Have you ever had the experience of not seeing the forest through the trees? I’m guilty. Especially when things don’t go the way I think they should. I have experienced this many, many times. I’d identify a problem, then start scolding myself because of course it was my fault, and my frustration would grow as I couldn’t find a solution. My negative energy and bad attitude would keep building and the problem would just get worse. Then I’d have to rush to a meeting. But when I’d return to my desk (and the problem) I would have a fresh perspective because of the break and could look at the bigger picture (the forest). Miraculously, I’d find the answer to the problem. Ahhh...all is good again. But think of all the suffering I caused myself during that process! I have noticed, however, that as I have developed my yoga practice, this scenario happens less and less.
Not seeing the forest through the trees
Yoga introduces the concept of not seeing things clearly, avidya in Sanskrit. (A little side note: when you put an “a” in front of a Sanskrit word, it means the opposite. So the word vidya means to see clearly). Avidya occurs because our minds are caught up in ourselves---like I did when I blame myself for the problem—as well as our habitual patterns of clinging to something or avoiding something. This way of thinking causes us to feel that we are separate from everyone else: “it’s me and them.” We believe this way of thinking protects us, but it is based in fear and isolates us from others.
Sadly our society helps reinforce this fearful mindset, especially today as we are going through a presidential election. The “us against them” mentality is at its peak, dividing our community even further.
But there is a way out. The practice of yoga is a tool to help us wake up to the present and realize that everything is interconnected---we are not separate. “Together is better.”
How can we see more clearly?
Practicing the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a path to cultivate this awareness. A good place to start is with the 1st limb of yoga, the yamas, which are the ethical principles that clarify our relationship to the world. The yamas encourage us to be kind, honest and generous. By practicing the yamas deeply we begin to realize our interconnectedness with our planet and all living beings. The illusion of separateness falls away and we see that every action we take does matter. Combined with a deep meditation practice (culminating in the 7th limb, but supported by all the other limbs of yoga) we can learn to let go of our negative habits and begin to calm our minds. Then we can cultivate the wisdom that helps us to see more clearly.
As you develop a consistent practice you too can become more aware when avidya arises. You are then able to stop, step back and see the forest through the trees. Soon, when your filters begin to fade, you will see things more clearly on a regular basis. This is the goal of yoga: to free the mind from limiting beliefs so we can respond to situations with loving action.
Written by OM Matters founder, Tambra Wayne