Wherever you go, there you are. No matter how old, wise, mature, disciplined, or spiritually advanced you are today, the toddler you once were still lives inside you. This little person wants what she wants when she wants it. And this little person has no interest in things that are unpleasant or uncomfortable. Your inner toddler has no problem wreaking havoc to get her way. She will happily create chaos in your house, the grocery store, the park…etc, until concerned bystanders start wondering if they should call child protective services. 

Our inner toddlers are the embodiment of Raga and Dvesha (attachment and aversion). These natural human tendencies are two of the five mental disturbances, called Klesha, that are most often responsible for taking us out of the present moment and into unnecessary suffering, for ourselves and everyone around us.  

Let’s look at Raga (attachment to pleasure) (PYS 2.7). Of course we enjoy pleasant experiences. It feels good to feel good! And the yoga teachings encourage us to enjoy ourselves along the way to self-realization. It’s not the pleasant experience itself that gets us into trouble, but rather the immediate desire to repeat it. I know that I am powerless against peanut M & M’s, and will never be able to eat one potato chip. But I also know that if I blindly follow these delicious cravings wherever they lead, I will end up obese, diabetic, and toothless. That does not match my long-term goals. How often do extra-marital affairs lead to peace and harmony? Most of us are old enough to recognize that the indiscriminate pursuit of pleasure can result in future suffering – guilt, regret, indigestion, hangover, STDs, addiction…etc. But how easy it is to forget in a moment of burning desire! 

And then there’s Dvesha (aversion to pain) (PYS 2.8). Unfortunately, uncomfortable situations and feelings are part of the human experience. For those of us on the yogic path, they are vital to our growth and awareness. On the mat, it’s often the poses we avoid that we need the most. Again, the problem is not this tendency to avoid discomfort, but the fact that it’s immediately followed by the desire to never repeat it again. When we avoid discomfort at all costs, we end up suffering more. Have you ever stayed in an unfulfilling job to avoid the fear of the unknown on the other side? Or continued to beat the dead horse of a bad relationship rather than have a tough conversation or face the pain of loneliness? And then did you spend weeks, months or years marinating in your misery? Listen, I HATE going to the dentist. But honestly, it’s 2 hours out of the year for routine maintenance. But sometimes I start thinking and worrying about it days before my appointment. So instead of being uncomfortable for a few brief moments in the chair, I waste hours in the discomfort of dread…much unnecessary suffering! Meanwhile I miss the moment I’m in. 

It is a vital part of the spiritual maturation process to acknowledge Raga and Dvesha when they arise, examine them, and decide the best way to respond. We are not looking to ignore or eradicate our natural impulses. Often they serve us…the urge to recreate the high we get from a good workout, learning not to touch a hot stove…the key is to learn to recognize them (they can be sneaky), and pause to question before reacting to every urge. Enter Viveka Khyati – the sword of discriminative awareness that pierces through illusion and goes straight to the truth. In that poignant pause between the desire to advance or retreat, and the knee-jerk reactions that follow, draw your sword and ask the question, “Will this truly serve my growth and lead to lasting contentment, or rather lead me further from self-awareness and peace of mind?” We can spend our lives running towards what feels good and away from what feels bad, but we’re only going to end up exhausted and ultimately unsatisfied. 

Pay close attention – Every action has a consequence. Am I caught in a spiral of pleasure seeking? Am I trying to mask or avoid discomfort? If you want to get off of autopilot and take control of your own thoughts and actions…and their fallout…you need to move from reaction to response. When your inner toddler screams, “I want a piece of chocolate cake!!” ask yourself WHY? Are you just bored and looking for a quick sugar high? Are you feeling unloved and unappreciated, and trying to fill an emotional hole with baked goods? (We’ve all done it!) Or maybe you’d just really enjoy a delicious piece of cake. If you’re looking for the high, it will be short-lived and followed by a crash, possibly accompanied by guilt and self-loathing. If you’re trying to use cake as emotional nourishment, you’ll be disappointed to find that the band-aid won’t stay on. If you’d just like a piece of cake because it’s a wonderful thing to have from time to time (and proof that God loves us!), then enjoy every single bite…and get on with your life.