There comes a time in every yoga teacher’s journey when the teachings of Patanjali and the Buddha are read and discussed at length with other like minds. As I read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, several things crossed my mind. One, this guy is confusing. Two, I am reading the same thing over and over again. Three, I see the word suffering more often than I should. Hmm. I wondered if it was trying to tell me something.
To understand that suffering is optional, first you have to look at what suffering really is. Suffering is “the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.” and it varies from person to person. There is no hierarchy of suffering people. No one person’s suffering or difficulty is any less legitimate than another persons or any less deserving of empathy.
None of us can change our past difficulties, loss, heartbreak or sickness, but with effort, you can change your reactions and your responses when life takes a detour. Your brain goes to why me? Blame. Regret. Anger. The finger pointing…has that helped your suffering? No. These responses add to it. Suffering is actually universal. It is not unique to you.
Here is an example…my friend has a hard life. She didn’t ask for it…but neither did any of our friends who are living with the cards that were dealt to them. She is smiling, moving forward and preparing to meet yet another cancer battle all while moving, raising 3 little girls and being a mom. I am sure the initial “why me” kicked in, but she didn’t stay there in that place as it is not going to help her. She moved into “kicking cancer’s ass again” momentum.
Suffering is universal, but each experience is unique to that person and it is not a contest. Why would you need to compare yourself and bring out unnecessary suffering by thinking that you have it harder than everyone else on this planet? What if you use your suffering as an opportunity for growth? I know that sounds cliché, but if you know anything at all about me, you know that I would not write about something unless I have been through it or believed it could be done.
While pain might be inevitable, the suffering that comes from the pain is not. Suffering is not a state of life, it is a state of mind. Suffering is your response to an event. Whether you suffer or not depends entirely on your reaction to that situation. ~Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji)
Things I have learned about suffering:
- Move through your pain. The first step might be grief. You are likely not going to be in the same place as you were before. If you ignore your grief, (1) Denial 2) Anger 3) Bargaining 4) Depression 5) Acceptance) you will likely find yourself caught in one of the stages of grief and not able to move forward. I was stuck at depression…and there is no shame in that, but you must get to number 5 to be able to release it.
- Healing through closure. If this is by talking to others who you feel have caused you pain, here is where you do it. If it is beyond that, then you must learn forgiveness of the situation…notice I didn’t say you had to forgive them although that would be nice too. If you were born into a situation that was never of your making, it is time to relinquish the past. The past is not real, as it is now only a vivid recollection of how things were. And even then we might have added in extra details. You have to let it go and surrender to the present moment in order to move forward.
- Progress comes in the end when you decide you are ready to move forward from this place. You must make a conscious decision to move forward and only you can do that. If you stay in the place of pain and bitterness then they won. Your pain won, your hate won, etc. You must constantly make that conscious decision to yoke yourself to the present moment. I do it through yoga and meditation. I already lost enough time to this thing called suffering. It doesn’t deserve to have more.