Pains and Pleasures

Vairāgya is a Sanskrit term used in Hindu philosophy that translates to: dispassion, detachment, or renunciation. In particular this renunciation is from the pains and pleasures in the material world (Maya). Understanding this word as a standalone and not necessarily tied to any sort of religion, for me anyways, is radical.

Five years ago, when I first came to India, the rooms I would sleep in became a sanctuary for me. A safe haven and a place of peace where I could physically and mentally remove myself from the chaos of the bustling and polluted Indian streets. I was able to stay within this safe, clean, and private space for as long as I desired until I was ready to renter the chaos. When I finally would go out to explore, I genuinely appreciated the experiences that I encountered for what they were. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the separation of “energies”, if we call it that, between how I felt in my room versus in the outside Indian world was a drastic contrast. My room was a place of rest and reset. It allowed me to nurture myself and put my physical and mental health first. I remember entire days where I would spend just hanging out in my room and only emerging to go eat. In this room, I was able to detach from the pains and pleasures in the “material world” and focus inwards – I did this unknowingly at the time and you do it as well.

You know that feeling of wanting to stay in bed and not wanting to “deal” with life for a day because it’s just become too much? Are you one of those individuals who constantly needs to get out of the city and retreat to a cabin in the woods for solitude and reflection? I believe this to be the little voice inside of us all refusing the pains and pleasures of the material world. Definitely more pains over pleasures, if you ask me. We all wish for more pleasure over pain – at least I hope you do.

Never have I traveled to a country where I have felt such a contrast from the world outside to my own bedroom, as I do in India. Perhaps this is one of the life lessons and beauties India has to offer its visitors. Perhaps this is why I subconsciously chose to come to India for this journey – but if not to learn how to detach from the material world. For the month of December, I removed myself as much as I could to life back in Toronto because I felt I was at a breaking point. Only at the beginning of January did I feel healthy, clearheaded, and wanting to immerse myself back into my life in Toronto – which I then started to do.

Being in India now for just over two months I have learnt this: once you start to detach, your daily life is like water sliding off of a duck’s back.

Wouldn’t it be blissful to always feel this way? I have to believe that only with practice and awareness of this way of thinking is it possible to maintain it consistently.

Natasha on a roof in Pondicherry, India

Detaching does not mean constantly running away and isolating yourself from the material world and your responsibilities. Perhaps sometimes it’s necessary, but the true power and strength is learning how to detach while being immersed in the chaos. I was not able to learn this being in the thick of it. Only now am I able to practice the philosophy of vairāgya and slowly reintegrate the material world of home.

The majority of my present days here in India are spent in the thick of my life back home in Toronto because of my love for my family, friends, my business partner Jayla, and my two businesses. You may say that this is me not being present in my current environment, but the whole reason for this trip to India was to learn how to feel fulfilled and find balance. Abdicating my responsibilities and running away from my relationships isn’t real life and does not lead to long term fulfillment. It’s important for me to learn how to balance and detach in order to have healthy attachments to the material world.

We have 24 hours in a day. Within those 24 hours we work, interact with people, check things off of our to-do list, somehow manage to maintain our health and our relationships, all while striving to become better and more successful. That’s a lot of pressure and we are only one individual. How is it possible to maintain the balance of health, relationships, and our careers without neglecting one when we are focused on the other? Once we detach and are less stressed and reactive we get more done, our work is better, are relationships are richer, we are naturally kinder and more patient, and what truly matters in life does not take a backseat but instead moves into the driver’s seat.

We are our worst critic. We’re constantly putting good and bad pressure on ourselves to perform and do great. That’s the nature of our Western culture and what we have been taught since a young age. Throughout the day I have two little voices inside of me. One saying: work harder. The other saying, don’t forget to take care of yourself: “Natasha go drink water. Natasha stop what you’re doing and take a break”. Usually I silence the caretaking side of me to push through on my work. Consequently, prioritizing and remaining attached to the material world.

What I’m trying to learn is that its O.K. to not finish everything in one day. We are too hard on ourselves. Our self-motivation and desire to want to accomplish everything we want to is a testament to the fact we should show more gratitude to ourselves in the first place. As much as I wish I was a machine and could operate at 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, I am not. We are like house plants. We need water, sun and love.

Setting goals for ourselves is great, but if we don’t achieve those goals it does not mean we’ve failed. The aspiration to achieve our goals in the first place is instant success because we were able to dream them. If we meet our goals half way, it’s still substantially more successfully than not attempting to achieve them at all.

When we stop with self-criticism and self-loathing when we haven’t met our own expectations, I believe we start to alleviate the pressure and expectations we put onto others.

Being able to balance the material world with the self allows us to live blissfully and healthy. In order to maintain balance, I’m learning that vairāgya is essential. Being able to integrate the philosophy in our lives and working to not forget about it allows us to live a life that is fulfilled.

Natasha Aquin2 Comments