Snakes in the Grass

Not long ago a whole group of kids were playing after school in the neighborhood park. All of sudden, two kids came tearing out of the wooded area at top speed, screaming their heads off.

“A snake! A snake! A SNAKE!”

Predictably, my two boys – Jack and Will – immediately dashed up the hill in the direction of the snake with an eager look in their eyes.

Standing on the playground area it was hard to see exactly what was happening. Both of them bent down. Jack pick up a stick. There was a collective gasp among the kids and parents as he gingerly poked with the stick. Then he tossed the stick aside, reach down, and picked up…

…a rope.

What happened is an example of a avidya. (And in fact, a classic Indian example often told to explain the concept!)

Avidya is sometimes translated as the English word ignorance.

My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ignorance as “lack of knowledge, education, or awareness”. But it wasn’t that a lack of education or unsophistication that caused the first two kids to think they had seen a snake. Of course they know what a snake is and looks like.

However, in order for them to have seen that ‘snake’ in the first place, their minds discarded the possibility that it was a rope. Then their minds filled in the blank so they saw a snake in the rope’s place.

It was a kind of confusion or mistaken identity that caused the problem.

Avidya as not ignorance as Merriam-Webster defines it but more like a false impression.

The correct information or understanding is still there, it just gets obscured by something else. When all of the kids finally saw the rope as a rope, the snake was gone and everyone had a good laugh.

This kind of mistaken identity happens all the time, and not just to elementary school kids. We see situations, experiences, and other people unclearly all the time.

I’d even argue that we rarely see ourselves clearly.

So yoga is giving us the opportunities to figure out if we are seeing clearly or identifying with our misconceptions. It’s only with dedicated practice and a healthy dose of non-attachment that we can cultivate correct “sight” and see the ropes and snakes as they really are.

How does your garden grow?

Before all this rainy weather that showed up, it seemed like all of my yoga students were coming to class with aches and pains from a few weeks of gardening. ‘Tis the season for tidying up the yard and clearing out all of those unwelcome garden creepers, right?

I have to admit to you that my flower beds were looking pretty rough. I’ve got the greenest of thumbs when it comes to houseplants but the outdoor varieties? Not my bag. The truth is, I don’t really like to dig in the dirt.

I tried to spin this gardening chore into a fun family activity. After all, my kids love getting dirty or so their end-of-the-day clothes might suggest! But after just a few minutes, it was clear that an almost 2 year old and a 4 year old do not make the best gardeners. Big surprise, right?

I mean, they did pull the weeds. And they also pulled up lots of flowers. My dismay at the situation was almost immediately dissolved by the wise 8-year old yoga in the family who pointed out that there was something really great still there (besides the cute garden gnome!)

Potential.

Swami Sivananda wrote about the similarities between gardening and yoga. He likened the mental space to a beautiful garden with so much potential to create life and beauty. And also often plagued with weeds – unconscious habits that create mental and physical distress, sometimes suffocating the positive and healthy things that are struggling to take hold. He described the practice of yoga as a weeding out our habitual, unconscious patterns in order to encourage more conscious “patterns that are expressive of the higher powers and virtues of enlightenment.”

Despite my aversion to the dirtiness of gardening, I completely dig this metaphor (dumb pun totally intended!) Sometimes my yoga practice is precise, like an expert gardener with perfect plucks and tugs that remove the exact bit of tension or stress, leaving a warm, fuzzy afterglow, all the lovely flowers in tact.

Other times, my yoga practice is like my kids in the flower beds: rough and tumble, sweaty, dirty, and undiscerning. At first, those times can feel annoying, unexpected, grumpiness-inducing. And yet…the weeds are gone. Even though the flowers are too, the space that remains is a place to grow something new. Something to nourish us, heal us, help us make the most of the life we are living.

So don’t be afraid to pull up the flowers with the weeds. Because maybe like my kids in the garden, your practice is just making the space for you to grow some green beans and cucumbers. See you on the mat or in the garden!