When obstacles appear in our lives, our gut instinct is often to figure out how to get around them or make them disappear.
In yoga philosophy, these obstacles are called kleshas. There are five kleshas that cause our inability to live our true nature of peace, joy, and happiness. While the kleshas represent the afflictions and obstacles that get in the way of our true nature, they are not set in stone. Rather than avoiding the roadblocks in life, when we learn about the true nature of these obstacles, we can better understand our habits and patterns. With that self-awareness comes a higher level of perception and the ability to change our circumstances with more consciousness and mindfulness. In this way, the obstacles become a necessary part of our path rather than something to fear or dread.
1. Avidya (ignorance)
In Sanskrit, avidya translates to the lack or absence of wisdom. Avidya represents our ignorance of ourselves (like not knowing who we truly are) and also prevents us from being able to see other people and situations as they truly are.
Knowing ourselves is fundamental to having healthy relationships with others and finding careers, hobbies, and activities that truly make us happy and fulfilled. In this sense, ignorance isn't about "not knowing" as much as it is about having preconceived notions or misperceptions of people or things. These misperceptions stem from our "spiritual forgetting". The following four obstacles are born out of our inability to truly see and know who we are.
2. Asmita (ego)
When we have forgotten our own spiritual nature (avidya), then we begin to over-identify with ourselves. Typically when we hear "ego", we might think about someone who is highly conceited or self-obsessed. However, asmita refers more to the distorted view we have of ourselves because of our ignorance.
This distorted view is not necessarily "good" nor "bad", but rather, understanding that the way we think about ourselves is limited. In many ways, our limited self-perception leads us to separate ourselves from the people around us.
3. Raga (attachment to pleasure)
Our attachment to pleasure can come in the form of addiction, but it can also show up in our lives as the things we tell ourselves we need to be happy - whether that is a relationship, a job, or material items. The underlying ignorance and over-identification with our ego lead to our desire to find something pleasurable that is outside of ourselves.
4. Dvesha (avoiding pain)
Dvesha is the opposite of raga and represents our aversion to pain or hatred and rejection of things that are difficult for us. In the same way that we over-identify with things we think bring us pleasure, we can also over-identify with things we've labeled as bad or painful. The concept of dvesha asks us to look at where we have been avoiding such difficulties, and what habits and patterns have helped us sustain our avoidance?
5. Abhinivesha (clinging to life)
Abhinivesha is the clinging to life and fear of death. It also represents anxiety that accompanies the fear of the unknown. It encompasses our resistance to loss (dvesha) and our desire to keep that which is pleasurable (raga). Just like we examine how our attachments and aversions affect our behaviors, we can examine what our fear of the unknown prevents us from doing, and how it limits our freedom.