While leading a yoga retreat through Bhutan, our group visited many temples. We heard frequently of the three poisons: anger, ignorance, and attachment. Poison. Toxic. Deadly. All of which are most typically poisons we consume to kill others. I felt compelled to consider my interactions with these poisons.
Recognizing the poisons
I’ve carried anger as a constant companion for much of my life. It has protected me, fueled me, held me back, hurt those I love and ultimately caused me to hurt myself far more often than I care to consider.
Ignorance is complex. Of course it relates to knowledge. It also relates to awareness and consciousness. Moreover, it relates to empathy and compassion. Out most insidious -isms stem from ignorance.
I don’t know that we can discuss attachment without also considering aversion. We give meaning to everything based on past experiences – pleasurable, painful, distressing. When we feel something pleasurable, we get a little hit of dopamine. When something is stressful, our brain triggers the fight, flight, freeze or submit mode and we get a little hit of cortisol. I’m overly simplifying this, of course.
In either case, balance is easily tipped to attachment or aversion.Our minds maps these experiences. We attach to pleasure and avert pain. The past experiences drive our behavior, often subconsciously. The attachment (raja) to success and aversion (dvesha) to failure certainly can pull your focus from the present.
Likewise, we attach to our stories, values, beliefs. We avoid the hard work of exploration and contemplation because what happens if 1. we find out we were wrong, that the people we learned from were wrong, 2. that we can no long align with the old stories, values and beliefs.
Detoxing from the poisons
Our feelings are what they are for a reason. That doesn’t make them bad or good. Exploration of the three poisons is best approached with curiosity and wonder, allowing true healing to take place. If you demand yourself to simply let go, you deny a part of yourself and in doing so, you cannot move forward in wholeness. Consider these questions in regards to the poisons.
- What makes you quick to anger?
- What gets your “blood boiling”?
- Do you find yourself mad at yourself often? If so, why?
- What judgements do you most frequently hold against others?
- What do you blame others for?
- What do you think you know, but have a gut feeling there’s far more wisdom to attain?
- Who do you most frequently wish to change or try to change?
- What do you wish you could change about yourself?
- What are you attached to? What do you avoid?
Healing from the three poisons
The three poisons have antidotes that can strengthen and heal our whole being.
Acceptance. This is about the willingness to meet people and situations where they are in the moment without trying to change or fix them. We simply cannot know all the factors that have influenced the person or situation. After all, do you always know why you do what you do? This doesn’t mean accept inappropriate or harmful behavior. Boundaries are important for all of us. Acceptance is recognizing that people make choices from a place of a lifetime of experiences. Yet, we find ourselves frustrated and disappointed when it’s not the way we think it should be, a perspective highly influenced by our own life experiences.
One more important layer of acceptance is for ourselves. We’ve all said and done things we regret, failed to say and do things that causes regrets, and take on self-limiting beliefs based on less than positive experiences. Accepting ourselves in the totality takes a great deal of compassion. Dropping the stories, releasing the shame and guilt is tremendously freeing. Moreover, it is the first step towards trusting and loving yourself.
We hear much about the importance of gratitude. Appreciation is the recognition and enjoyment of a person or situation. This is a deeper connection than simply being grateful. You can appreciate without liking a person or circumstance. It’s hard to really see a silver lining for which to be grateful. However, when we can appreciate the contrast we experience through the challenges, for the lessons we are learning, for the opportunities to improve, we just might be able to move into a state of gratitude. I found learning to focus on what others appreciated about me, helped me shift my focus away from everything I didn’t like about myself and onto worthy qualities. In doing so, I moved from a continual state of self-loathing and longing for love into a place of self-love and being able to receive love.
Allowing Energy flows where focus goes. When you focus on what you don’t like or want, about yourself or others, life has a way of bringing plenty of validation to you. When you focus on what you want, moving into a state of appreciation, life has a beautiful way of flowing and attracting more of the “good stuff” into your life. I find that curiosity and wonder are big attractors for allowing more abundance into your life. This also works with people. When you allow people to be who they truly are (accepting), appreciating their positive qualities, and approaching them with curiosity and wonder, they become a better version of themselves. You allow a deeper connection. Of course, allowing yourself to be ever evolving is beneficial, too. We change, we grow, things we liked when we are 5 years old won’t necessarily hold true at 15, but may return at 45. You never know. Give yourself permission to relax a little, let go a bit, and explore life with curiosity and wonder.
Integrating the antidotes requires some level of daily attention. Most days, I start the morning exploring what I need to accept, what I most appreciate, and what I would like to allow into my day. I do this as a quick journal entry. This helps me set the tone of my day and allows the three antidotes to be fresh in my mind as I move through my day. At the end of the day, I reflect upon:
- how I showed up,
- what I didn’t accept and why,
- where I could have done better,
- what in me needs healing and acceptance,
- what I appreciated.
While it sounds like a lot, usually it takes less than 10-15 minutes. Exploring your own application is best done with curiosity and experimentation. There are no right or wrong ways, only what works best for you.