We only ever have two choices…
So, week 2 of the Katha Upanishads….following on from the opening cliff-hanger of the teachings from the beginning of our dance with Death!
Our young and persistent protagonist Nachiketa has managed to convince Yama, the lord of Death, that he is worthy of his third and ultimate wish – to know and to abide in the unchanging place within himself that even death itself cannot steal from him. To know the very secret to immortality.
Yogis gather close around our teacher Steve, of course all eager to know more so as to feed the little Nachiketas living within us all.
But inevitably, the answer to such a deep and brave question does not come with just a simple reply. This evening, we delve into the first teaching that Yama reveals unto Nachiketa, the beginning of taking our life back into our own hands.
“The first thing Nachiketa, that you must understand”, says Yama, “is that YOU have a CHOICE in how you live your life. Therefore every moment, the seeds that you are sewing are becoming your future garden”.
Sounds scary doesn’t it? Sounds like a lot of pressure and responsibility. In reflection of a world FILLED with choices, the marketplace of life an expanding display of options….how do we ever make the right ‘choices’?!
Steve gives an endearing example of how one may eat their Weetabix. Some with skimmed milk, some with full fat milk, some dry, some soggy – is my Weetabix better than your Weetabix? What’s the RIGHT way? The right CHOICE? How on Earth do we know?!
But it’s all okay. Yama puts us at ease, telling us that we can quit worrying about our perfect Weetabix, as he explains that absolutely whatever the situation…we will only ever have TWO choices presented to us.
The Katha Upanishads use two marvellous Sanskrit words to distinguish between which course of action will lead us into trouble and regret in the long run and which will benefit ourselves truly – leading to us living a more loving life in line with our highest good.
These two words? Preya and Shreya.
Simply beautiful aren’t they? And you will know them deeply already – we all do.
Preya, is simply that which gives us immediate gratification or short-term pleasure, but we know will not be beneficial for us in the grand scheme of things. Think of putting off an assignment until last minute in exchange for watching TV or partying too much. Ah I travel back to my Uni days! Definitely a few Preya moments.
And the opposite, Shreya, is that which is beneficial for us in the big picture. Sounds totally great, and we all want what’s ultimately best for us – but making a Shreya decision is sometimes very hard work. It is true that what is beneficial is not always pleasant, and what is pleasant is not always beneficial!
Does it sound familiar? I totally know it. And we all know we know it on some level – there’s always that little voice inside us popping up that knows what’s ultimately best for us. Isn’t there?
Of course, we want to choose Shreya. But how do we make friends with it when it can be so difficult sometimes? Ah, Steve says…this is where our Bhakti comes in. Our heart wish.
If our higher ideal in our life is clear to us – if our deepest wish is to open, grow, develop, and EXPAND in life….then the power of our hearts can get behind our endeavours. That way, “the Preya can prey on us less”, Steve jokes. When our own very hearts are involved in our choices, it is totally different than “being told what to do”. When we have true, meaningful reason behind sticking with often not-so-easy choices – for example, eating a better diet, sacrificing time to nourish ourselves or do important work, it becomes a little easier to decide. We can always be continuously asking the deeply telling question; “does this choice truly serve me?”, and endeavour to be completely honest with ourselves. The tough and wonderful thing is – absolutely nobody elsecan make these choices for us.
A beautiful, memorable example. Steve plays,
“You’re never alone in bed you know, there is always three of you. When you wake up, Preya and Shreya are right there next to you”.
One I am totally familiar with, as I am sure all Yogis are! Do I drag my sorry bum out of bed to my mat for my practice at this ungodly early hour or do I enjoy another hour of sleep in my lovely, comfortable, warm bed?
And inevitably, Shreya is not always going to win! We are going to make totally Preya choices sometimes. And that…is okay! And actually, sometimes it’s very necessary to make Preya choices for our own growth – so we can look back and see the consequences of our own actions. But our general ongoing endeavour…is to work with Shreya whenever we can, and slowly move more and more of our choices over to what is beneficial for us in the long term. It will be a slow progress, with many slips and falls, but the most important thing is that we HAVE FUN trying to expand into Shreya! And essentially, despite the mistakes, we know we are ultimately on the path.
Using our Yoga, we start to develop the inner capacity to be able to read into what is truly right for us. In a time where working until we are burnt out seems admirable, it could be easily confused for Shreya. But when we start to listen deeply to ourselves, we can notice there is actually a lot of balance that comes with Shreya. We can notice when we are perhaps over-doing…and actually, maybe the deeper benefit that is needed here for us is to rest. And of course, the opposite is also true.
Can we commit to delving into Shreya? Into exploring more and more what is needed …what is for our highest benefit in the long term, rather than an immediate relief right now?
What a total, moment by moment PRACTICE, Preya and Shreya. Steve asks….
“Can you fall in love with it?”
I know I totally can.
And for this week, we close…. With the space and time to play with exploring our choices.
~ By Adéle Sales