A blog post by Mary Moscarello. Photos by Mary.

The Sanskrit word “vidya” means wisdom or knowledge—and it can refer more specifically to the wisdom earned through deep practice and experience. 

The prefix “a” before a word indicates lack or absence. In the yogic sense, “avidya” means lack of wisdom or lack of knowledge, but refers to something that goes far beyond ordinary ignorance. Avidya is a fundamental blindness about reality.

A mild way to consider the idea of “avidya” is to suggest it means, “I forgot” or I have a lack of clarity around the idea that I am more than my body, thoughts and mind. A more strict interpretation assigns a deliberate refusal to come into that clarity and stay rooted in that unclear state. Remind you of anything? 

Grouped into five “kleshas” or afflictions, the klesha avidya causes suffering because it refuses to acknowledge the connection of the self (the Atman) to the Self (the Brahman). It is important to come to understand “avidya” because it is said to be at the heart of the other kleshas.

When I’m teaching yoga, leading a group of students through an asana practice, there is usually an asana we visit more than once in a session. My reason for this is to allow the body to make the shape, assume the asana in a gradually more full or deep way each time. Sometimes the asana taps into a sense of power, balance, flexibility or lightness that I want the student to experience a few times and observe how it changes as it repeats. 

Many times I’ll even say – we’ve been here before, where can you find clarity of your position, how can you refine the way you are assuming the physical posture of this asana… in this way, the physical practice can help us achieve clarity or wisdom (vidya) within that pose. 

In life, we see patterns and repeat our positions on experiences and things we’ve seen. How are you finding clarity in your response to those experiences?

I got an example today. It so happens that my mother in law was having a good day. It stood out because she’s been wavering in a sleepy, disengaged place. She was upbeat, talkative and even allowed the home health aide to take her to the backyard to sit at the picnic table and do puzzles. She enjoyed a snack too. This is huge. Prior to this morning, she wasn’t interested in doing much of anything. With the two of them set up outside on a lovely morning, I went to work.

When I came downstairs to take a break and have some lunch, I went out to move my car off the street. That’s when I noticed she also had enough energy to yank up all my blooming clematis that had grown into my front flower bed. I assume she asked the health aide to do it or did it herself with help. 

Before being ripped from the ground

A couple of years ago, this would have pissed me off. I can’t lie and say I wasn’t mad to see she’d treated flowers I’d planted like weeds and summarily ripped them out by the roots. But I didn’t have the ignorant reaction of just getting mad this time. I responded with a level of acceptance. I was able to use my wisdom and knowledge of extenuating circumstances to at least find gratitude that she was feeling spritely enough to do yard work.

Flowers can be replanted. Clarity helps me see that.

So when you find yourself in a familiar experience and you have a familiar response, ask yourself – am I refusing to find clarity about how I can respond to this? Break away from stubborn avidya and open yourself up to the possibility that you can find a new way to be present with that experience.