07 Mar Ignorance is (not) bliss
Make it stop
Raise your hand if each passing year of your life brings you more awareness of the world that generally, well, hurts to be aware of. ::raises hand::
Young people know what’s up
I was listening to a couple youths on the radio (first audio file under the headline and above the picture) talking about the pandemic and their emerging awareness of their anxiety. One of the young adults said he came face-to-face with feelings he hadn’t had time for the rest of his life, distracted as he remained with making good grades and playing basketball. Feelings he didn’t really know he had until he was forced into a world without distraction, when they all came up to greet him.
The other, a high school student, said something similar. She remembers being taught about anxiety, about how some people need medication for their mental health, but she bought into the stigma that if you were a strong enough person you wouldn’t have a problem with it, and she considered herself strong enough to get over things.
Fast forward to school during the pandemic. One day she became aware of herself shaking so badly she couldn’t write an email and she realized she was having panic attacks. Her supportive family helped her find help, and she came to realize not only was she having panic attacks now, she remembers her first panic attack happening in fifth grade!
Ignorance is bliss.
Ignorance is a pretty convincing facsimile of bliss.
I find it intriguing this common English saying is composed entirely of key concepts in the Yoga philosophy: Ignorance and bliss. Avidya and ananda.
Why does it feel so true that ignorance is bliss? Like, what we don’t know won’t hurt us. How irritating it can be to come to know something you can’t un-know. Maybe because now we have to deal with it, dammit. Or just get way better at our tools that help us numb, forget, deny.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt the collision of knowing and ignoring befuddle your brain. ::raises hand::
Black hole of survival
I catch myself in this, aware of something I’d rather not be aware of and then ignoring it immediately, but being aware of ignoring it and that dissonance creating this little implosion in my mind. Like…the knowing went into a black hole I’ve been tending my whole life for just this purpose; my black hole of generalized anxiety. I use it to ignore that which I’d rather not deal with. Or, giving myself a little more compassion, to black out that which I had not the capacity to manage. To put it another way, to compartmentalize and forget in order to survive.
Y’all, this is all totally normal. It’s our nervous system and the rest of our body/mind at work taking care of us. Consciously or not we’ve all made choices about what we think we need for survival. Those of us privileged enough for those needs to transcend food, shelter, and physical safety might be equating survival with success, however one defines it.
Evolutionarily, humans need to be in groups to survive. As pack animals with a ridiculous amount of consciousness, it’s likely we also need to feel socially accepted in some way to meet the requirements of survival. It’s no wonder our nervous systems are trying to block out someone telling us our shortcomings cause them hurt feelings, or that our beloved country is systemically f*cked in about ten thousand ways.
Yoga knows what’s up
So let me yoga it for you. Yoga is defined in many ways and for today, let’s use this one: Yoga is union. The connection of all the pieces into a coherent and symbiotic whole. There are many obstacles to actually living this way, to realizing this unity. Ignorance is the main, number one, ultimate boss obstacle. Ignorance is the fertile soil from which all other obstacles grow. The Yoga Sutras say that if we can dispel ignorance, poof, all the other obstacles disappear. If it were that easy, the Sutras wouldn’t go on to say much more about it.
And what about bliss? I kid you not. The Taittriya Upanishad (c.6th Century BC, a more ancient text than the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) says that ultimate bliss is (math) 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times 100 times the bliss of a human learned in scripture, promptest in action, steadiest in heart, strongest in body, with all the wealth of earth.
Is that 100 to the ninth power? A quick google search doesn’t tell me how many 0s that is but I know it’s a whole lotta them.
You are bliss, believe it or not
Basically, it’s saying that spiritual bliss is far far beyond any normal state of bliss any incredible and deserving human could ever feel with only the accoutrement of earthly success to their name. The Taittriya Upanishad also asserts that we all have this bliss inside of us, along with a few more layers of humanity. Here’s all of them. Imagine naming an onion from the outside as you peel each layer and cry onion tears: food layer, energy layer, knowledge layer, wisdom layer, and finally the bliss layer, right there at our core.
The Yoga Sutras helps us understand that ignorance is the main obstacle in the way of feeling this bliss that is us, as much as our arms and legs are us. Then, of course, it says practicing yoga is one effective way of removing the ignorance and feeling more bliss, more of the time. Ignorance is in the way of bliss.
Kudos to all of us for getting real with it. Let’s keep going. As if we had any choice.