Friday, January 15, 2010

Paying Attention to Suffering

Daily life is a balancing act of attention to the ordinary and the extraordinary. It seems to me that whether we take the attitude to suffer in ordinary life or to reject suffering even under the most extreme circumstances is a choice of awareness or consciousness. I look at how easy it can be to turn missing the bus into a disaster. In this crisis moment in Haiti, we see people who in the face of a natural and overwhelming disaster can turn open-heartedly towards one another with goodwill and compassionate effort. If death is seen as disaster, we must all face it. Knowing that, we can also observe that in dying one can attach to the suffering more or less. In letting go of the attachment to suffering, death might be transformative. People can go on living after great suffering and find joy and gratitude, even though they bear the scars of the pain they sustain.

Many of my students experience physical or emotional impediments in their daily lives. Some are obvious, some invisible. That metal plate in the body pretty much guarantees that the leg will not flex, or the mechanics of missing fingers changes the balance in a hand mudra not to mention in down dog. Yet this does not stop their yoga practice, nor necessarily predetermine suffering. Adjustments and letting go of the definitions of "wholeness" or "flexibility" can enable deep experiences, and the struggle to accept that which is present in the moment often seems to liberate people who make the adjustments. The release of judgment and letting go of the attachment to one's impediment as a deficit are keys to this freedom. So many times I have seen courage, openness, curiosity, and humor in reaction to this struggle. Frustration sometimes dominates, and watching that conflict, I see human nature in action. It seems that we are offered constant choices as to attachment, judgment, and awareness. That's actually the good part! In every moment we have the opportunity to choose.

I don't feel it is true that my situation is better because someone else is in a worse situation. It certainly doesn't make me feel better to think about someone else's suffering! Time and time again I have seen that it is whether I attach to my suffering that makes it hard on me. It is all about the level of awareness I bring to the moment that will color that moment.

Waiting for surgery is scary! Even imagining that I might require surgery brings up many emotions. I can feel the fear. I can review my many references from earlier experiences that compound my anxieties. I also know that I am here today after those experiences, and that I am living in this moment. If I run from this moment into the past or the future, my suffering increases enormously. Staying with my breath, I am fully present, already full of life energy and awake. In that condition, even being on the edge of fear is not a "bad" place to be. I can draw my attention to the suffering itself, my own attachment to my own conditioning. I am simply being, and in that way, with my ever present breath, I am in balance.

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