For his disturbing film on heroin addiction, Requiem for a Dream, filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky, required the cast to go 30 days without refined sugar, red meat, and orgasms. He called this, A Month of Fury. It was a way for the actors to understand what withdrawal felt like for an addict.
Growing up Catholic, we called this Lent. (Though I see where he got the fury from … ) Lent was the time you realized – we are ALL addicts of one thing or another.
Of course, in yoga, we have a nicer word for addiction, one with less stigma. We call our addictions, attachments. Attachment is one of our obstacles towards true Self realization.
You see, these things may make us happy – but it’s only when we have what we crave, which is far less often. Most of the time, we are engaged in an endless game of chase. So any enjoyment is short while the suffering that comes from our pursuit, goes on and on and on.
And why it’s really a good exercise for us all to engage in a little self-deprivation from time to time.
As my mom would say, it builds character – including these five things:
In Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, we learn that life is full of suffering. We suffer because we’ve mistaken the material world for one that is permanent. It’s a misunderstanding, really. Though all is not lost and we can indeed, free ourselves of our misery. The Buddha tells us how.
Mind you, deprivation is not one of the ways listed. Because denying ourselves of things we love will not cure us of our attachment … but going without sure does make us conscious that it’s there!
I remember when I gave up tea. I had always said that my caffeine consumption didn’t affect me and besides, tea didn’t have much. But then again, I drink Irish tea and as you may or may not know – not all teas are created equally. Thus the headaches that ensued within just a few days were almost debilitating as was my exhaustion.
Apparently my tea is no better than your coffee. And ignorance is no longer something I can claim.
No one would sit around for hours and burn money – it’s too valuable to waste. And yet there’s not one of us who don’t throw away hours every day, for no good God damned reason except to satisfy some meaningless folly. Time is not only more valuable, plus it’s something you can never earn back.
My time suck was Facebook. What I’d intend to be a quick scroll through the feed would quickly turn into an hour long dive into some rabbit hole I didn’t belong, usually involving politics.
But here’s the thing – NO ONE (and especially strangers!) changes their opinion because you’ve inserted your two cents into some comment thread. Money burned, energy sucked, and time wasted.
Apparently I’m more disciplined when it comes to the yoga than I am with politics. Which brings me to the next gift that comes from something giving up …
I’ll let you in on a little secret … as a kid, I always cheated on my Lenten promises. My cravings were strong and my will was weak. Yet since then, I’ve willingly deprived myself more in the name of yoga than ever possible during even a lifetime of Lents. My cravings for things like ice-cream, cake, and my own strong opinions is still pretty strong, but every time I’m able to walk away, my resolve also gets stronger.
The Bhagavad Gita says, “Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.”
Truth is, I’ve endured my fair share of those consequences. This ain’t my first roller coaster, I already know how it ends – and it ain’t pretty. Discipline doesn’t punish, it’s the opposite. Discipline is what saves us from throwing up all over ourselves.
Of course, when I was a kid, I also didn’t realize that it was never about giving up T.V. or eating sweets – per se, it was about me discovering that my happiness depended on neither. And that’s a powerful lesson for any of us. For it’s not something anyone can tell us or teach us, it’s ONLY something we can experience to know.
A fear of death is another one of those obstacles from the Yoga Sutras. Yet most of the time, this fear comes up when death is nowhere actually near.
For example, try depriving yourself of breath or food. Fasting and breath retention are two extreme practices of self-denial, enough to make anyone fear dying.
And yet, both practices are also extremely effective ways to build your tolerance of going without – while living to tell about it. It’s not so much that you want to starve or pass out, but to help us tolerate the physical discomfort without allowing the mind to turn it into something more.
The Buddha tells us in the Third Noble Truth, we can find peace in learning to let go. Our cravings, these addictions, are the reason we suffer. Sooooo much easier said than done, eh? And why we need practice. We must teach ourselves to endure the short term suffering in order to find peace in our existence – even though we are hard-wired as addicts, to do just the opposite.
But in the end, we will all have to let go, whether we want to or not. Our bodies, this life as we know – are also temporary. And no, I’m not at peace with that yet either. Baby steps, baby steps.
For now, I’ll think I’ll just start with Facebook.
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