Pratipaksha Bhavana

In the last week I’ve been gently, or not so gently, reminded of a really lovely concept in yoga philosophy.  Let me back up and explain.

I’ve been undertaking some home improvement projects in what will become my practice space and home office.  The projects are mostly of the do it yourself type.  And it’s not been going well.  It took forever to get the new flooring installed.  The old wall color could be seen through my beautiful new wallpaper.  The table legs didn’t fit my intended table tops.  The local big box home improvement store was out of every supply I needed and when I asked for help finding alternatives the guy shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  I couldn’t get the plan B table top up the stairs.  The relatively new can of paint I planned to use on the Plan B table top was completely rusted closed.  After painting my new baseboards I accidently peeled back a large corner of wallpaper.  My drill died.

All this happened despite carefully planning out my little DIY projects so that as little disruption and mess to my daily life and the rest of my house would occur.  That didn’t work out so well.  With each setback the negative thoughts flowed even more freely.  “Why am I bothering?  This will never look as good as I imagined!  And now I’ve wasted all this time and money.  Everybody at the hardware store is a jerk.  This is all their fault for being out of what I needed for my projects!”

Downward the thoughts spiraled leaving me annoyed, impatient, and unpleasant.

Then, from out of nowhere, the words pratipaksha bhavana floated to the surface of my consciousness.

Pratipaksha bhavana comes from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  In Sutra II.33* it is instructed,

“When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude.” 

In other words don’t let your negative thoughts run away with you.  Instead change your attitude.  Right.  I think it is safe to say I wasn’t doing that.  Not one little bit.

There was no way I could change the situations I was finding myself in.  I couldn’t bring a dead drill back to life.  I couldn’t force the table legs to fit on the table tops (though, boy, did I try).  I couldn’t make the store have in stock what I needed.  The only thing I could control was my reaction to these situations.  It wasn’t anyone or anything causing me to be annoyed or impatient or unpleasant, it was me.

I needed to find a healthy dose of pratipaksha bhavana.  It was becoming very hard to find an elevated attitude while staring at a pile of unfinished projects.   So to begin the process of changing my negative thoughts, I had to change my environment.  That started by getting myself out of the house, into nature, with a friend.  Fresh air, a still river, and the colors of changing leaves conspired together to clear my head and bring everything back into perspective.

I decided I would replace annoyance with delight that I have been able to find creative solutions to my (so called) problems.  I would replace impatience with giddy anticipation of the first sight of my finished space.  I would replace unpleasantness with kindness towards myself by abandoning my random self-imposed timeline.

As a result, things are moving along much more smoothly now.  I’m actually finding joy in the process of sanding, priming, painting, assembling, and on and on.  Things are coming together just as they should.  Because not only am I supposed to be working towards a new space, I’m also supposed to be working towards living my yoga more fully every day.   And that is exactly what this adventure in DIY has helped me to do.

*Translation from The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi