Lonely. Separate. Disconnected. This is the feeling that is associated with the concept of Asmita. The ancient Sage Patanjali tells us that this feeling leads us to identify with the body, mind and possessions and keeps us apart from others. We begin to identify ourselves with our ego. We can create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us. Yoga teaches us that the self is different from the ego. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) or internal (I am a bad person) false projections.
In Indian philosophy, the true nature of man consists of a divine kernel, which is in itself pure and infinite. This true nature is called Atman, the world-soul, which all living beings share and which is the source of life.
As we experience life, we begin the journey through the senses - the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin - and this sensory world begins to drag us away from our true nature. We begin to strive for more of what brings us pleasure - material things, pleasurable acts and thoughts. We begin to confuse this ‘self’ (really EGO) as the true self. In this ignorance we can easily lose our anchor and our foundation.
We can see Asmita acted out every day in ourselves, in our families, in our colleague, even in our studios. When people purport themselves to be something other than what they are, this is Asmita. They can either pump themselves up, or put themselves down. A false view of self.
Yoga teaches us that one of the ways in which to overcome Asmita is in the act of generous sharing. To give rather than to strive to acquire. The point isn’t so much what we give or how much we give...the point is that we lose our habit of clinging — and acquiring. We reverse the process!
Yoga teaches us that we are not here on this planet to simply please ourselves. We are not meant to live in a vacuum. We are part of a much larger community. Tibetan Buddhism teaches us that we are here to ease the suffering of others. One of the ways that we can do this is by giving. At our studio during the month of February, students are asked to take part in a self-challenge of giving a gift every day of this month. For more information on this wonderful practice, as we have borrowed this practice from Cami Walker who has written a book entitled “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.”
Gifts need not be large and may be made to anyone — family, friend or a strange — a simple smile, giving a dollar to a street person, holding the door for someone. Preparation of food, dusting furniture, washing dishes can all be selfless acts of giving — when viewed in that way. Your full attention to someone while really listening to them is perhaps the most precious gift that you can give.