I had an interesting experience doing yoga on my patio during a beautiful autumn day. As I shifted into Triangle pose, I stretched my right arm to the sky and looked up. I noticed a beautiful blue sky. “That color of blue has always been my favorite color,” I said to myself.

Then, I noticed the brilliant colors of the maple tree leaves. They were changing from green to orange, yellow, and red. It was beautiful. I wondered if I preferred the changing colors of the leaves over my favorite blue sky. Did I really need to choose between them? 

Experiences are composed of many parts that complement and contrast each other; no individual part stands alone separate from the whole. How the blue sky and colored leaves complement and contrast each other is more interesting than the blue sky alone. Together they give us a deeper feeling of beauty and connectedness.

The mind’s general preference is for comfort. I remember my brother and I choosing our favorite colors when we were young. He chose yellow; I chose blue. “Blue is a better color than yellow because it’s calming,” my ego told me. My ego wanted the comfort of choosing a better color than my brother, so it manufactured a reason to support its choice. Why would “calming” make choosing blue a better choice? The ego doesn’t care about the validity of the reason. It just wants some justification to make it feel better. 

Choosing a favorite color may seem like a small thing, but such experiences build on one another. The ego’s preference for comfort builds a value system based almost entirely on feeling more important than others, seeking preferences that distract our attention from working on our weaknesses. 

This preference for comfort also influences our climbing. Perhaps we’re traditional climbers. Our egos might say: “I prefer traditional climbing because it involves more risk and requires more mental focus than sport climbing.” This may or may not be true, but again, the ego doesn’t care. It only needs a manufactured reason so it can puff itself up.

A better word to use than “preferences” would be “characteristics.” Characteristics include all aspects of a situation not just the ones we prefer. I perceive a scene as I hold the yoga Triangle pose. Its characteristics consist of blue sky, colored leaves, etc. Including all characteristics helps me perceive the scene as a whole. Doing this expands my awareness of the interconnectedness of the individual characteristics and gives me a more complete understanding of it. Blue is brilliant because of its contrast with the colored leaves.

I perceive my inner mental state during climbing. Its characteristics include the mind, the body, and how they influences each other. Perhaps I’m thinking about being at the next comfortable stance, influencing my body to rush through the stressful climbing. Noticing this, I slow down to influence my thinking, shifting my attention to dealing with the present stress. 

Perhaps I’m over-gripping because I’m afraid of falling, influencing my mind to think about falling instead of climbing. Noticing this, I relax my grip to influence my mind, shifting my attention to think about what I need to do to climb. What I do with my body influences my mind and vice versa. Observing my inner state helps me notice this interconnection, respond to it effectively, and not fall victim to my ego’s preferences. 

Shifting from preferences to characteristics is pragmatic. We look at all characteristics of a situation because we need to know all the components of the risk. If we only prefer the comfortable components, then we might ignore the fall consequence and take an inappropriate risk; or, we might ignore a rest stance because we’re rushing to the next comfort zone and perform poorly.

Much of mental training has to do with expanding awareness. Having favorites and preferences interferes with this process. They shrink our awareness, parsing out comfortable parts to keep and stressful parts to ignore. When we look beyond preferences, we begin to connect the parts into a interconnected whole. Instead of looking for blue, we look for how all colors complement and contrast each other to create beauty. Instead of looking for climbing situations that prop up the ego, we engage new climbing situations that allow us to learn.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ann S

    Thank you for your insight. I lost a good friend last week and this all applies to grief as well. It’s all connected-happy memories and sadness. Trying to hold them all, trying to let go. Maybe I need to be present.

    1. Arno

      Hi Ann, Yes, life is that way, isn’t it? Breathe, relax your body, and look around. Take into your being the present moment in all it’s happiness and sadness. Be attentive. a

  2. David Farkas

    Thanks for this post, Arno. It provides an elegant tool to help me shift from a mindset of judgement (preferences) to one of acceptance (characteristics).

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