All of us have negative emotions, that is why the Jivamukti focus of the month for July is how to overcome them rather than how not to have them or how to escape them. My teacher Sharon Gannon says yogis are radical, in that we investigate the root cause. So I thought about the root of our present-day cultural dissatisfaction and emptiness, and I dug back into the messages that we were exposed to as children, the same messages that children now are still exposed to.
Ariel the little mermaid is one of my favorite Disney princess characters, but she really isn't much of a heroine for little girls. In the song Part of Your World, she goes on to explain how perfect her life is, how she really has everything a princess could want, but that is not enough. Everything is not enough. She wants more than everything. That doesn't even make sense. Everything is everything. What is more than everything? And so we are told. Want more. Be more. You can never have enough. And we wonder why we are a raging self-centered pleasure-seeking empty generation.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali gives us a practical advice.
YS II.33 vitarka-bādhane prati-paksa-bhāvanam.
When disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think of the opposite.
When we are starting to want more and this dissatisfaction starts to disturb our peace of mind, think instead of all the conditions that are right in our lives. A lot of things had to be right for us to have a yoga practice. Even as studios say yoga is for everyone, not everyone can afford to pay for classes. Those who can afford yoga classes may not have the time. Those who have the time may not have the physical health. Those who have the physical health may not have the inclination, and so on and so forth. And yet we forget that. We go to a yoga class, do some 15 poses very well, and the moment we come to that one pose we struggle in, we start to feel like victims. We succumb to our negative emotions. Nevermind that we did those 15 very well, we are obssessed in having everything, more than everything, more more more. When that happens, we have a choice to liberate ourselves from the negativity. We can instead focus on the conditions that are right. We can practice gratitude. Being thankful is a very potent antidote to negative emotions. Through the lens of gratitude we see everything as a gift. Through the lens of gratitude the events of our lives are a constant celebration. Through the lens of gratitude we need not look into an imaginary future to be happy. We find it here and now, wanting nothing more, expecting nothing more. When our hearts are filled with gratitude, there is less space for negative emotions to arise, and when they do they don't last as long. Such is its power.
Had Ariel the little mermaid followed Patanjali's advice, would she still have a happily ever after with her prince? I don't know. But had she practiced gratitude at her moment of despair, perhaps she would realize she need not change her true nature in order to be happy. Perhaps she would realize that everything is okay, more than okay, the way things are.