Suffering and Contradiction

One of my teachers often says that its not that we have problems that is the issue, its that we have a problem with the fact that we have problems that causes us so much distress.  Its true enough for me.  There is the problem and then there are the stories that I have surrounding the problem.

I have had a fair amount of time in the last three years to become more familiar with yogic and buddhist philosophy.  The idea of suffering and living in contradiction.

Suffering first.  They say that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional.  To a point I agree.  Being human we have things that happen in life that we don’t like, don’t prefer, and so we have pain when they happen.  Its about attachment.  I want certain things.  Some are big like wanting my kids to be healthy and happy.  Some are small like wanting people to get out of my way when I’m driving and I’m in a hurry.  But big or small, the pain comes when in the form of resentment, anger and fear around the things that I am attached to.  Many years ago someone explained it to me like this – you have resentment when you realize you did not get your way in the past, anger when you are not getting your way right now, and fear when you think you might not get your way in the future.  Part of me rejected this statement on the basis that some things it is legitimate to be attached to because anyone would – like having the kids be healthy and happy.  And its true that nearly everyone wants their kids to be healthy and happy.  This does not change the fact, however, that this is an attachment to things being a certain way and once I become attached to things being a certain way I experience pain, anger, fear, resentment, sadness, happiness, joy.  But being human I tend to focus more on the feelings that I have that I have deemed unpleasant rather than the happiness and joy.

Suffering though, true suffering, comes when a few things happen.  When I attache to an outcome.  But also when I believe the things my mind tells me about anything.  My mind does what minds do.  It thinks so many thoughts.  And most of them are not true.  And many of them are incredibly negative.  And yet I believe many of them without ever questioning the truth of my thoughts.  The statement that I should not believe everything I’m thinking because it might not be true threw me for a loop when I heard it the first time.  After all, everyone told me I was always right and how could I think something that wasn’t true?  The mind is a powerful thing.  But back to suffering.  I have attachment and belief in what my mind says.  When it comes to suffering the way my mind becomes a problem is that it tells me that whatever feeling I am having around what is happening is going to last forever.  So the anger, fear, resentment, sadness that I experience when I am attached to something being a certain way and it isn’t my mind says is going to last forever.  And I often believe this at least temporarily when in the midst of discontent and so I suffer.

Thank God for yoga.  I have heard most of the things that have helped me in yoga classes.  That the mind thinks thoughts.  That I am attached to things.  That I can focus my attention on the present, on a point of focus like my breath and to the extent I can live in the present I don’t suffer.  That I can strive for a place of witness consciousness where I can notice what my mind is doing without becoming engaged with what my mind is doing.  Notice without judgment.  Its a very hard thing for me.  For most people probably.  I’m working on it, every day with varying degrees of success.  Running away from these feelings and ideas does not alleviate suffering but opening to them does.  Opening to fear and really allowing myself to experience fear is what has helped to dissolve fear.  But it is a day by day thing that I have to keep practicing.

One of the other huge things I had to learn is about contradiction or perceived contradiction.  That you cannot have or appreciate light without dark, happy without sad, good without bad, etc.  It is in the agony that we find the ecstasy.  I had to learn that it is ok to have contradictory thoughts and feelings and in fact that this is healthy.  Two opposite things can be true at the same time.  My mind likes for only one thing to be true when most often I have to open up to contradiction.  It is easiest for my mind to think of this in terms of light and dark.  We all are light and good at the soul level but darkness had to be introduced in order to see, appreciate, or experience that light.  The things that seem like contradiction are what happen to open me up to both things.  I can open up to light because I have experienced dark.  It has been a great tool for me in this healing because it grants perspective to the darkness and then allows for light.  But this too is a process not an event.

No Mud No Lotus

I hated this expression when I first heard it in a yoga class.  I’m not sure why but I think what came up for me around this was “where is the the lotus?”  I was so lost in the mud I could not see the lotus; so lost in the struggle I could not see the joy.  And, even when I got a glimpse of the lotus, my cynical mind would tell me that flowers die and look at all the mud on it, not seeing the beautiful flower at all really.

Today, sometimes, I can see the flower as a beautiful flower.  That has been a hard fought battle.

I have been neck deep in the struggle all of my life.  In the earlier years it was a struggle just to survive.  Survive things at home and then just survive on my own at a pretty young age without support.  Making choices that don’t make sense to me even now.  When I look back at my life I often wonder how I did not become a serial killer, end up homeless addicted to something, or just die from one of the many horrible things I did to my body.  Those moments of Grace were huge for me.  Those times when I was able to go left instead of right and make a choice that would radically change my life.

And now that I am older with a family of my own, it is a struggle to find meaning, to let go.  To remember that many of the horrible things that happened are in fact over and that I can relax now.  To know that I don’t have to live in a constant fight or flight response.  Fear had become such a part of my life that I did not recognize it anymore and would actually tell people I was not a worrier even though I was terrified nearly all the time.  It has been so hard to learn, even a little bit, to relax into what is and tell my mind to let go.

From all objective standards my life is good.  I have two amazing children, I am working on the marriage thing but it is not horrible even when it is hard, I am financially secure and don’t need to work, and I spend much of my time doing what I want whether that is yoga, visiting with friends, therapy and lots of it.  But even with all of this goodness, I struggle to find meaning.  My mind will tell me that my kids don’t really need me and that I have nothing to offer the world – that there is no reason for me to be here.  I know on another level that my children do need me and they would be devastated without me.  The struggle is with my mind and the feelings of worthlessness that I have cultivated over the years.  This is not a surprise given where I have come from.

My life has undergone tremendous shifts at different times.  Externally.  Huge shifts that changed the course of my external life.  But while things changed on the outside very little changed on the inside.  I was looking for an outside solution to an inside problem.  The last three years have been working on the inside problem.  The problem of me, my mind and how much I believe my mind the minute it comes up with a thought.

Witness consciousness is a terribly hard thing to achieve.  I get moments of it now, sometimes long moments when I can observe my mind and my feelings without being disturbed by them.  It is there that I find a little peace.  And it is in working to get there that now I get glimpses of the lotus.  I get moments of joy.  Like teaching yoga and talking with a person new to yoga who says she was so terrified but now is feeling relaxed and is so enjoying coming to class.  To watch that transformation on someone else knowing what it was the first time I relaxed and let go of my mind in a yoga class (which might have been the first time I relaxed in such a way in my life).

My children are beautiful.  I have amazing friends.  A therapist who has gone to battle with and for me relentlessly to bring me to that place of freedom.  I live in a place with many beautiful things.  The real lotus for me now though is none of these things.  The lotus for me is in being able to rest my mind and personality so that I can have peace and see and enjoy each of those things in the moment.