Brahmacharya: Focusing on Higher Goals
This week’s yama is brahmacharya, which translates to behaviour that leads to god. In other words, behaviour that aligns with a higher, perhaps spiritual, purpose. You don’t necessarily need to believe in god to believe that human life involves more than attending to our basic biological drives, such as eating, sleeping and sex. However, there are times when our more basic needs and desires seem to run the show and take over. While we need to eat, we don’t need to overeat, and yet, we often do. While we need to sleep, it is certainly possible to overdo it. And that procreation thing? Well, we all know that the wrong use of sexual energy can hurt others and ourselves. Brahmacharya is about the correct use of our energy. It is about controlling our desires and staying focused on our higher goals.
The focus of the ancient yogis in terms of brahmacharya tended to be on the control of sexual impulses. This makes sense as sex was likely the main distraction of the time. Nowadays, we have so many more distractions, mainly on our devices: social media, television, movies and podcasts. While there is nothing wrong with engaging with media, there is value in restraint. Probably few of us feel like posting on Instagram or watching six episodes of Mad Men in a row is in line with any higher purpose. Yet, likely many of us spend far more hours engaging with media than doing other things, often by accident. Often, we plan to get on to a social media platform to post something quickly, but before we know it, two hours have disappeared.
If you wish to engage with brahmacharya this week, I encourage you to take some time to think about what kinds of activities provide you with a sense of peace or accomplishment, not just temporary pleasure. Then, notice where you put your time and energy. Of course, even things that are rewarding should not receive all of our time and energy as this can lead to burnout. We need breaks, rest and balance. That said, if what we find rewarding is engaging with something creative like sewing and we spend an hour a week sewing and 20 hours a week on media, there may be room for a realignment.
If we recognize that where we put our energy is not aligned with what gives a sense of purpose, we should not use this recognition as an indictment of ourselves. We live in an age of distraction. It is very human to be attracted to quick and easy pleasures. It does not make us bad people. If we get down on ourselves, it is easy to seek quick pleasures to distract us from the tough emotions. It can become a negative cycle. Rather, when we recognize we are not putting our time and energy into things we find life-affirming, that give us a sense of peace or accomplishment, we can see this realization as an opportunity to change our lives for the better.
And the changes don’t need to be huge. In fact, change is often more likely to stick if we begin slowly and set ourselves up to succeed. I like to frame things in the positive whenever I can. It is much nicer to think about adding an hour of reading to our days rather than to watch less television, though the ultimate result may be the same. Adding something you enjoy to your life seems easier to do than taking something away.