So far, my efforts to write a blog on a regular basis have failed in a spectacular fashion! Despite my procrastination, here I am once again to share random thoughts about Yoga and Life accompanied by photographs of goats and terrible attempts at humor.
Lately, life has been handing me some challenges which have humbled me greatly. However, the most painful times in our lives can be a catalyst for personal growth and we don’t realize it until much later after the dust has settled. There are NO guarantees that we can avoid suffering. In fact, we will experience suffering at many points in our lives. Buddhist teachings state: ‘Suffering is Universal’, the first of the Four Noble Truths in this tradition. A great portion of our life energy is spent trying to avoid suffering (Dukkha). We may try to eat a healthy diet or exercise to avoid the suffering of illness or we may try to bury ourselves in work to climb the corporate ladder to avoid the suffering of poverty. We go to great lengths to avoid discomforts- both physical and mental.
Our efforts to avoid suffering can even cause us to suffer MORE!! We injure ourselves exercising too much or we never take enough time away from our job to enjoy our personal time. We can become ‘stuck’ in this way of being until we can no longer enjoy simple pleasures as our life becomes a constant struggle to avoid pain and chase after pleasure (or material ‘stuff’). Our resistance to the truth of life (it can really be a pain in the ass and it will end when our body gives out!) does not allow us to see clearly that we are trying to swim against the natural current flowing along the river of our existence. This current may push and pull us into weeds, over rocks but eventually, we do come to calmer waters.
The ‘best-laid plans’ will often go awry. Our savings can be depleted by a single catastrophic event. We can get sick or injured due to an accident or the lottery of our genetic make-up. Our loved ones will be taken away from us and we will also take our very own final exhalation. This uncomfortable truth is one we really don’t like to think about and even talking about death is one sure way to clear a room. Tragedy, comedy, truth and beauty are constantly unfolding around us.
In Yoga, part of the path taught by Swami Kripalu is to practice ‘compassionate self-observation’. He says: “Self observation brings us closer to the truth”. When we step back and observe our reactions (even after the fact), we can potentially see the root of our struggle could be fear of suffering. Perhaps, we can even see that we suffer because we worry about things to come….stuff that hasn’t even happened yet. The ‘bad thing’ isn’t even real but our mind (and our body) is reacting as if it is real and happening right now! It’s like walking into a dimly lit room and we see something coiled up in the corner and our brain shouts SNAKE!! Our heart beats wildly and we feel true fear…but when we turn on the lights, we see nothing but a harmless rope. If we pay attention in this moment, we know that our fight or flight response kicked in and flooded our body and brain with adrenaline. It will take hours for our system to return to normal.
Swami Kripalu also says: “The truth is that unmitigated pleasure, devoid of any pain, only tastes stale. When one gets tired of sitting, one loves to be asked to stand. Likewise, after a long session of uninterrupted standing, one greatly relishes the chance to sit down. Pain is the sweetness experienced in pleasure. Sorrow is nothing but unripened joy, and joy is the ripening fruit of sorrow.”
We can try to embrace the whole of our experience. Since we are wired for survival, we often try to avoid perceived dangers. In the past, we were running from tigers but now, we run from the fear of loss, pain or discomfort. When we practice Yoga, we learn how to breathe through discomfort in our postures and move from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. Most of all, we know that in this moment, nothing is wrong. Once I turn on the lights, I see there is no snake and there is no tiger. It’s just me and my beautiful struggle to see truth and beauty and embrace the comedy and the tragedy.
*still sees snakes in the corners of a dark room and will definitely run from anything that looks like a tiger but there are cute goats in the world so I know it’s gonna be okay in the end. Did I mention there will be cake in this lifetime?