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Lance: Hi, James. I trust Isvara is blessing you as ever.
I have really appreciated hearing from you recently regarding my exercise vasana and my related marital issues. All three of your responses have been right on the money.
Though your first response was a bit curt, it voiced the essential truth of the situation and was received in the spirit intended. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in an athletic environment. This had its pros and cons like anything else.
But a couple of things with which it did instill me were discipline and a thick skin.
My dad coached several of my youth baseball teams, and my high school basketball coach was a friend of my dad’s. Because neither wanted to be accused of any favoritism, on more occasions than I can count I was the player who took the brunt of their criticisms (many voiced loudly and sprinkled with choice adjectives… ah, the good old days when people could speak frankly and colorfully without worrying about a backlash of angry emails from offended parents).
Anyway, my point is that I can take the heat, so to speak, when it is warranted. To be honest, the reason I so trust your insights is that I know you to be a bottom-liner and impeccably honest. You are not one of the countless yoga teachers and spiritual pseudo-gurus who are just out to sweet-talk their way into the hearts and minds of what would more appropriately be called groupies than students.
You are not just another used meditation mat dealer with a new angle on the same old bullshit. Please know that I value the fact that you speak from the platform of the self rather than one skewed by a subconscious (if not outright conscious) samsaric spin on the same old deluded quest to find joy in the biggest object of all, experiential enlightenment. More to the point, I get the fact that from the perspective of reality this eating and exercise business is a rather silly issue (as is any vasana/samskara issue, for that matter).
James: Sorry I was a bit curt, Lance. The only way I look at anything is from the self’s perspective and have for so long I sometimes forget that even realized people sometimes think they are people. And there are so many realizing who they are à la Vedanta that I get irritated when people who know the teachings well somehow think that moksa means that the vasanas are going to suddenly pack up and leave. In the good old days seekers did sadhana and were more or less vasana-free when they got the teaching, so they didn’t have to contend with the vasana issue once they knew who they were. They just glided into the knowledge and started enjoying the bliss of the self. But it seems my karma is to teach many people who still have deeply entrenched habits, people who naturally want relief from them and in fact were motived to seek because of the discomfort of said habits and who, on the basis of strong mumukshutva and other qualifications, actually did get the knowledge. And while the knowledge stuck they are often dismayed to discover that the offending samskara stuck too, and they ask me what’s wrong. Nothing is wrong. I say over and over that karma does not care if you are enlightened. It goes on. You can undo it in various ways.
When we say the knowledge purifies samskaras we mean that the doer, who is apparently suffering, has a good reason not to indulge in the vasana but it still has to resist it until the link to the actions with which it is associated is broken. If you look at nature and look at the ego clearly, there is no logic to the idea that knowledge or some big experience is going to unravel the karma overnight. The accretions that build up the samskara over time will only erode over time. It is a very tricky business if the samskara is making problems in one’s life because the ego that developed it now wants to get rid of it pronto and may modify its behavior with will power – which works – but there will be many downs on the way up, as my guru used to say. Most of these obsessive samskaras are only a problem in terms of relationships with other people. If you live alone it doesn’t matter. But if you need people and find yourself in their company then it becomes a problem, as you well know.
Lance: As you observed and acknowledged in your second response, these vasanas have nevertheless made for certain challenges in both my marriage and my sadhana. This I found puzzling and so felt it an issue worth addressing, assimilating and putting to rest once and for all. Though I know that even after moksa one’s prarabdha karma has still to play out, and moreover, that each apparent individual has his/her own svadharma to follow, I guess I have been still under the impression that knowledge puts to rest all gratuitous preferences, especially those that are in any way motivated by even the slightest sense of inadequacy and incompleteness, and enables one to face each day without any particular agenda or need to do or accomplish anything.
James: It does actually, depending on how committed you are to it. I have a bottom line as far as the type of misery I will accept gladly and after that I just change the situation. I am in a relationship with someone who sees reality the same way I do and who is committed to sadhana so she takes care of her stuff and I take care of mine. This is not to say that we don’t occasionally have conflicts but they are not the conflicts of two people who have diametrically opposite views of reality, like you and your wife. She is a samsari and thinks she she should have what she wants. She doesn’t realize that she cannot get blood out of a turnip. You don’t have it in you because you see reality differently. You can understand her point of view because you have been there but she cannot understand yours because she hasn’t. She thinks there is something wrong with you. So conflict is inevitable. You can’t do anything to change your nature nor can she. From reading this letter it is clear to me that you have a handle on it. You will do what you will do. As long as you are not leading her on, promising to change, etc. you are okay. You can’t expect karma yoga to take care of it because the situation is unnatural. You will just have to take the karma yoga attitude over and over – which is tiring and basically useless. I just invoke my titiksa, my willingness to endure pain, and soldier on as long as the benefits outweigh the liabilities.
When the scales go past the tipping point I change the rules. Or resort to fantasy. ☺
Lance: Though this seems harmless enough I must admit that I am quite rigorous in keeping to this daily exercise routine for reasons I’ll attempt to spell out presently. I used to actively engage in several of the most physically intense forms of yoga asana practice, such as bikram (hot) yoga, ashtanga yoga and power vinyasa yoga. This was partly due to the idea I had that I needed to present myself with physical and mental challenges even to the point at which they might be termed punishments in order to prove that I was beyond the body and mind and could not be bothered by and would not succumb to any of the petty pain and discomfort that so disturbed the undisciplined, ignorant masses (no arrogance or egoistic doership there, eh?). Enhancing this neurosis was the notion I held in my mind of the ideal realized master as some kind of skinny, naked sadhu who could contort his body like a pretzel and sit silently in full-lotus for days… weeks… months on end, nourished only by the breath, and wield an array of superpowers that would put to shame a whole legion of Saturday morning cartoon superheroes. Moreover (as if any more was needed to put me over the edge), I used to think that I needed to have this perfectly honed and detoxified body in order to keep the nadis unclogged so that the kundalini would have open avenues through which to rise properly and Shakti could ultimately mate with Shiva and I would see The Blue Pearl, burst into flames, and fart fireworks or whatever the hell I thought would happen that would make me as rockin’ and realized as Baba Muktananda. So in short, my sports background, my idealization of bony breatharian super-yogi spiritual masters and my erroneous experiential view of enlightenment mated in a rather prolonged and kinky ménage à trois that ultimately created quite a strong vasana that continues to play out (though to an ever-decreasing degree, thank God) despite that fact that I know better thanks to your guidance and the much-welcomed common sense of the teachings of Vedanta.
James: That would be funny if it weren’t so stupid. The sense of inadequacy lurking behind this fantasy is hard to miss. The upside is to be found in the words “ever-decreasing.” It’s a good thing Isvara sent me along and you got some sense.
Lance: The bottom line is that I want to be free completely free, and this eating/exercise issue seems like a binding vasana. I say “seems” because these issues have not interfered with my knowing who I am but they have apparently prevented me from standing as awareness and living from the platform of self with full confidence. I mean, if I was truly established in the hard and fast knowledge that I am the light/awareness/self, why would I ever feel that I had to eat a certain way or exercise a certain amount and at a certain intensity or that I had to feel a certain way physically in order to feel good?
James: That’s right, Lance. The self doesn’t give a damn what behaviors are playing out in it. That’s where I was coming from when I wrote the first letter.
People don’t understand why I eat meat, like sugar in my tea, sleep in the afternoon and take the piss out of the Neos – it’s so ignorant and unspiritual and dualistic! I just cannot be bothered to live up to some ideal. I got this body and mind and life through no fault of my own and it is just fine the way it is.
Lance: When I really look it squarely in the eye, I see that my eating and exercise habits are rooted in a feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness and an addiction to or at least a strong preference for a certain quality of feeling (perhaps, as you said, sattva) in my physical body. I am starting to settle into the understanding that even sattva has to be transcended, so to speak. That is, I know without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what Lance is perceiving, sensing, feeling emotionally or thinking, I am not affected at all. I cannot be enhanced, diminished or changed in any way, shape, manner or form (though of course none of these terms actually apply to me) by anything that happens or does not happen. As I alluded to earlier, however, for some inexplicable reason I keep holding onto the idea that one day I will no longer feel even the slightest itch of agitation ever, which I recognize even as I write these words is a trifle far-fetched.
James: If you are not in physical pain then you are not doing anything unreasonable. You are in mental pain because of your ideas about what you should be and because you are in a situation where your behavior causes pain to someone else. But that is as much her problem as yours because if you do leave her, she will just have a different pain to deal with – the pain of wanting in a world that doesn’t really give a damn what we want. Even if you lie around like a slug and watch TV, and wait on your wife hand an foot, basically nothing will change.
Lance: I guess it’s best to buck up and be happy even when Lance is indulging in his unhappiness hobby, which somehow seems to induce the almost magical effect of making Lance happy. Weird how it works. Sometimes I just want to lie back and laugh at myself and the world. The hysteria is hysterical!!
James: Isvara is a pervert. There is happiness in unhappiness. Like I said above, in those situations I just call on my titiksha, my ability to endure pain, and feel virtuous about it.
Lance: Having said all that, your third response really helped me look at my marriage in terms of how the limitless, non-dual self must live within the context of the apparently dualistic dream-world. Regarding that, let me just say that I value your friendship as well as the guidance you offer as a spiritual mentor, so I appreciate your willingness to go a bit beyond your role as a Vedanta teacher in offering your insights. Rest assured, however, that I will not put you in the middle of my relationship issues and expect you to solve them or project the uncomfortable issues onto you. Since I basically see the situation in the same terms as you elucidated any projection would be only a mirrored reflection anyway.
James: Don’t worry about putting me in a pickle. It is my call and I am not going to get involved. I thought long and hard about saying what I did say so far.
Lance: Cutting to the chase then, here is a little information regarding the current status of my marriage. My wife and I are seeing a marriage counselor.
Initially, my wife began seeing this woman on her own but I agreed to go with her at her request. During these sessions I have pointed out quite clearly that Vedanta (that is, focusing on and applying the teachings) is my top priority in life.
As I see it, what other life is there? Only time will tell how this will play out in terms of our relationship. My wife has clearly stated that she will never leave me, for not only does she love me (or at least, as I suspect, who she thinks/believes/hopes/projects I am) but also because she takes her wedding vow very seriously and will never go back on her word (an observance that she has insinuated is far more dharmic than my adharmic willingness to leave in the face of our differences).
James: Sure. They always want the moral high ground. How people use guilt without even knowing it astounds me. At least when I try to make someone feel guilty I know what I m doing. ☺
Lance: Sometimes I think she accepts what she calls “my Vedanta obsession” but at other times I see a need in her for me to be more present, as she calls it, and attentive to her. Her complaint is that I am not as physically and emotionally responsive to her as she would like.
James: It’s always the same complaint. I’m all for people putting all the small stuff in black
and white when they get married.
Lance: This is certainly understandable in the context of a romantic love relationship. To be honest, however, I am just not that interested in sexual intimacy anymore and I tend not to care much about all the drama that is apparently such an integral part of daily life in general and even more so in the context of her job as a yoga teacher and spiritual counselor/energy reader. It’s not that I don’t care about people and issues they might really need legitimate help with sorting out. I don’t really have a lot to say, however, because I have learned that even what I consider the most rudimentary guidance offered by Vedanta is more often than not disregarded by my wife as being too intellectual to be of practical value.
James: I know that one.
Lance: Moreover, probably because I am an only child I have cultivated a strong vasana for just watching and listening without having to always add my two cents to the pot. Along these lines, my wife demanded during our last big blow-out that I tell her who I am, which was the homework we had been given at the end of our previous counseling session. I didn’t want to sound pompous by saying that I am the supreme self or the like, so I just said that I am a student of Vedanta. She was greatly offended by this. Not only did she feel I had not put much thought into my answer (which actually I had) but that it also excluded her.
James: You can see her issue – loneliness.
Lance: Most importantly, it left her with no idea who I am as a person and what I want and need and value in life and so left her without any inkling of how to relate to me.
James: It shows she doesn’t want to relate. She could ask what Vedanta was and take your replies seriously. She wants what she wants, and what you want does not fit in. She could try to understand. Love is understanding and the willingness to understand.
Lance: I understand and empathize with her reaction but I just don’t really have all these desires to do and acquire and achieve things anymore. I guess that does make me a bit boring but I can’t really just conjure up a bunch of hopes and aspirations that I don’t have.
James: I find hopes and aspirations boring.
Lance: I worked through all of those over the past thirty years and now am quite happy that they no longer nag me. I certainly don’t mean to vilify my wife. She is a great person and has been quite tolerant, almost certainly more than most wives would be. But we’ll just have see what happens. As you suggested, our relationship would definitely benefit from a renegotiation of the terms of our marital contract. My wife has often said I am not the man she married, which is true. But people change.
James: That’s right, the number one fact of life.
Lance: Anyway, I’ll let you know how things proceed. Thanks again for your concern and insights. Just hearing your take on things helps a lot.
James: Yes, keep me posted. I don’t have TV, so your little soap opera brightens up my otherwise humdrum Vedantic life.
Lance: Please give my best to Sundari.
James: Will do. Take care of yourself.