I love poet Billy Collins’ style of writing. He takes an ordinary occurrence and makes a crazy thing of it, spinning tales that take us down the rabbit hole in a heart-beat. He uses humor to take us to profound places. His poem “Creatures” reminds me of the klesha avidya. In yoga, The Kleshas are the Hindrances; the five factors that lead us into suffering. Vidya comes from the root vid-to see. Avidya then means “non-seeing” and refers to wrong perception- not seeing clearly “what is.”
Hamlet noticed them in the shapes of clouds,
but I saw them in the furniture of childhood,
creatures trapped under surfaces of wood,
one submerged in a polished sideboard,
one frowning from a chair-back,
another howling from my mother’s silent bureau,
locked in the grain of maple, frozen in oak.
I would see these presences, too,
in a swirling pattern of wallpaper
or in the various greens of a porcelain lamp,
each looking so melancholy, so damned,
some peering out at me as if they knew
all the secrets of a secretive boy.
Many times I would be daydreaming
on the carpet and one would appear next to me,
the oversize nose, the hollow look.
So you will understand my reaction
this morning at the beach
when you opened your hand to show me
a stone you had picked up from the shoreline.
“Do you see the face?” you asked
as the cold surf circled our bare ankles.
“There’s the eye and the line of the mouth,
like it’s grimacing, like it’s in pain.”
“Well, maybe that’s because it has a fissure
running down the length of its forehead
not to mention a kind of twisted beak,” I said,
taking the thing from you and flinging it out
over the sparkle of blue waves
so it could live out its freakish existence
on the dark bottom of the sea
and stop bothering innocent beachgoers like us,
stop ruining everyone’s summer.
When Billy looked at that stone, he saw the grimace. He not only saw the grimace but he also concluded that the grimace was something that would ruin everything!
Do I see a stone for a stone- or do I have a whole story about that stone that may or may not be true? If I step forward from a place of wrong perception- every additional step I take, and every consequence of those steps, builds a story and a set of actions based on a “false” foundation. It’s like the “I Love Lucy” episodes where Lucy thinks Ricky has done “X” when he’s actually done “Y” and the entire sitcom is based on the ridiculous outcome of Lucy’s wrong perception.
We get a kick out of it when it’s Lucy’s karma (action) unfolding, but when we do this ourselves- it’s a different story. The pain of recognizing what we didn’t see clearly can sometimes keep us from allowing ourselves to admit that “what is” is different from our perceptions. It means we have to admit our lack of clarity and change our mind. Often our ego gets threatened and gets in the way.
Yet if we can quiet the ego enough- we can allow the haze of avidya to lift. With clear-seeing, the steps we take from that point lead us onto a “straighter” path. The more we choose the straighter path, the more natural it feels to be walking this way. It may not always be easy, but over time, little by little, it becomes more authentic for us to desire truth and walk that path.
On the mat, follow the thread of your actions and your thoughts around those actions. If I’m pushing too hard, am I aware that this is so or am I plowing through because I don’t want to see the pushing as an obstacle. What am I not seeing about the effectiveness of “ease” layered into effort? If I’m not pushing enough, am I recognizing my lack of effort or focus as an obstacle to my transformation- either physical or emotional? On or off the mat, awareness is the key; the first step to waking up and seeing clearly.