Updated: Jan 20
In Yoga, there’s a term called AVIDYA.
What is Avidya? It’s a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, incorrect knowledge.
Such as gossip. Such as holding others to judgement. Such as deciding we know someone’s story before we’ve ever learnt their name or spoken to them. Such as trashing celebrities or trolling people online.
It is at essence being lazy and choosing not to ‘do the work’ of seeing situations, other people or ourselves as they or as we are, but rather as we think they or we SHOULD be. Projecting. Castigating. Surmising. And all usually due to a lack within, an insecurity, perhaps even fear.
Learning to recognise and 'deal' with Avidya is especially helpful when contending with either the harshness of self-judgement and/or the unfairness of perceived judgement by those around us, whether loved ones or mere acquaintances.
There’s sure been an awful lot of that around these last 18 months hasn’t there? Then again, there’s sure been an awful lot of that around since the time of Adam & Eve.
Anytime I hear the word ‘should’ it frankly gives me the ‘heebie-jeebies’.
It's such a ‘judgement’ laden word isn't it Yogis? People who use it a lot are often people who are never content; always dissatisfied, often complaining, frequently judging. The ‘you-should’ sharing that people do is a form of 'off-setting' of one's own inner unhappiness. Which is sad to witness. And also hard to be on the receiving end of.
Since I got my rescue dog over 4 years ago, I have had to contend with hearing the ‘should’ word a fair bit. It’s included often in the bounty of unasked-for-advice that has come my way, typically (but not always) from men I might add; classic “mansplaining” 🙄.
This is basically nothing more than “judgement”. And it is annoying. And boring. And condescending, not useful and a whole lot more besides.
So it has been a big ongoing exercise in patience and non-attachment for me and not one I am always able to meet with equanimity and grace (it sure sucks being a mortal fallible human eh 😉).
One guy not so long ago stood glowering at me in the park, with his arms crossed like some kind of self-appointed “Walkies Warden”; all while his big, high-energy young dog ran loose & far away from him (i.e. not remotely within his 'control'), way too close to my dog for his liking & his sense of safety. And this is while my dog is by my side, harnessed, on a lead & secure.
Glower away dude I thought, glower away. My other thought “wow, he must sure be a joy to live with”. And then I laughed cos YEP! There I was indulging in a good bit of judgement myself yes 😂. See how easy & tempting it is to fall into that pattern.
Yes, it has upset me that people who have no clue about my dog’s traumatic history and his true lovely nature are sometimes so blatantly lazy and wrong in their assumptions. But why does it even matter? They know nothing. Furthermore, what do I actually KNOW?
One day, I recalled one of those ‘clichés’ I learned many years ago as a junior Underwriter-in-training. With managing and accepting risk, one must do one’s very best to avoid making assumptions. We never have all the facts. Variables lurk. Disclosure may not be complete. Unintended consequences may occur.
The cliché? We were taught to never make quick or uninformed “assumptions” in Insurance Underwriting as if we ASSUME, then we make an “ASS” out of “U” & “ME”. Yes, groan I know. But it is so true.
So while I wish I could turn the lens of non-assumption onto the Judge Judys (& Judge Johnnies!), that isn’t possible. And it is also more than a tad hubris-filled. We can only change ourselves and we are all far from perfectly-behaved or ‘evolved’. And so I/we must turn that lens inwards.
Why would I even care about the (ill-conceived or otherwise) judgements of others?
I & so many others know what a beautiful dog Mr Beni is. He actually has so many lovely dog-pals now, I have lost count. The good far outweighs the 'bad'.
And that is actually a big big deal, Mr Beni having so many dog-pals now. I used to be able to individually count & name them, his initial very small circle of dog-pals. He started off even being scared of pigeons fluttering their wings in the trees, let alone other dogs. I could have ‘assumed’ he’d always be that way - but no, he has pals aplenty now.
The turning off of “assumptions” has to start within. The assumption that random strangers opinions mean something? Not useful, not important (someone tell Twitter!).
Partly I know this is a societal and gendered ‘custom’ - we women in particular have been conditioned for millennia to please, to be nice, to mollify. To some extent, that is expected of almost all of us these days, whatever gender we identify as.
But leaving that part aside, what about the very initial assumption that judgment is even happening? Well it might be, it might not be. Even if it is, again, we need to ask ourselves is it of any import? And why would we give that power away to random 'glower-guys'?! He could have just failed an exam, had a fight with his girlfriend, whatever - who knows, who cares.
And! Is it necessary for us all to be liked, canine & human, by all, all the time? Or even possible? No. And thank the Universe for that! Dogs have their pals, their tribes. As do we.
It’s called discernment; you could call it having boundaries too (that’s a subject for another blog, another day!). And it’s a pretty big requirement for good mental health.
I only share the story of Mr B, his park-pals & me because we all have these “stories”.
And mostly that is exactly what they are, stories, not necessarily fully-rooted facts or reality. As the actors in the movies of our own lives, we only ever see one camera angle, we only have part of the script, we cannot see the 'full production'.
Like the stories of those ‘perfect’ online lives we have presented to us on Instagram (or even curate ourselves), it’s very much not ever the full ‘picture’. By now, even the most naive amongst us know not to compare our “insides” with other people’s “outsides” which is, by and large, only what is represented online.
Let’s come back to Avidya. What happens if we take away the first letter, the ‘a’ away from Avidya? We are left with ‘Vidya’. The removal of that one letter makes all the difference. Like taking a cap off a camera lens.
Vidya means ‘clarity’, ‘knowledge’. When we clear away the murk and fog of assumptions and judgements, we are left with the bright trueness of actual knowledge. We can see and act clearly. We have understanding - we have developed intuitively-gained knowledge of the self and the world around us.
This all takes awareness. It takes slowing down. It perhaps even takes a fair bit of uncomfortable self-inquiry and humility too. It definitely takes practice. LOTS of patience! And plenty of self-compassion too; knowing we'll make mistakes, we'll make snap judgements, we'll succumb to the easiness of 'assumption-making'. The practice is in noticing. And doing our best to do better. For ourselves.
Remember we come to our mats to do more than move our bodies; we bring ‘all of us’ to our mats. Let’s use our practice on & off the mat.
Slow down. Take a deep breath. Tune in. Notice what’s happening. Learn to see clearly. Practice. 🙏🏽✨