Yoga and an exercise in relative experience



By Quinn Mclachlan.Yoga Alliance Australia® Member of the Board of Directors,RYT-200.

Take three containers of water, each large enough to fit your hand inside. Fill one with hot water (but not so hot that it burns your hand!), one with cold ice water, and another with normal temperature tap water. Place one hand in the hot water and the other hand in the ice cold water and leave them there for 30 seconds to a minute. Then place them both at the same time into the container of normal room temperature water.

You should find that both hands have a different sensation when held together in the room temperature water. The hand that was originally in the hot water will now feel cold, and the hand that was in the ice cold water will now feel warm, even though they are both in the same water with the same temperature. This demonstrates that the perceived feeling of each hand was relative to its previous experience of either hot or cold.

In the very same way, all of our perceptions at each moment are influenced by our experiences from previous moments in our life. We have an innate tendency to judge the present moment as good or bad relative to a previous moment that we have experienced.

Pain, unhappiness or suffering is the result of having what is not wanted,- or not having what is wanted. Both of these situations arise from incorrect perception that is the result of incorrect thought. Incorrect thought results from a limited understanding of why things appear as they do.  Things in reality are actually much different from how we perceive them to be.

Just as when both hands were placed into the water container with the same temperature and the water simultaneously felt cold on one hand and warm on the other, we can be misled by our sensory experience.

Happiness is usually experienced as the result of the senses detecting pleasurable objects, or environments. The object or environment is in no way pleasant in itself. This is obvious when we examine what may appear to be pleasurable to different people. What appears pleasurable to one person may appear horrible to another. Further-more, something that is at first pleasurable can later become intolerable to the very same person. It is only our relative perception that creates the notion of pleasure or pain, good or bad in any given moment.

So if pleasure or happiness does not exist within the object or environment itself, where does happiness and pleasure come from?

Happiness and pleasure must belong then within the person themselves. If this is so, why then do we so often need an external object or environment to seemingly trigger the happiness that is already within us?

The truth is that when someone imagines or thinks of something they desire and then they come to have that thing within their possession, happiness results because they have obtained their desires, not actually from the thing itself. The object has no happiness or pleasure within it, but the temporary gratification of a desire invokes happiness within the person. Happiness is actually the result of a cessation of desire.

When a desire is gratified there is a momentary feeling of freedom from any further external need or want and the consciousness of the person rests within itself.

Unfulfilled desires create a feeling of loss or a sense of despair because we may judge the present moment to be less than what it could be if our desires were to be fulfilled. Pain and suffering is caused by judging the present moment to be something other than what we desire it to be.

Becoming momentarily freed from desire allows contentment to be experienced and in this state there is no need for the consciousness of the individual to be externalised by the desire of external things.

Withdrawing desire from attachment to external things is a form of pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. By practicing pratyahara and a withdrawal of the sensory distraction to external objects, we can focus our energy back to the path of self-realisation and the understanding that happiness comes from within ourselves and not from anything external.

Yoga is the pursuit of union within mind, body and spirit and through the practice of yoga we become more at peace with the current moment by learning to restrain our desires that might wish for the current moment to be something other than what it is. Allowing things to “be” helps to create inner peace. Allowing our experience of the present moment to be perceived without comparing it to a previous experience allows us to be in union with all that is in the present moment.