I’ve been trying for a while to wrap my head around a concept mentioned in Eknath Easwaran’s book Passage Meditation, and I think I’ve finally figured it out. Mr. Easwaran talks about excitement and emotional ups and downs, and how a true yogi will work to eliminate these. Of course we all want to get rid of the lows we experience in our moods, but getting rid of the highs too will help us to be more balanced, calm, and peaceful. Mr. Easwaran explains it as follows:
You will find excitement played up everywhere today… and everywhere today you will find depressed people. Hardly anyone sees a connection. Hardly anyone realizes that the old truth “What goes up must come down” applies to the mind too…. In other words, excitement makes us vulnerable to depression. When I say this, you may think that I am trying to wrap a wet blanket around you. But actually, when we reduce the pendulum swings of the mind, we enter a calm state of awareness that allows us to enjoy the present moment most fully…. Learn to prevent low moods altogether by repeating your mantram when you first feel yourself becoming excited…. bring yourself back to the present moment so you can avoid disappointment if future events take an unexpected turn…. free yourself from the tyranny of strong likes and dislikes – all those preferences, aversions, fixed opinions, and habits that make us soar when things go our way and crash when they do not.” (86-87)
That was a long quote, condensed down from a much longer passage, but I thought Mr. Easwaran explains his point well. Also, thinking about strong attachments and aversions is part of our assignment this month, so this passage is interesting in that light as well. I read this passage probably two months ago now, but set it aside at the time because we were busy moving. It’s been in the back of my mind since then.
I tend to get excited easily, about big things and silly things both. I just like things. Getting excited about stuff seems like a part of who I am. Do I need to give that up to make spiritual progress? I can see Mr. Easwaran’s point about the high highs making us vulnerable to the low lows – I definitely have my low lows, probably more than a more stoic person might have. For example, my husband is much more even keeled than I am – he plugs along pretty contentedly while I bounce around, up and down. That’s not to say he doesn’t have low moments like anyone else, but it takes a lot to shake him up, whereas I can go from the heights of joy to the depths of self-loathing in the space of ten minutes. I’ve worked really hard to get a semblance of control over that, but maybe if I work on controlling my up times too, I’ll be more balanced overall. But when I think about this, something in me gets upset – I like liking things, and I like who I am. Swami Satchidananda would say that “who I am” is just a construct built by my ego and I should let go of it anyway, but still, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this or what to do.
However, I think that, from Mr. Easwaran’s perspective, he would acknowledge a difference between “excitement” and “enthusiasm”. Excitement gets you all juiced up for something that could never come close to what you’ve built it up to be, so you feel let down afterwards. Then you go seeking more and bigger things to get excited about, but none of them ever truly fulfill you. Enthusiasm, I think, is different. When you’re enthusiastic about something, you know what it is and what you’ll get from it, so you can feel happy and pumped up about it without feeling let down afterwards. I think that what I am is (for the most part, anyway) enthusiastic, not excitable.
Here’s a classic example. I love using my EZ Pass to go through toll plazas on the highway. I’ve had my EZ Pass for at least five years, yet I still yell “Go EZ Pass!” as I coast past the toll booth. It never fails to delight me. And that’s not the sort of excitement Mr. Easwaran is talking about, that’s taking genuine joy in my world. I get excited when I go out for a nice dinner with my husband, but afterwards I don’t feel sad that it’s over; instead I spend the train ride home talking about what a nice time we had and how good the food was and how happy I am. I dance to the theme song for Doctor Who every time the credits roll (every. single. time.) because I always love that show no matter what happens. If we go out for a walk in the park, I get all excited like a puppy and start chanting “The park the park the park!” but I’m still happy the whole way home afterwards. I even get excited when it rains because it means I get to wear my yellow raincoat.
These are all things I feel genuinely enthusiastic and happy about. They’re not going to disappoint me later; they are experiences that I find satisfying in my everyday life. I could certainly do a better job of controlling mood swings, and doing so would help not just me but my husband and family. But I don’t think I need to change my core, my enthusiastic personality. Part of the point of yoga is being fully present in the moment, and if I’m doing the Doctor Who dance or singing about my EZ Pass, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m right there in the present moment.