Obstacles To Freedom

Of course, there are many perspectives on this. I’ve always thought two of the biggest obstacles are that we don’t think it’s really possible to be free, or we feel we don’t deserve to live with a sense of freedom. Sure there are responsibilities and bills to pay, even pain and crisis, but we can still be in these things and feel freedom. That’s because freedom is an internal state of being, rather than a life without cares and concerns.

We may turn to yoga philosophy to help make some sense of the possible obstacles. Following is a very brief description of the Five Kleshas.  Klesha means a veil, or impediment on our road to liberation. The first one, which is key, is Avidya.

Avidya roughly translates to mean ‘not seeing’. This not seeing of our Divine nature leads us to feel separate; and when we feel separate, we suffer. We feel that love, truth, God/Source/Infinite Wisdom is out there and that we are detached from it. And so we look high & low, far & wide hoping to find it when, as Yoga philosophy plainly puts it “we are it” – Tat tvam asi – “you are that”.  When you are not in avidya, you become who you really are; you live in your True Nature.

Asmita – undue trust in the individual self. This is reflected in Avidya, but with Asmita, we feel we are it. That my body, thoughts, emotions & experiences are all that I am. It’s the ‘small me’ that Eckhart and many other modern day spiritual writers speak of.

Raga – too much fondness for fleeting pleasure. We want more and more of what we want, what we like, what turns us on. Continually striving for the highs, this is Raga and it causes longing.

Dvesha – too much avoidance of unpleasant experiences. We push away what we don’t want, and this causes disdain, According to Nischala Joy Devi, Raga & Dvesha are the extremes of a swinging pendulum that tends to overshadow our lives: good & bad, pleasure & pain, love & hate. We tend to think toward extremes, but actually there are infinite possibilities between them. Early writings in yoga point to the mystical path of balance.

Abinivesa – the elusive awareness of immortality. We think that this life is all there is and so we struggle with the idea of death. Yoga reminds us that we are divine and that our ‘soul’ is immortal.

If we cannot be present, right in this moment, we cannot be content. Being aware and present is a ‘cure’ for the Kleshas.

The Five Hindrances that come from Buddhism are equally compelling. They speak to the difficulties around mindful living and meditation practice.

1. The desire for sense experience. Whether in our environment or in our imagination, this sense perception can cause persistent distraction.

2. Ill will. All those things that are unpleasant to us. We can see in the first two hindrances how are attachment to having what we want, and wanting to get rid of what we do not want, both cause distraction and put us directly into the verbal stories our minds continually weave.  These two are just like Raga & Dvesha.

3. Anxiety & Restlessness – Here we can see the effect of years of our learning history on our mind & body.

4. Sloth or Torpor – This represents a low level of energy and can manifest as ‘lazy’ avoidance or procrastination. For the mindfulness practitioner, it may be fatigue, but it could also be depression or an aversion to experiencing some unprocessed emotions.

5. Doubt or Indecision – Part of this might be related to a discomfort with uncertainty, which is characteristic of people with generalized anxiety disorder. This doubt may also involve self doubt, arising from a negative belief about one’s own capacity and strength.

The best practice for tackling the Kleshas is present moment awareness, and being mindful and compassionate with ourselves. The Five Hindrances get in the way of our mindfulness, but as we gain awareness of the things that block our movement toward liberation, we can practice self kindness and create a space for all those varying parts of ourselves. It is often through awareness and acceptance that we can finally let go.

Following is a Loving Kindness prayer you can recite anytime. After it becomes easy to do this for yourself, you can also do it for someone else or a group or situation. Simply change the “I” to you/he/she/they.

May I be free from suffering. May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from danger. (physical or mental)

This September I will be introducing a new class called Mindful Yoga & Meditation. There will be more information on that soon.

Be well.


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