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.