Supposed To: My Day of Suffering

"We suffer because we are projecting the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually conditioned, selfless, and constantly changing. Everything is interrelated and interdependent. There is nothing substantial and separate that we can lean upon. Samsara, 'the cycle of suffering,' is a direct result of our desire for permanence."

From “The Myth of Permanence” by Sakyong Mipham

I don't know about you but when I read philosophy I can have a hard time grasping the concepts in a meaningful, how does this apply to day to day life, kind of way.  In other words, I'm always curious about how I can LIVE an idea not just think it. For instance take the topic of suffering. Sure in my head I've been bouncing around the idea for a while now...we can't control the world around us yet most humans try...this habit creates suffering. When we walk around with a lot of expectations about how the present moment and its inhabitants should be we are contributing to our pain rather than easing it. Today my understanding of how I create my own suffering hit home in a new way. I create suffering...I do that every day, for many minutes of the day.

For this New England girl it all starts with the phrase "supposed to." As in today I was supposed to get a lot of work done on my computer; as in my internet was supposed to be working properly. As in I was supposed to be done by my afternoon full of clients so tonight I could rest with my family. See none of the things on my list are guaranteed to work and yet it didn't stop my mind from grasping at the thought that everything should go according to my plan. The truth is that nothing is fixed and yet every day I rely on things to go MY WAY and when they don't I repeat the refrain SUPPOSED TO and then I suffer. 

As you read above I had a big list of things I wanted to accomplish today...when the writing was on the wall that my internet was too slow for some tasks due to the weather (another supposed to...April is not supposed to be so icy and cold!) I decided to go to the drugstore across the street for some new earbuds while a file was uploading to my computer.

I approached the crosswalk at a dangerous intersection and heard my internal grumbling "I hate these people...they are driving too fast...this is a crazy intersection...what are they thinking? They are supposed to drive carefully through here...they are supposed to stop for pedestrians...." I stopped my thinking and reviewed that phrase supposed to. As I finished my walk to the drugstore I realized that I had been torturing myself all day with that phrase. Suddenly I could connect personally to the Buddhist concept of suffering. I had my real-life scenario of how I was reacting to the day as an example of the concept. 

As I watched my mind grasping at how today should be to fit my rigid view of reality, I recognized that I was contributing to my own frustration and experience of having a shitty day. You you can't totally stop pain. It's impossible. Pain is part of life and being human. I couldn't stop the ice from falling from the sky, but I could stop lamenting spring. I could make a choice to re-route my course of action rather than bang my head against the wall. I made my predicament worse by refusing to accept life as is. My desire for a different reality was making me feel terrible! So how to live it differently?

I can't make my internet work. I can't stop the rain. I can't force my computer to move faster. What I can do is let myself see what's happening and respond to it with flexibility rather than with an iron grasp on having my way. I lost an hour of work today because I kept waiting for the internet to speed up. Rather than accept the one bar of cell service my phone was showing me I kept waiting for it to get better. This is what contributed to my frustration. Had I really taken in what I was seeing, I could have taken my walk to the drugstore sooner, maybe even scrapped the project completely for today. When I finally accepted what was happening and shifted to a new plan I felt better! And that's how I wrote this blog rather than doing the 10 other things I had on my Monday to-do list. I accepted my fate and recognized that this story might be a way for others to consider how they contribute to their own suffering...and could help us all take a step into shifting away from trying to control things and into meeting the day, each other, and ourselves as is. 

Blessings to you on your journey towards freedom from suffering!

Meant to Be: Me and Yoga, an Unexpected Love Story (1/2016)

I walked into my first yoga class at 19. It was strip mall yoga. I remember being told to relax and breathe while in poses where breath, and relaxation were the last things I imagined possible. WTF was muttered under my breath repeatedly as I contorted myself into painful poses I'd never done before. I worked hard and tried to keep up with a flow that felt like it was created by a sadist. I remember feeling really angry and hateful when the class was over. No bliss. No peace of mind.  I walked away from my first experience of asana wondering what the hell my straight-edge, vegan friends getting into yoga and joining the Hari Krishnas were thinking. Nuts. They were nuts.

But like many ultimately great relationships mine with yoga started with distaste and confusion. What the hell was this practice that pushed my buttons so deeply? Why would I want to chaturanga 20 times and then hold down dog while watching my brain spin? Not willing to quit right away I tried out some DVDs by yoga-lebrity teachers and disliked those too. Some were too fitness class like, some too New Agey. And just like the woman who runs from that guy at the party who sips seltzer and challenges her mind with interesting thoughts rather than telling her how hot she is, I ran from yoga.

Flash forward by 9 years. My back hurt. It hurt bad. I had herniated discs during labor and the road to recovery was filled with intense lightning bolts of pain. Every doctor I had encouraged me to try yoga. "It's good for a bad back," they said. "It'll be relaxing," they said. With my initial experience of yoga with the sadist and boring DVDs it was hard to believe what I was hearing so I ignored the advice. After a year of limping through physical therapy, cortisone injections, and ever more pain I saw a flyer in my town for free yoga classes...this yoga had a weird name....Kripalu Yoga. Incredulous. Exasperated. I decided that I would try this yoga with the strange name.

I walked into the tiny rec center with a stinky carpet and cardio machines jammed against the wall and my tiny chunk of hope shrank even smaller. There were 10 or so people jammed into a room that only 6 people on yoga mats would fit comfortably...I was about to leave when my teacher Laura immediately sprang to help me find a spot. Everyone shifted a little left, a little right, and suddenly there was a place for me...it felt nice. My hope grew a smidge.

There was gentle chanting playing from a tiny radio. She had a sweet little altar with sacred objects I didn't recognize and this little chime that she struck right before she began to speak. After the chime sounded everyone stopped stretching and the room fell silent. We were old, young, fit, and fat people all gathered together. Looking around the room I felt a sense of ease. I felt that we each belonged there on that mat, in that place, with each other. I felt myself settle.

When Laura spoke her voice resounded through the small space, sounding like warm honey tastes...nourishing and sweet. She encouraged us to turn our gaze inward and sense our breath and body as it was in the moment. Then for about 10 minutes we breathed and noticed that practice. We began simply, just filling our bellies with breath, then breath moved up a bit higher, all the way to the collarbone. We exhaled generously, squeezing the belly. I felt my self sink deep into my body. I felt my busy mind slow way down. I felt the muscles in my body soften a little. I felt peace beginning to bubble up from inside. Suddenly my heart and brain screamed from inside of me, THIS IS YOGA!

Though the rest of the practice was challenging and again I found myself in poses I didn't know that I could do and breathe simultaneously, again I felt angry about my body's limitations, however there was a big difference between that night and my other experiences. This time I had space for it all. With my teacher's gentle cues, encouragements, and lots of reminders to notice and accept the thoughts and sensations I was having I made it through the 90 minutes of yoga without letting my frustration sweep me away, off the mat and out of the class. At the end of class I felt a sense of accomplishment, and my body felt better. Tensions were softened. Tissues lengthened. Though the flow was intense I felt like I was learning something beyond exercise for a sore back, I was learning something really important about noticing my experience and not letting it carry me away.

That was 11 years ago and I haven't looked back. I've been practicing Kripalu Yoga ever since. Not to say that this mad affair has been all wine and roses, true yoga practice isn't. I've cried, sweated, blown apart, come back together, blown apart again and got back on that mat many times. I've learned that what I experience on my mat I can take into my life...noticing the hard feelings and not becoming overtaken by them. Bringing acceptance to my limitations, celebrating my growing ability to become conscious of feelings and thoughts. Over the past decade I've had the opportunity to study with a number of yoga teachers, some true masters of Kripalu Yoga but none will ever capture my gratitude and heart like my first teacher, Laura Lin. Thank you Laura, wherever you are now. Your spirit lit the candle in my soul and I will be ever blessed for that. Jai Bhagwan!