The Enlightening Mat: Between Right and Wrong

seeing the middle way

In Buddhism, clinging or Upādāna is one cause of human suffering. An example of clinging is dualistic thinking. One of my deepest expressions of this type of clinging is holding onto the belief that I know "right" and "wrong."

What's worse is that the more I decide what is "right" for me (e.g., eating right, exercising right, speaking right, acting right, etc.), I create a whole category of "wrong" for everyone else. I've been watching my behavior for a couple years now and noticed that this internal self-righteousness seems to be fueled to even greater heights by my belief that I am spiritually "right."

Most days as I watch the comic tragedy of "right" and "wrong" go through my head, I usually have a good chuckle over my behavior and move on. However, the other day during my meditation group, this subject was brought up, and I realized how much I want to work this material and see where it leads.

When I first started Bikram yoga, even though I knew I was a novice, internally I still argued with the teacher over right and wrong. I always wanted to be right and the teacher to be wrong. For instance, if a teacher told me to bend my knee down farther in triangle pose, I might have done it but the whole time a flurry of arguments would be silently running through my head: "I'm a new student, give me a break," "My knee hurts, why don't you lay off and I'll be doing it in a month," "Geez, I've got my knee down as far as it can go, chill out," etc.

The mind reacts in silly ways when it's faced with new information, and the ego likes to win all the time. The ego likes to be "right" because being "wrong" might be akin to experiencing a small death. It might feel like a trust fall that you're 85% sure isn't going to go well, so giving up your watertight point of view might spin your whole world out of control.

My attitude in yoga class has radically changed. In fact, now in my head the teacher is always right and anything they ask me to do, I try my best to move in that direction. I trust them. I trust that whatever information they share, I've already signed up for and it's up to me to receive it.

Nevertheless, I've had more difficulty applying this to my life and relationships. I still want to cling to "right" and "wrong." So the other day I did a personal inventory of my top ten list of life experiences that I deemed were "wrong," that shouldn't have happened to me, and in the secret recesses of my mind I believed that someone else besides myself should be held responsible for this "wrong-doing."

Next to each of these events I wrote, "This was 'right' for me because..." and then proceeded to jot down insights that proved that none of these experiences were ever "wrong." In some small way, saying the word "right" neutralized the idea of "wrong," and I was left being in the middle.

Moreover, doing this exercise helped reinforce the idea that "right" and "wrong" don't actually exist. There is no possible way for me to determine one from the other. I don't have that kind of certainty. Nobody does. Most often we grab onto "right" and "wrong" because we are faced with discomfort and want to find a safe haven so as to control the situation. Injecting myself with the idea that the discomfort is somehow "right" for me and staying with it, puts me in the neutral zone. The place where "The Way is All Ways."

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures

1 comment:

  1. Miss Beth, you never fail to inspire me. I am struck by how powerful it is to substitute the word right for wrong. At my church this week the sermon was about the greatest commandment of Love One Another and how hard that truly is. The celebrant had us do this... we took the well read passage that people would know from many weddings... "Love is patient. Love is kind..." etc. Instead of the word Love, he had us substitute our own name. Wow! That was powerful! Could I really be all those things? If I were following the way an love was truly my m.o. then it should be no problem, right? But it was hard to form those words attached to my name. However, it showed me very clearly a path that I could actually follow if I internalized this passage and accepted it as my own. Very powerful indeed! Thanks for giving me something to think about! Enjoy the day. Erin


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