Roots of Suffering: Aversion

field, sunrise and blue skyDid you know that aversion is a form of attachment? This is because it involves desire – the desire to turn away from or avoid something. Aversion is also sometimes called disliking, ill-will, or hatred. When combined with the afflictive emotions (anger, anxiety, depression, pride, envy), it is one of the root or primary causes of suffering in Buddhism and yoga philosophy.

Called kleshas in Sanskrit, these root mental states cloud the mind obscuring reality and creating obstacles to liberation. Aversion obscures reality by turning attention away from what is present, preventing us from truly understanding our experience.

Aversion is a modification that results from misery associated with some memory, whereby the three modifications of aversion, pain, and the memory of the object or experience are then associated with one another. – Yoga Sutra 2.8

Aversion can be useful. When recognized and responded to skillfully, it energizes and motivates us to act for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. It may also serve to unite us against a harmful force. Yet aversion can also be quite seductive. We may get a temporary high from feelings of righteousness and belonging – after all, misery loves company and we can get a charge out of fighting a common “enemy”. However, the longer term consequences of over-reacting to aversion is the elimination of a wide swath of experience from our awareness. How can we respond wisely when we aren’t attending to all the information?

The experience of aversion is most often unpleasant or unwanted. We judge it, turn away from it, or lash out at its perceived source. What if we were able instead to look inside – to turn attention toward the feeling tone of unpleasant/unwanted and investigate it with curiosity? What body sensations, thoughts, emotions and urges to action accompany it? Are there deeper beliefs or more vulnerable emotions that underly it? What happens when we allow aversion to be here without any need to react to it?

The flip side of hate is love – aversion’s far enemy. It makes sense then that antidotes to aversion include lovingkindness and joyful appreciation, both of which are complimentary aspects of love. Lovingkindness is a feeling of goodwill toward self and others – a sincere wish for happiness for all beings. Joyful appreciation is rejoicing in happiness and its causes wherever they arise. It allows us to celebrate the success and good fortune of others. Cultivating these beneficial qualities through practice enables us to open to the entirety of experience, whether wanted or unwanted, so that we can see things as they truly are and respond with wisdom.

…the inherent happiness of love is not compromised by likes and dislikes, and thus, like the sun, it can shine on everything. – Sharon Salzberg, Facets of Metta

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