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Attachment, Expectation, and Desire: All for a Muffin

BY Irene (Aradhana) Petryszak ON June 26, 2013

Ahhh, the smell of freshly baked banana muffins wafting through the air! A rare treat at the ashram where I live, so I want to be sure I don’t miss them. I pop my head into the kitchen to find out when they will be served. For breakfast, I’m told. I go to bed with visions of a banana muffin dripping with butter melting sweetly in my mouth. In the morning, my meditation is filled with muffins. I am becoming one with a muffin I have only smelled in the hallway.

I eagerly go to the dining hall to fulfill my expectation, only to be stopped by someone who needs my attention for a few minutes. Then I take a moment to glance through my phone messages before going to the dining room. As I enter the line at the serving table, I see my muffin waiting for me and my mouth starts to water.
I am next in line, but wait—oh no, it can’t be! The person just ahead of me is taking the last muffin from the basket.

As a person contemplates the objects of the senses, there arises in him attachment to them; from attachment arises desire; from desire anger is produced.

I turn around, catching the server’s eye. Surely there must be more. But alas, she shakes her head. No more muffins! The muffin I have dreamed about and meditated on has vanished before my eyes. I have lost it by one moment.

Now I am faced with a choice. (There’s always a choice whether we know it or not.) I can let go and eat the oatmeal with a banana and pretend it’s a banana muffin and be satisfied with that or I can succumb to the overwhelming sense of frustration that is flooding my entire being. Unfortunately I cave in to the latter and am sucked into an emotional netherworld.

My clarity evaporates as my frustration escalates into anger: if only that passerby hadn’t stopped me in the hallway; if only I had come a few minutes earlier (thus bypassing the passerby); if only I hadn’t stopped to check my messages, if only . . . I watch in despair as the person who took the last muffin begins to butter it. I should be buttering that muffin; that’s my muffin. I have to restrain myself from running over to his table and whisking that muffin away. Even though I am seething inwardly, I manage to maintain at least an outer semblance of dignity.

Gradually accepting that no muffin is forthcoming to meet my expectations, I smother my anger with a bowl of oatmeal and two pieces of toast (they’ve run out of bananas too—this is definitely not my day). Depressed, I wander through my morning duties like a zombie, surfacing occasionally to lash out at people who cross my path and wish they hadn’t. I know I’m feeling sorry for myself, but I feel I have a right. Don’t I? I have been deprived of what was meant to be mine or at least what I expected would be mine.

Remember Me?

As I sit brooding, sinking deeper into gloom, I hear a faint voice deep within me. “Hey, up there, remember me? Remember why you’re living here? Remember what you’ve been studying for the past 15 years? How about applying it so you can be free?” I try to ignore my inner voice because I’m starting to enjoy my despondency, but it doesn’t work. That small voice keeps jabbing at my conscious mind, poking holes in my cloud of despair.

"Remember what you’ve been studying for the past 15 years? How about applying it so you can be free?”

Phrases from the Bhagavad Gita start working their way through my mind, like seedlings groping through the earth toward the light, prompting me to remember something, something about getting lost in the senses and giving way to despair when our expectations are not met. Intrigued, I get my Gita from the shelf and find the passage lurking at the fringes of my memory:

As a person contemplates the objects of the senses, there arises in him attachment to them; from attachment arises desire; from desire anger is produced.
From anger comes delusion; from delusion, the confusion of memory and loss of mindfulness; from the disappearance of memory and mindfulness, the loss of the faculty of discrimination; by loss of the faculty of discrimination, one perishes.
(Bhagavad Gita 2:62–63)

These words capture the entire muffin saga. Lured by the delicious smell of sweet muffins, I contemplated what it would be like to have one. Without realizing it, I became attached—snared by the idea that my happiness depended on having a banana muffin for breakfast. From that attachment came the desire to have a muffin, desire so strong that my mouth watered in anticipation—it was already mine as far as I was concerned. I had fallen into the trap of living in the future, instead of staying in the present. And when that desire wasn’t met, frustration and anger reared their ugly heads.

Then I couldn’t see clearly anymore. The cloud of anger veiled my eyes and my sense of perception became completely distorted. This was no longer about a banana muffin—that muffin had become the symbol of all my unfulfilled dreams and expectations. And when I didn’t get one, I was so angry I saw red. I had to stop myself from reacting foolishly because when we’re angry we react. We don’t think—we just lash out in blind fury. You took it. It’s mine and I want it back now. As the verses say, memory becomes confused—was I ever a rational being? Was I ever mindful of others? Maybe before, but I’m not now. All I want is my muffin, so get out of my way.

My identity as a spiritual seeker disintegrated as I lost the faculty of discrimination. I forgot who I really am. I forgot that I am one with the Divine. I forgot that I can choose to listen to my higher voice rather than being ruled by the outward flow of my senses, which I was allowing to drag me through life like wild horses run amok.

The Katha Upanishad likens the body to a chariot, the buddhi (the higher intelligence) to a charioteer, and the mind to the reins by which the charioteer guides the horses (the senses). The horses travel the labyrinth of endless desires. In the case of a practicing yogi, the charioteer is fully in command of the horses. In my case the horses had been allowed to yank the reins from the hands of the charioteer, so the chariot was careening out of control. Instead of my buddhi calling the shots, I was perishing in the whirlpool of my senses. All because of a muffin.

The Real Question

We all do it. Every day. Many times a day. We forget our center. We forget who we are. We trade our peace and happiness for some worldly morsel and repeat the mantras “if only” and “what if.” Usually the stakes are higher—a job, a relationship, a trip around the world, or the fantasy of your choice—but it’s the same thing. We’re missing something and we want to fill the emptiness with whatever is closest at hand—in my case, a banana muffin would have done just fine, at least for a while. But everything worldly is temporary. If I get attached to something temporary, I’m going to hurt all the time, because it will change or disappear. That is the nature of all worldly objects.

Just stay empty. Feel the emptiness. Enter it. Be one with it. Instead of trying to fill the emptiness with transitory objects and experiences, allow it to take you to the other side.

The real question is what am I really looking for? What will truly satisfy me? What will fill me so I no longer feel empty? On the days that I’m not allowing myself to be trapped by a muffin, I’ve discovered the trick is not to feed the emptiness. Just stay empty. Feel the emptiness. Enter it. Be one with it. Instead of trying to fill the emptiness with transitory objects and experiences, allow it to take you to the other side. Then you will be filled with that which is eternal, that which will not leave. Once that happens, you can still go out into the world and play with all its toys. But your senses will no longer jerk the reins out of your hands and run away with your mind, landing you in a mess. Now you’re choosing the direction and having the fun.

So when the senses tug at me and I find I’m about to give in, I try to remember to take a few deep breaths and ask myself: Ten years from now, will this matter? How about a month from now? An hour? No. So why lose my equilibrium? Even if I think it does matter, if I have no control over it, I may as well let go before holding on tears me into shreds. As long as I hold on, I’m ruled by my senses. But if I let go and center myself in my true Self with my breath and my mantra, I cannot be swayed.

ABOUT Irene (Aradhana) Petryszak Formerly a senior editor of Yoga International magazine, Irene Petryszak served as the Chairman of the Himalayan Institute from 1996 to 2008. She holds a master’s degree in Eastern studies and has studied and practiced yoga for 30 years in the United States and India under the guidance of Swami Rama and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. She teaches meditation and yoga philosophy at HI.

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