The pumpkin of suffering

Kausthub Desikachar comes from a long line of influential yogis and has been raised surrounded by massive amounts of ancient wisdom and yoga knowledge. Yet he is down-to-earth, approachable and joyous company. During his visit in May, he spent three days enlivening the potentially dry and dusty topic of one of the founding philosophical documents of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

For me, one of the most memorable things Kausthub shared was a translation of a common Indian saying that goes something like this: “As we grow older, we grow a pumpkin attached to us that eventually gets so big that we can’t move forward.” In western terms, the pumpkin is “baggage” – a collection of old ideas and ways of being that don’t really serve us but of which we cannot seem to let go. This pumpkin causes us great suffering and yet we still have difficulty getting rid of it. Because we are attached to suffering? Or because we don’t have the appropriate tools to detach from it?

As anyone who has quit smoking or drinking or any other form of addiction will tell you, in order to replace a bad habit, you have to form better ones. In the same way, in order to detach yourself from your particular pumpkin of suffering, for a while you must attach yourself to something strong enough to support you through the transition. Yoga, and it’s many facets, can be that tool. Consistent practice can help us to become detached from anything external and become more deeply attached to ourselves and to our true nature, thus reducing suffering.

One of the stated goals of yoga is “Citta Vritti Nirodhah” which can be translated as calming the agitations of the mind. Experiencing this can be felt as a rememberance of wholeness or a sense of deep connection, when we let the thoughts arise and subside, when we quietly notice even the way we are observing – just noticing it all.
Many of us who accidentally began to practice yoga have discovered yoga’s effect on suffering quite serendipitously. I started yoga when I was staying in a place that didn’t have a gym. All I wanted was a workout. What I got, however, was so much more than I ever would have expected. Even when I got back to civilisation and could get to a gym, I chose to find a yoga school instead. As I practiced yoga postures more, I found myself calmer without trying, more focused without effort and more energetic with less sleep. Almost without noticing, I began to let go of things that no longer served my wellbeing and began to seek out the deeper aspects of yoga including pranayama and meditation. It all evolved quite naturally with no sense of duty or ideas of what I “should” or “should not” do. The reduction in my own suffering and my new ability to listen to my own instinct motivated me to nourish myself. The same can happen for you.

When practiced consistently with an attitude of dedication and joy, yoga can serve us beautifully and enhance our lives considerably. I would encourage you to take stock of the effects of your own practice every now and again. Is your practice taking you closer to “Citta Vritti Nirodhah” (a calmer mind, a deeper connection with yourself)? If it’s not, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your approach and find a way to make it work for you. Yoga has many facets and is anything but one-size-fits-all. Periodically stopping to take stock of where you are can help you to figure out where you want to go. Remembering that yoga is a tool to help detach you from your pumpkin of suffering will help to guide you in the right direction!

~ Kelly Fisher

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