Whether we notice it or not, most of us live our lives driven by instinct. These are in-born patterns of behaviour which influence our choices and actions, often without us being conscious of this. Common instinctual behaviours we carry out include: finding a mate, finding shelter (a home), defending our "territory", reproducing, providing for our families (through some sort of work), and raising our children and training them for survival. Most of us live our lives based on these instinctual forces without always being aware of what we're doing, or more importantly, why?
The instinct to do these things can be sourced from a very long time ago, originating from the first human life and the strategies they had to adopt in order to survive. If you think about it, many of our emotions and actions are driven by our instinctual need to survive:
- loneliness --> the urge to be with the "tribe", because you are more vulnerable alone
- need for approval --> to know our tribe accepts us and will support us
- jealousy --> driven by our need to protect our "territory" (our partners) because we need them to help care for our offspring
- gossiping --> collecting information about the tribe (in the past it was important to know who had power/food/skills etc, of course now it's usually much more trivial and mean-spirited)
- feeling stress at work --> we need a job to support our offspring so we worry about work and fear those that may be competition for us / replace us
- the desire to always win arguments / be right --> we perceive that conceding a point / not knowing something demonstrates weakness
- being judgemental --> evaluating in each moment if something serves us on a survival level or not
- desire for power --> as this made us a valued tribe member (nowadays power often translates to also having lots of money)
I'm sure everyone can think of an instance where one of these survival-based instincts has got them in trouble, maybe your jealousy drove you to extreme behaviour, you were overheard gossiping by the topic of your conversation, or the worry and stress from work made you physically ill. While our instincts may have been critical for survival in the past, they are no longer always the most effective way to react.
So, how can we overcome these innate behaviours?
By elevating ourselves beyond our evolutionary roles of animals, serving evolutionary functions. When I speak of spirituality in yoga practice, a large component of what I am referring to is this: rising above our DNA programming and cultivating a heightened awareness of our mind, body and spirit.
When you possess this level of awareness you can make authentic choices, choices which are not driven by instinct. We can ask ourselves "is this really my choice or is something else driving me?" and have the clarity/awareness to know. This awareness will impact our choices in study, career, relationships and all aspects of our lives, to ensure we are making authentic choices, rather than decisions based on our perceived need for approval, companionship or power, amongst other things.
- We can free ourselves from suffering (loneliness, jealousy, fear etc), by being aware of what drives these emotions - our survival state
- We can free ourselves from our constant quest for approval from our parents, partners and peers and make authentic choices for ourselves, regardless of the opinions or judgments of others
- We can understand that, while on the survival path you always want to be right, on the spiritual path you don't want to be because then you are failing to recognize that each person sees life through their own reality
- We can have the awareness to master our judgment and analyze in each moment whether it is objective / appropriate or not
- We can relinquish the desire to gossip unless we commit that we will only ever say good things as otherwise it benefits no one
It doesn't matter if you go to yoga class or not: real yoga is what happens away from the mat, in the way you live your daily life. Becoming aware of these instinctually driven behaviours gives you the opportunity to transform your body, mind and consciousness beyond all programming, so your choices are authentic. The next time you feel anger, jealousy, hurt or frustrated, pause and ask yourself "is this authentic, or am I feeling this way because the situation in this moment does not suit my survival?". Often we make assumptions or jump into an emotion, based on our own survival state, without considering the perspectives of others.
Make authentic choices, live with awareness.