Visa Applications and the Kleshas
Written by Sharon Brooke Uy
Applying for an Indian visa is not the simplest or most carefree task. The entire process has the potential to breed feelings of overwhelming stress, and the pressure to make absolutely no mistakes on the application is incomparably high. So, naturally, I ended up making a gaffe answering what could be considered the simplest of questions: my own name! (I switched the surname with the given name in my hurried eagerness to finish the application. Whoops!) I’d already submitted my payment online, but I hadn’t yet sent in any hard copies to the embassy.
Anyway, after realizing this error, eyes wide with horror, slumping low in my chair, and heaving a massive sigh of defeat, what surely was the voice of reason and light whispered to me that I still had options! I could 1) freak out, or 2) I could allow the dread to pass. Either way, the tedious application process would have to be repeated (and I may or may not end up losing $155 USD, but that’s neither here nor there). The point was: I could repeat the entire process with suffering or with mindfulness.
In her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chödrön touches on research conducted by Jill Bolte Taylor illustrating that the physiological response to any strong emotion (referred to in Buddhism as kleshas – mental states that cloud the mind) lasts only 90 seconds. After that, any persistence in feeling is solely due to our choosing to extend it. It’s so habitual to prolong emotions, too! Instead of allowing the emotion to pass through its 90-second lifespan, watching it go by with nonattachment, we glom onto it, desperately engaging with it through analysis and judgments and what if’s – in a word, fear.
One of my yoga teachers always reminds us – usually during a particularly challenging pose (in my case, twisting triangle) signaled by many of us losing our ujjayi breathing – that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Both yoga and Buddhism state that the kleshas are the cause of suffering. There are five main kleshas: ávidyā (ignorance), asmitā (egoism or “I-am-ness”), rāga (attachment), dvesa (aversion), and abhiniveśāh (will to live), all of which vary in intensity. Ultimately, these are said to perpetuate the cycle of pain, preventing enlightenment. Unless, of course, we practice mindfulness and self-compassion. Through the practices of meditation, physical asanas, and other yogic techniques, the kleshas can be burned off, suffering ceases, and we are able to let go and embrace fully the present moment, no matter what is front of us, and no matter which answers on the visa application might be filled out incorrectly.
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