Sunday, August 17, 2014

Understanding Cyclical Action - Ameliorating conflicts in relationships via Yoga

Perhaps, more slow poisonous than the polluted (via chemical farming) milk and vegetables that we have, is the relationship space that is polluted by our unconsciousness and a society that sustains and facilitates it to flourish. As our unconscious parts flourish, they gradually acquire cancerous properties and infiltrate into the space of relationships. While polluted food kills and debilitates the body, a polluted relationship space debilitates the spirit. Life starts to loose meaning.

Most of us would have gone through conflicts in relationships. Marriages and other intimate relationships are especially prone to this as the conflict and its dangers are so close and many times, there seemingly is no escape. I see this all too often all around me. In this article I have attempted to share the theory that I have learnt from my teachers in various ways and the practical knowledge that I have gained as I have try to apply the theory in my own life and as a budding yoga therapist.

To begin with, lets take the classical (and almost eternal) conflict – daughter in law (DIL) vs mother in law (MIL) as an example. At the time of the commencement of the relationship, typically the DIL is around the age of 25 and the MIL is around the age of 55. The DIL, being young, generally wants/needs to do things. That, traditionally in India, the DIL is expected to leave the comfort zone of her family and move to her in laws house would clearly destabilise her inner environment and make her wary and suspicious of everything around her. Add to this the tradition of the suffering DIL stories, she is already quite fearful and fully guarded to protect herself in case of any threat.

The mother in law being the sole custodian of some of the characteristics of her son until now, is also wary of the new competition despite all the outward celebrations. Add to this all the stories of the daughter in law breaking the family, the mother in law is also quite fearful and fully guarded to protect the integrity of the family from the new intruder. The situation is already a heady mixture waiting to explode.

Life being what it is, will relentlessly flow on and keep throwing up new complexities. If one is not ready to face it with all its uncertainties, one is certain to screw up. Patanjali warns about this
परिणामताप संस्कार दुःखैः गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्चदुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः
pariṇāmatāpa saṁskāra duḥkhaiḥ guṇa-vṛtti-virodhācca duḥkham-evasarvaṁ vivekinaḥ ||2.15||
Changes, cravings and habit patterns cause our characteristics to behave in a manner that cause suffering.
heyaṁduḥkham-anāgatam ||2.16||
Avoid suffering whose seed has not yet been planted

But, sadly, rare is the individual who does this. So, a very simple situation such as going to a movie can lead to conflicts. For example, the MIL may want to go to a movie and the DIL may not want to go to the movie. But, how does one deal with it? Both yes and no will complicate the situation. A yes when DIL actually wants to say no, will make her feel like someone who has no control over the choices she makes in her life. A no, when MIL wants/demands an yes, will make MIL feel disrespected. Of course, this may not happen on the first time but it sows the seed. But, gradually, over a course of interactions in challenging situations, tensions will build up and the seed starts to manifest. In either case, either DIL or MIL will feel like a Victim.

A Victim is someone who feels they have been dealt a raw deal by life. There are many kinds of victims and the Mahabharatha has two classic kinds – that of Karnan and Draupadi. Karnan is a victim of fate and he has no particular individual to blame for his fate. Despite being an equal to all the great warriors of his era, he was never given his due because of his birth. Draupadi is a victim of human conspiracy and she clearly knows whom to blame. Each kind of victim will involve a different kind of psychological process. In the above example of the conflict between DIL and MIL, both parties would feel like the victim in the sense of draupadi and they would be blaming the other person. To add to this, if either of them were not so keen on the wedding and had to agree to the wedding due to circumstances, there could also be a victim ala karnan sitting inside them. When, these two victims interact, there starts a process that will lead to countless cyclical actions.

Once there is a victim, there will be accumulation of pain. Pain is not something that any human likes. Hence, defence mechanisms to protect oneself from the pain will kick in. This defender within can be called the Guardian. This guardian while trying to guard this individuals pain will also gradually develop offensive characteristics and will also attack the other party thereby bringing into play the Victim and the Guardian in the other party. Each triggers the other action and this could be the primary cyclical action.

Now, this is the foundational cyclical action that is showed over and over again all over in the TV serials and is really a never ending mega drama. But the cycles are not really restricted to this. It gets complex as people in an otherwise non-warring society have lot of energy to waste. Hence, like these two characteristics (or personas, if they sufficiently harden), further personas will be developed. In order to further offend/hurt the other person, the guardian for example may spawn another characteristic who will scheme to score further gains. This scheming person, like Sakuni in Mahabharatha, can be called the Manipulator. If the other persons is also skilled in playing such schemes, they may also spawn a manipulator or may become more fearsome and may reinforce the victim further.

This gradually becomes so extremely complex that there is absolutely no opening to even start solving this. If the reader understands this experientially (in any relationship), only then one can get a feel of how complex is this. One just needs to get in touch with the sense of hurt, sense of being let down etc in a relationship to identify the victim. The actions one then takes to hurt the other, put them on a guilt trip etc is the guardian.

To further complicate this, because these two people who have this cyclical behavioural pattern in their relationship do not exist in a vacuum, other people in the family will get involved and they will create further cyclical actions. The MIL and the FIL will themselves be involved in such unconscious actions which their son would have internalised. For example, like in many middle class Indian families, if the dad is a dominating person who makes decisions and overrides the wife in crucial decisions, the son would have imbibed these characteristics and would be manifesting it in his own unique ways. This will only serve to further reinforce the victim-hood of the daughter in law.

Like this, we can keep adding every new item in the relationship diagram until becomes one hell of a complex situation and that is how reality is. The following diagram just tries to capture how complex things can get.

The yoga approach to this complex situation is to discover an yet unknown, undiscovered persona within. This is the observer within who can observe all of this in an impartial unaffected manner. As the strength of this observer increases, the individual has the ability to step outside of these cycles and actually respond instead of repeatedly doing the same pattern of behaviour. Patanjali says that such an observer exists and can be discovered within.
क्लेशकर्म विपाकाशयैःपरामृष्टःपुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः
kleśakarma vipāka-āśayaiḥ-aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣaīśvaraḥ ||1.24||
Ishwara is that special observer who has never gotten caught in any negative reinforcement cycle.

These kind of cyclical behaviours are so draining. I have experienced this personally and seen it in outside too many times. The example of DIL and MIL above is just an example. This can be seen in almost all relationships. For example, if the husband and wife have a certain kind of behaviour pattern, they may pass on their behaviour to their kids. For example, the husband may pass on his cynicism on women to his son and the wife may pass on her feeling of being victimised by men to her daughter. So, later on in their life, any conflict in relationships between the siblings will lead to a reincarnation of the behaviour pattern between their parents. The son will carry project his dads cynicism of women on his sister and the daughter will carry forward her mothers feeling of being victimised by men on her brother. Similar patterns can be seen in marital relationships also. Unless the individual discovers the observer within and consciously steps out of these patterns of behaviour, there can be no end to these. Despite being quite hard, yoga offer this hope.

The basic idea is that if the individual discovers the observer, the various personas gradually stop to loose hold on the individual. The victim persona heals itself and can then spread the fragrance of healing to other humans – thereby becoming the healer. The guardian becomes a warrior who will step only when there is a dharmic issue at stake and not otherwise. The sakuni kind of manipulator may become the krishna kind of manipulator who strategises for dharma and not for selfish interests. Such a transformation is truly fantastic but requires a lot of hardwork. For starters, just discovering even a weak notion of the observer is quite challenging. This is where a yoga therapist or a healer can come in handy. They can act as the observer and can help put the two individuals in touch with their various personas. But, for this, there is a need for tremendous sincerity from both parties seeking counselling. This is because, intellectually accepting this is very different from actually bringing about a change on the ground. That requires tremendous hard work over significant amount of time.

In the presence of the observer, some of the virulent characteristics subside and the individual is able to observe the personas within oneself and the other person involved in the relationship. This shows the seeds for amelioration of the relationship because for the first time the individual is looking at oneself and the other person from a deeper perspective. This is described by the following yoga sutra
ध्यानहेयाः तद्वृत्तयः
dhyānaheyāḥ tad-vṛttayaḥ ||2.11||
Getting in touch with that observer softens the internal fluctuations of the mind.

But this is a tricky situation for the yoga therapist because getting into such an engagement with the relationships in conflict is like entering into a chakravyuham – entry is easier than exit. One can easily become an abhimanyu and enter with aplomb but get stuck there.

Hence, an exit strategy is a must. The exit strategy should be something of a time bound effort before which at least one, and if possible both participants should develop their own observers fairly well and then start to engage with each other after that. At this point the therapist vacates the scene. To be able to develop this ability, the therapist should have been practising asana/pranayama every day for a long time. Only then the whole being will cooperate to accomplish this.

As all the needs of the unconscious personas are resolved within, the interactions are gradually reconstructed. A better and more healthy behaviour pattern comes into place. But this takes tremendous, sincere and consistent effort. To realise that if we do not know all the impurities within and cleanse them, they are bound to cause future suffering needs lot of effort. Patanjali says,
क्लेशमूलःकर्माशयो दृष्टादृष्टजन्मवेदनीयः
kleśa-mūlaḥkarma-aśayo dṛṣṭa-adṛṣṭa-janma-vedanīyaḥ ||2.12||
Action based on impurities will cause suffering in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future.

Regular effort to go towards the goal of building healthy relationships and abstaining from things that take us away must be present. There will be many obstacles in the path. One has to build the necessary potential through regular practice, sincerity and constant reminder. Patanjali says
abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁtan-nirodhaḥ ||1.12||

सतु दीर्घकाल नैरन्तर्यसत्कारादरासेवितो दृढभूमिः
satu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ||1.14||

śraddhā-vīrya-smṛtisamādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām ||1.20||

Patanjali further says,
tapaḥsvādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ ||2.1||
Self cleansing leading to increased potency, self analysis and equanimity are essential to progress in Yoga.

All the healed and conscious personas are anchored on the observer within and then from then on a healthy relationship is constructed. At this point one can say the healing process for the current situation can be considered to be completed.

At this point, the old behaviour pattern is gone and a new behaviour pattern has come about. This is captured by the sutra
tajjas-saṁskāro-'nya-saṁskārapratibandhī ||1.50||
Thus, one behaviour pattern is cleansed and a completely new pattern is established.

As a new relationship pattern blooms there, the minds of the two individuals are always in a pleasant state as they are able to produce appropriate responses to various states in the relationships. This is captured by the sutra
मैत्रीकरुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातःचित्तप्रसादनम्
maitrīkaruṇā mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ-sukha-duḥkhapuṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ citta-prasādanam||1.33||
When one is able to behave with friendship, compassion, joy & equanimity in relationships when the state of relationship is happiness, sadness, dharmic and non-dharmic, then the mind is filled with total pleasantness.

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