world.
When I read the Yoga Sutras, a book of wisdom written over 2,000 years ago, I’m reminded that all the psychosis we struggle with — fear, doubt, ego, attachment, ect. — are universal plights of the human race.
This ancient book of wisdom outlines in a very concise way the common struggles and pitfalls people faced thousands of years ago in an entirely different culture (India), and the bazaar thing is that it may as well be describing the average modern Westerner.
When I stop and take into account that societies and individuals all over the world have struggled with the same personal issues for millennia, it doesn’t instil in me a sense of hopelessness about our species. Quite the opposite, it makes me feel a bit more relaxed as these same issues crop up in my life.
When I realise we all experience the same problems, I don’t feel so alone in my suffering and I stop taking the issues so personally.
Recognising the universality of human psychosis makes me realise firstly that nothing is WRONG with me. It’s an old habit of mine to think “Why am I like this?” and “What’s wrong with me?” when I face my fears, doubts and ego. In my journalism days a teacher once told me that you won’t get the right answer if you don’t have the right questions.
Asking constantly what’s wrong with ourselves, in my opinion, isn’t the right question. It causes us to focus on whatever negative aspect of our selves is leading to the suffering, and leads us away from remembering that IT’S NOT PERSONAL, nothing is wrong with US, we’re just being human.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on overcoming ego, fear and doubt, but when we take it so personally we tend not to ask the right questions, and therefor not see beyond the issue causing suffering.
The second thing the Yoga Sutras reminds me is that many amazing people have forged the path to over coming these universal issues. Which means firstly that they can be overcome, and secondly we don’t have to figure it all out on our own.
The Yoga Sutras is just one of many amazing ancient texts that can help us live as humans with less suffering and pain, and for me personally it is the one that has made the most sense in my life.
The Sutras describe this confused aspect of the human condition as “being under the veil of misperception,” called avidya in Sanskrit. And really, most Yoga practices aim to teaches us how to lift this veil of misperception.
The trickiest thing about avidya is that it’s hard for us to perceive that we’re misperceiving!
Thank goodness for the wise yogis of yore who forged the way through these murky waters because we’re lucky enough to have some tips on how to identify when we’re clouded by the veil of avidya.
The Yoga Sutras teaches us that because it’s hard to recognise misperception itself, we should look out for it’s four main branches. The four branches of avidly are ego, aversion, attachment and fear. When these four branches show up in our lives we can look at them and think, “Ah, I must not be perceiving clearly. I must not be seeing the whole picture.”
So when your ego next rears it’s head, or you find yourself stumped by fear or suffering because of attachment and aversion, stop, take a big breath, and firstly realise this is just part of the human condition. Secondly, ask yourself, “What am I not seeing clearly? What is the greater truth about this situation that would dispel my fear/aversion/attachment/ego?”
These questions, just like my journalism teacher taught me, will lead to the right answers, the ones that lift the veil of Avidya.