by Ali Valdez
Having just returned from an incredible journey into the Incan Heartland left me inspired in my practice, humbly growing in my yoga, and blessed with an expanding community of friends across the planet. I learned a lot about myself, my dynamics with my family and enjoyed simple moments and deep relaxation. Traveling isn’t available for everyone and I know how lucky I am to have these opportunities and seek to make the most of them.
Sounds great, right? The above paragraph is 100 percent true. Without a doubt.
But what a difference a perspective makes. This trip has a lot to do with me reflecting on my inherently critical nature. But this is how the article also could have started and would have also been 100 percent true.
Back from Peru tainted with bad ceviche in Lima and a vicious case of writer’s block. For some of us, there is always something to complain about, isn’t there? Sadly, in my world, yes, there tends to be. Raised by a critical parent, nurtured in critical thinking through literary analysis, and paid well as a restaurant and arts critic for a few newspapers. My yoga guru is also very critical; no wonder I am so drawn to him. Being critical comes easy, nay naturally to me.
Same writer, same trip, but different perspectives. Here is what I learned from my reflections in Peru.
There is a keen difference between using critical thinking, discernment and being critical. I am doing my best to step away from the latter. There is the being critical that is uplifting and enabling others to be better, and there is the critical that is designed to create separation. I have been graciously schooled in both in my lifetime.
In my contemplative practice in Peru, it was addressing this critical tendency that took up most of my internal work. This is the time when I am not hiking up Machu Picchu or marveling at the rainbow-rific brightness of the Solstice ceremonies.
Of course, we had a blast and loved our stay there but you can read all about that in the marketing materials for the retreat.
But why be a yogi if you can’t take pause and assess where the next level of growth is coming from? Putting the puppets, leather goods and crystal bounties aside in this South American paradise, criticism and aversion to things tends to be my first observations in life when things are unfamiliar or different. I know I am not alone but it still pains me to write this. I started the Simple Gratitude movement as a daily discipline and sankalpa, to move away from this type of perspective. But there I stood at eleven thousand feet thinking an occasional “yuck!”
I have let go of the notion at this point that my personal work in Peru will be what I fantasized it being years past, a massive portal for all things siddhis, glorious big yoga work.
No, Peru continues in its carefree way, serving as a grounding force, a tranquil office to the dentistry of the divine, lovingly digging in deep, extracting that rotten tooth hidden far into the back of my mouth.
In yoga, when we think of kleshas, the five types of sufferings, I see two of them as mirror reflections of themselves: raga, attachment to pleasure and dvesa, creating resistance or having aversion. One wants to draw in and towards, the other wishes to repel and cast out. I have felt that raga has been vetted in years past and I have a reasonably good handle on it. But dvesa, well, time to crack open that book.
I was lacking conscious awareness of the ‘dvesic’ tendencies until our first night there when we were watching a lovely folklorico dance. Amazing costumes, thrilling dances, happy entertainers, and from out of nowhere, I had a really negative thought. Sitting in silent embarrassment, I had to reflect on where that came from inside of me. Thankfully, I heeded this observation early on in the trip so I had several weeks to see things presented in a new way. That’s where the soul dentistry came in, scrapping, drilling and gradually extracting.
Traversing the market stalls in local towns provides a very uncensored view of how the majority of the world lives. It is also an incredible way to mingle with the people, share a smile and segue out of the Costco mentality.
Seeing a non-flustered grandmother wipe her granddaughter’s bottom after peeing between the large sacks of purple potatoes for sale in the front of the market entrance as an example would have sent me firing off in my mind several missives but because I had been working on observation of this tendency, it was just another day in the life.
I took my daughter to the meat and fish stalls unrefrigerated, every part of the slaughtered animal on display, chicken feet with toenails still attached and her aversion sprouted to the sights and smells. Being able to share a bottle of water as we boarded the Batman inspired tuktuk while discussing our thoughts was time well spent for both of us.
Creating resistance to something hurts; aversion doesn’t feel good in the soul. It’s just not the type of person I wish to be. It is a thinly veiled cousin to a sense of entitlement, intolerance or to prejudice.
Although I am not evolved past having dvesa, I can now see it before it happens, and am learning to make proactive choices in my consciousness to change my reaction to things that are unsuited to me at first glance. I am not implying all things are good and should be whole heartedly embraced, but my thought process was running on auto pilot and now I have a little pilot light to guide me.
I cannot express how helpful sankalpa, a willed intention or thought, practice can be to stave off the dogs of dvesa. Jesus’ proclamations embodied the power of sankalpa. Something as simple as the action of Simple gratitude, making the choice to observe things to be grateful for, as an example has helped me. Also to make a short list or create a mantra that sets the intention for your thoughts.
My job to help others develop their critical thinking skills as a yoga teacher in an attempt to make the best choices and create the optimal experience for their students and themselves.
At times, I have seen that vorpal blade of criticism get a bit snicker snack on my students’ work.
This is me doing my best with the maturity and skills that I have but can also see an opportunity to apply my sankalpas to do my work even better; to be a lover of all things yoga, showing by example a willingness to do the fun stuff but also the deeper work, to be of service to my students in a way that is authenticate without being condemning.
If we want to eliminate the seeds of suffering, we need to start with our own attitudes, and the oftentimes careless meanderings of our thoughts. Dvesa, I’ve got your number and will keeping an eye on you, one intentional thought and humble breath at a time.