Take duality, for instance. Yogic texts describe the material world as dualistic, which few will deny. Our world manifests itself as a variety of spectrums with two extremes: light and dark, good and evil, delicious and disgusting, calm and anxious, fast and slow. We live within these contexts and often suffer from them.
Our senses lead us to develop aversions or desires for one dualistic extreme or the other, which can often lead to destructive and painful thoughts or emotions. For example, the stress we feel at work can arise from a desire for material wealth and comfort. Or, the impatience we feel when in traffic can arise from an aversion to wasting time. Anger, which often boils up when we’ve been hurt, can arise from the desire to be accepted by everyone. Whether the spectrum is material, social, or temporal, we are often driven by one extreme or the other if we’re not conscious of it. In either case, these desires and fears can drive us to extreme circumstances and feelings, which can derail our flow and shatter our contentment.
Imagine you are in a room by yourself, holding Utkatasana (chair pose). Now imagine you are in a room with a group of people observing you hold this pose. Social psychology studies by Hazel Markus in 1978 revealed that we often perform better or worse (depending how complicated the task) when we are being observed. Since the very act of observation influences the subject being observed, there is always some uncertainty in our psychological studies
You might notice that this observer-observed phenomenon echoes of the Vedic Purusha and Prakriti (also described in Patanjali’s sutras). Purusha and Prakriti are, respectively, the primordial ‘Observer’ (‘consciousness’, ‘Universal Consciousness’, or ‘Buddhi’) and the ‘Observed’ (‘Nature’, ‘matter’, ‘Maya’). Besides this parallel in the Vedic origin story, the idea that we can never be certain of anything renders the pursuit of ideals comical. In this modern world we can forget this fact and become staunch and closed minded in our opinions and our goals. Yet, nothing is ever guaranteed in this universe.
This can be remembered as we race towards success or away from failure. There can be no ‘complete’ success, as there can be no ‘complete’ failure. The pursuit of the extremes leads not to the answer, but to more unknown--it is the endless pursuit, which is suffering.