The Tree of Fear: Yoga And The Forbidden Fruit
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Transition, Change & The Eye of The Storm
As we navigate these murky waters and appear to be coming out of lockdown, possibly into the unknown for a lot of us, how are we adapting to the newness that surrounds us? I for one was pretty excited at the start of the year, everything was up in a flurry of change and you could feel the big storm coming. If you've ever spent time in Asia, you'll know what I mean. Sitting on a sandy beach looking out over the calmest sea. On the horizon you can see a bright light meeting the sea, and above it the darkest, greyest sky. As it moves closes, the light changes from bright to dark and suddenly you are in the thick of it. The kind of rain that drenches you to the core in less than 30 seconds.
There is a certain excitement that comes with change. I dig it. Whether it's the unknown, the promise of something new, a shift in energy. I don't know. But I'm crazy about it! But with the excitement comes reality. And the reality is that times of transition in life do not come without challenge. Whether it's routine that gets turned upside down, or suddenly your home or your relationships shift, whatever it is, something on your horizon changes. And our challenge is to try to keep our mind in check, steady, unaffected by the storm.
Yoga & The Human Condition
Undoubtedly, change and transition leave us feeling vulnerable. There is a certain rawness that is left uncovered and we feel open to the elements. Here it can be helpful to apply the philosophy of yoga to our human condition! Bringing an understanding to our anxieties, our tensions and stresses can allow us to feel normal, in it together, and possibly even a little bit lighter.
For some it is clear to us what we fear. What leaves us feeling overwhelmed. What sparks stress and anxiety. For others, it may not be so clear. Or may show its face in more subtle ways, in sleep problems, digestion issues, or physical symptoms with seemingly no explanation.
Avidya asmita dvesa abhinvesa klesah
Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali, 2.3
Here Patanjali speaks of our 'issues' or 'problems' as afflictions. And he says that they all stem from ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and fear of death. The analogy of a tree can be really helpful in displaying this teaching here, and we can explore the 4 levels from the roots to the fruits for a little clearer understanding of the mind and our world.
The roots of the tree represent 'wrong knowledge' or ignorance. This is arguably the mother of all negatives and undoubtedly leads to suffering and sorrow. This is when we do not see reality as it is, because we do not understand ourselves. Some use the term false beliefs, and it is when quite literally we take something unreal as real. For example, when we take something impermanent or transitory as pain. In the instance of a job, a house, or a relationship. The reality is that these things are material, and will keep on changing. To come out of ignorance is to use our intellect, and not our senses, emotions, feelings. Ignorance is when you don't think. And this leads you up the trunk of egoism.
As we move up through the tree, we see the trunk as egoism. Wrong knowledge leads us to assume that we are the doers of everything. With humility we'll see that other people are taking part in our progress. We live in a fear-centred society which is based on egoism. When we are hurt, it is our ego that is hurt. With the right knowledge, it will not harm us.
If we get up the trunk of egoism, we come to the branches. There are two types of branches. Branches of attachment and branches of aversion.
I LOVE it! When we are attached to something, it can obstruct our intellect. And we believe that without it, we can't function. For example, this could be a very obvious addiction like nicotine, or alcohol. Or maybe a more subtle addiction like the belief that you need structure in your day, or a certain amount of sleep at night. That you love it. That you need it. That without it, you can't function. Here we see that attachment is a by-product of ignorance, obscuring our intellect. Attached to the sensation it generates in our mind and body.
If we observe these attachments as sensations with a calm and peaceful mind, not reacting to them, we will begin to weaken the sensations and they will lessen. Watch the mind, observe the sensations as they pass, use your intellect and it will go away. Sensation is something material, changing, transient, not permanent. They can't make us happy as they are a changing reality. When we understand this, we are able to stop fuelling the body that leads to the multiplication of them.
I HATE it! E.g. Can you hate garbage? A strong ego equals strong opinions. When you understand the reality and nature of garbage, sure, it stinks. With right knowledge, you eliminate suffering. Hating something increases the problem. Aversion is a habit of the mind, putting people, things or ideas in boxes. When we begin to take things as they are, we lessen the need to hate sensations.
Sensations can be unpleasant. Seeing, smelling, hearing an object, a person, a situation that is unpleasant to us. Upon sensing this, observe, except it's just a sensation and know it's not disturbing you. Hatred will create an impression in your subconscious mind, and the layers can build up. Think of something that causes you anxiety. The next time you come into contact with that same sensation, the opinion gets stronger and stronger, more ingrained, a deeper belief. With an equanimous mind you can begin to change the reaction.
The fruit that grows from the branches of attachment and aversion is fear. The fruit of strong opinions, likes/dislikes, the fear of the future. Insecurity of the future that something unpleasant will happen, or what if the things I like are taken away from me? Attachment and aversion can lead to fear and living under constant worry. Fear of change, loss, the unknown, and ultimately the fear of death. Once we begin to contemplate the small fears that we have and how it's depleting our energy, causes doubts and low confidence, we can work hard to eradicate it. Taking us full circle back to the roots, to correct our false beliefs, our wrong knowledge and our ignorance, many of which we've had since early childhood, maybe even birth. And we begin to set ourselves free.
I would love to hear if you are able to apply the tree to an aspect of your life now. Trying to identify all of the stages and making some notes. Possibly the easiest place to start would be in the middle, with the branches and identifying a strong attachment or aversion that you have. And working down to the roots, and up to the fruit. Map it all out. Make sense of it. See it for what it is and maybe find a little lightness in an aspect of your life. Sit with it. Contemplate it. And let it go.
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Carrie is a co-founder of The Frog Project, yoga teacher, and full time stay at home mum to two smalls. When she's not playing with the kids or practicing yoga, you'll likely find her in the middle of her veg patch, trowel in hand and covered in mud. She loves the outdoors, and would camp every night given the chance. She and her partner in crime, Martin, set up The Frog Project with the aim of bringing classical yoga to all, and deliver live online classes with a group of dedicated teachers, to students of all experiences, ages, shapes, sizes, jobs, lives, you name it, from all around the world. Join them now and get 15 days of free unlimited classes. It's just yoga.