Thoughts that Cloud the Mind

In the midst of the metamorphosis that is my yoga teacher training experience, I recently read about the concept of Avidya, a Sanscrit word meaning incorrect knowledge or misconception. In yoga philosophy, knowledge is basically divided into two categories - that which is true and that which is not true. In this society as unconscious beings bumbling our way through life, sometimes there are moments of clarity but a lot of our time is spent focused on inaccurate ideas about the world that we take on without realizing it. Running on autopilot in this way has a high cost, and in practicing awareness or presence we gain the gift of actually experiencing and appreciating our lives instead of suffering or struggling through them.

I really appreciate this structure in looking at my own thoughts. Avidya is divided into four categories - Ego, Wanting, Rejecting, and Fear. To illustrate these concepts of incorrect knowledge, I'm going to use an example that maybe most people can relate to: the automobile. Picture the car you drive now, or one that you had in the past. Let me describe for you now my beloved 1983 Chevrolet Caprice, and how the types of incorrect knowledge impacted my experience when I owned it.

Ego - When we are identified with Ego, we believe we are right, we think we are better than others, and we don't like not getting our way. Looking back I would say there were times I was overly prideful of my Chevy Caprice. It needed paint and bodywork, and that was an outward symbol of my not being overly attached to material things. I never worried about dings or scratches and I loved that feeling, and yes my Ego felt like it was better than other people who worried about tiny scratches in their paint. My Ego was emotionally attached to that car, and was easily hurt, jumping to defend itself at the slightest insult (If you're going to call my car a hooptie it better be in a loving tone!) I'm using this example because it's fun and not too serious, so my Ego didn't bring me much pain in this example, but you could say I went a little overboard in identifying with this particular vehicle.

Wanting - I wanted to paint that car for the five years that I owned it, even taking it in several times for quotes, but I struggled to find the right way to get it done and ended up suffering the entire time from wanting something I didn't have. I spent hours exploring how to paint it myself, how to get others to help me paint it, where to pay somebody else to paint it. I had countless daydreams about different colors and finishes (Large purple flake to complement the dark red interior? Yes.) I got quotes from different places and considered making it into an art car. In the end it was all just a distraction from doing something more useful with my time, too much time spent desiring with no result except frustration and some really enjoyable fantasies.

Rejecting - This is the opposite of wanting. One thing I rejected when I had this car was the idea that it was unsafe. Many people would tell me that the car was safer because it was older, bigger, and made of steel unlike newer, cheaper plastic cars. Once a year I would take the car in to a mechanic for a tune-up and safety check, and nothing was found to be wrong. Whenever anyone suggested the car was unsafe I rejected the idea. Then one day while I was 7 months pregnant with my first child, an old, original 1983 part broke and the engine cut off and the brakes went out as I was turning onto the highway, sending my flying straight into a car idling at the red light. Was my car safe in this scenario? Technically the theory played out, I was uninjured in my big steel box and the car only had a scratch on it while the car that I hit lost it's front bumper. But if the part had broken while I was going 60mph it would have been a different scenario. In rejecting the suggestion from others that my car might have been unsafe, I didn't learn the knowledge that even though I get regular safety checks, the mechanics aren't checking every single engine part and some 30-year-old part having to do with the brakes isn't getting checked and it's bound to break at some point. And this brings us to...

Fear - After the accident, I was too afraid to drive the car anymore. Even though the broken part was found and replaced, I could not rid myself of the fear that some unknown, hidden old part could break again. Because of the accident I experienced fear driving any car on highways or bridges, which lasted for years and caused a lot of suffering because where I live bridges and Interstate highways are unavoidable. My fear had become irrational, it was incorrect knowledge and I struggled to separate myself from it. The Chevrolet sat outside my house for over a year, I got a new car (a boring, ugly, undeniably safe Honda), and I eventually sold it for much less than I felt it was worth. When I did drive it short distances in my neighborhood, the smell in the car and the feeling of being behind that big wheel brought back all the joy of driving it, but fear kept me from being able to trust the car to use it frequently and I had to let it go.

All of this internal struggle and dialogue took up so much of my time. Ego, Wanting, Rejecting and Fear in relation to this one possession in my life added to the clouds in my mind obscuring true knowledge. So what was the true knowledge about my car? The positive feeling I felt in that car was undeniable. The fact my father loved it and gave it to me represented a special bond. The laughter and pleasure it gave to others when they saw me driving that thing around felt good too. But maybe the most basic truth about this car is that it was just a car. If you strip everything else away, it was a vehicle that transported me from place to place, I appreciated having it and I felt contentment within. When that contentment ceased after the accident, I had to let it go. My new car is not aesthetically pleasing to me, but the contentment within is there, knowing that my children and I have safe and reliable transportation. My mother helped pay for it too, so it's a nice bookend to the saga of the Box Chevy.

When I get my next car though, I do want to regain that sense of joy in the car that I drive, because like the clothes we wear, cars do provide an outlet for expressing who we are. Today with the awareness I have cultivated, I have the ability to separate out the Avidya from clouding my mind. Not wasting time and energy wanting and rejecting and fearing is freeing, and feeling that spark of joy in my possessions is icing on the cake. The point isn't to reject all opulence or luxury or indulgence, it's to be content and appreciative of what we have while giving ourselves permission to enjoy what comes our way. I'm not wasting energy wanting a new car just because the one I drive today doesn't turn me on. And when it no longer serves me I will be selective in choosing a new car that does spark joy for me in some way.

Okay! That's enough about cars! Did this metaphor work for you? Can you identify the aspects of Avidya in a car you have owned? Pick out something else in your life, another possession, or a relationship, or an activity. How does Avidya cloud your mind? When you sift it all away what remains? What is the true inner knowing? If these questions touch something inside of you that you'd like to process, feel free to contact me for a session. Counseling isn't only about clinical diagnosis. Everyone can benefit from personal growth and development. I can help you to brush aside the clouds and see your true self more clearly.

Wishing you well,