When I taught English Composition, students would come to me now and then to tell me they couldn’t write, or they hated writing. Their aversion to the course sometimes led them to avoid taking the class or dropping out or giving up, convinced they would fail no matter what. This decision had serious consequences. Without passing the required English classes, they could not receive an Associate Degree or transfer to a four year college.
Often these students had struggled in English class in high school. The difficulty they had experienced and the sense of failure they felt caused pain, anger, and frustration for them. Fearing a repetition of this same discomfort in college, they had an aversion to English class and writing.
If you recall the last blog on “What Causes Suffering”, you may remember that extreme desire for something – raga – cases suffering as we intensely wish to re-experience a previous enjoyed pleasurable experience.
Aversion, called dvesa in the Yoga Sutra, is the other side of this coin. When we are caught up with dvesa, we are trying to avoid an experience that had caused us discomfort or pain in the past. This makes sense in many ways as the fear acts a protective mechanism to keep us from emotional pain.
When we experience an event or trauma creating a strong emotional response, such as anger, resentment, disgust, or fear, our consciousness is negatively affected. It is imprinted, creating what is known as a samskara. That samskara leads us to react almost without thinking. So the student with the painful experience with high school English is not thinking about how his college English experience may help him to succeed, or the support he might find, or how he may be adversely affected by dropping out. He sees the experience of college English through the glasses of his previous experience and feels fear of another bout of pain and failure. Fear keeps him from seeing the reality and possibility of the present.
While primarily the student will feel the negative consequences of avoiding college English, dvesa can manifest in ways that have far-reaching consequences. Hatred and xenophobia are extreme manifestations of dvesa, serving as the source of some anti-social and violent behavior around us. Additionally, it is important to remember that hatred and xenophobia as aspects of dvesa are both fear-driven, resulting from previous suffering.
Developing our ability to observe ourselves, svadhyaya, can help us to identify when we are experiencing dvesa. Practicing self-observation, we can notice when a feeling of aversion arises and begin asking ourselves why we are feeling as we do? What in our past may be triggering the feelings? Asking ourselves these questions can create a space between the experience and an automatic negative response. In that space we may find freedom from the bonds of our samskara so we are able to choose how we might respond.