“Dveśa [aversion] follows pain.”
Emily Dickinson writes, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” She tells of the Hour of Lead, a time when, in response to terrible events—loss, rejection, injury, betrayal?— the nervous system seems to shut down.
The “formal” feeling she describes, I would say, is no feeling at all. Feelings are frozen. Over time, if all goes well, a process of grieving unfolds. It does not look pretty. Through it, the sufferer returns to everyday, informal life.
Dveśa (aversion, from dviṣ, “to hate”) is a natural and perhaps necessary part of grieving. Suffering is a hateful thing. To feel the fierceness and heat of hate can help us locate ourselves after the cold of shock.
Taught as a child to not feel anger and not to dislike things, I have come to value the movement of these strong (and yes, afflicting) feelings in me. If I feel dveśa (what a strong word!), I pay attention. What is it telling me? Is it a sign that action is called for? Have I been harmed, but perhaps dismissed the event to be nice or get along? In my experience, the body senses danger before the mind does. Am I listening to its cues?
If dveśa continues, if it becomes more “formal,” as it were, a fixed response in me, then I have to go deeper. Am I creating an enemy where there is none? Am I thinking in a black-and-white, good/bad, oversimplified way? If I am, it is likely that I am afraid, that there is some hurt that has gone unacknowledged.
B.K.S. Iyengar has said that yoga teaches us to act, not react. If dveśa is fueling my responses, I may indeed be reactive, defensive, jumpy. My vision may narrow. I may be in full-blown fight-or-flight mode.
Yoga practice can—literally— take us out of the fight-or-flight response, in which the sympathetic nervous system is on high alert, and promote the activity of the parasympathetic system, which governs rest and digestion, the functions of life. It is when we are calm, nourished, that we see more clearly. Yoga gives us the wide view.
We are not meant to live in fear, but in love. I don’t know how the grieving process works. But I know it does.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
“When we are harmed by another’s actions, it is wise to recognize the harm, to rectify it, and to avoid future harm. Aversion (dveśa), on the other hand, is not seeing (avidyā) the distinction between awareness and the self and thus reflexively carrying the hurt forward by becoming identified with it. It becomes part of ‘me,’ and the one who harmed becomes the ‘hurter.’ Mired in these identities, both we and they will have a more difficult time moving forward from a painful experience. Righteousness and guilt can seem worthwhile and may certainly appear to promote personal or social goals, but they actually prolong suffering. Neither is the same as clear awareness, the true foundation for taking responsibility.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 23
“Resulting from the same mechanism as attachment (II.7), though the opposite, aversion may lead one to isolation or conflict. It is an active negative attitude of rejection and is one of the chief causes of failure in family, professional, and personal relationships.” – Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.8
• How have you recovered from pain: mistakes, failures, problems in personal relationships or at work?
• When you have an experience of dislike or aversion, how do you experience it physically? What does it teach you?
• How does hatred prevent full awareness and understanding? Can it bring more understanding?
• Do you lean toward righteousness or blaming others? Do you have frequent feelings of guilt or shame? How has yoga practice or life experience affected these tendencies?
masculine noun in compound
pain, suffering (from dus, “bad,” + kha, “space”)
masculine adjective, 1st case singular
having a close connection as with a consequence; “lying close to” (from anu-, after, + śī, to rest, + –in, suffix that denotes having)
masculine noun, 1st case singular
aversion, dislike, hatred (from dviṣ, “to hate”)