Humans and animals are instinctively motivated by four natural urges that bind us to this world. They are self-preservation, sleep, sex, and food. Yoga psychology teaches that fears, emotions, desires, and poor habits are derived from imbalances in these four urges. Virtually all adverse behaviors can be traced to them. This is Nature’s hold on us, yet, they need not control us in spirit.
“How I pray, yes I pray,
That I won’t get lost or go astray
As I’m fated for the material world;
Get frustrated in the material world.
Senses never gratified; only swelling like a tide,
That could drown me in the material world.”
Living In The Material World, George Harrison
When we become conscious of the grasp these four basic urges have on us, humans can soar above what we share with animals, as evolution has already authorized. Once we understand these primitive urges and our attachments to them, we learn to consciously control them so their power over our lives is minimized. The Bhagavad Gita 4:9-10, teaches that humans are divine, but have forgotten this because we are focused on worldly attachments and fear. Further, it instructs us to satisfy the necessary, mundane needs of the body, such as the four urges, and then progress toward transcendent knowledge and actions through good karma, prayer and meditation.
“We are beginning to recognize simultaneously
Our many human weaknesses and our many divine strengths…
We are not bound by the physical level, unless we choose to be.”
Illuminata, Marianne Williamson
To illustrate, we begin with the urge that is linked to the other three. Self-preservation is the urge to protect and insure safety of the body. The nesting instinct, saving for the future, sufficiently clothing the body, and protecting the home are all self-preservation. We monitor the space where we eat, sleep and have sex because self-preservation is related to fear of attack and we can be vulnerable during all three activities. Fear is also worry about losing what we have or not getting what we want. Yoga teaches that all fear is rooted in the fear of death, but this sometimes becomes distorted and leads to other, often unwarranted fears. Yogis examine all fears and cultivate courage, believing that fear invites danger.
“Fear is an impurity that colors the mind,” Yoga Sutras, 2:9.
Sleep keeps the nervous system strong and the senses working properly. A stable sleep schedule is necessary for overall health. Daily relaxation exercises also refresh the mind and body. A few very adept yogis practice sleep differently than most with a technique called yoga nidra. Yoga nidra rejuvenates the mind and body deeply, more efficiently and much quicker than the usual 6-9 hours of slumber most of us require. Neither too little nor too much sleep is helpful, because either could create fatigue, sloth, or laziness, which are considered transgressions in most of the world’s religions.
Sex is a beautiful, bonding behavior. The mind thinks of sex first, and then the body reacts. Sex is necessary to continue the species and great effort is generated in the human and animal kingdoms to prepare, preen and attract a mate. Desire to procreate in humans is sometimes based on pride of legacy. People sometimes become self-centered or worried about their abilities. Some do not value sex as a sacred ritual or use it to manipulate others.
“Do not mistake the temporary of this world for the eternal, or the impure for the pure,” Yoga Sutras, 2:5.
Food eaten by yogis is fresh, unadulterated and taken in moderate quantities. Eating well is a means to a healthy body, regulated breath and a clear mind. When the body is well nourished and exercised, it tolerates sitting for meditation without agitation. The body needs food first, and then the mind reacts. But even top quality food is unwholesome when too much is eaten, causing illness.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow taught in his Hierarchy of Needs something similar to the four urges. In his paradigm, after basic human needs of physiology and safety, and then middle needs of belonging and esteem are fulfilled, we can pursue the highest level, self-actualization. Self-actualization includes creativity, morality, and attaining one’s full potential. Of course, meeting the basic needs of life is challenging to many people and Maslow’s paradigm has had its critics. Yet, modern psychology agrees that as people age we become more religious. We reduce household items, minimize unneeded habits that served past goals and lend new efforts toward spirituality.
Yoga teaches that if we decide to break our attachments to this world, then we will have decided to be happy and no longer be victims of fears. When we consciously cultivate self-control, then nature and its urges no longer limit us to this plane of existence. We arrive at freedom by non-attachment while living in the world, consistently adjusting and regulating our behaviors. We work to understand our motivations, because habits are not our fate. Then life opens and there is time to pursue spiritual and creative endeavors; time for beauty, prayer and meditation.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?”
Andrea del Sarto, Robert Browning
Questions for contemplation:
Do I feel stuck?
Am I willing to sort out my fears and examine them?
Can I distinguish wants from needs?
Am I willing to renounce my attachment to worldly items?
Am I ready to surpass human weaknesses and limitations?