Monday, August 20, 2012

The Source: Attentiveness or Suffering?

I've heard writers and artists say that the source of their creative energy often seems to come from their anxieties or pain, that they feel driven to mine their demons and express what they find there. This isn't true for all creative people, but when I think about the times that I have thrown myself on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion in desperation... well, it gets me there, doesn't it?

It certainly isn't odd that people need motivation to do something active rather than remain passive. Students, myself included, often come to yoga class for a purpose, to solve something, or to get to a place that feels better in one way or another. This kind of assumes that they begin in a different place than that, one where something needs solving or improvement or perhaps there is a long term goal in mind. I go to classes to spice up my own practice or teaching, to learn something from someone else's sequence or perspective, to experience yoga in a communal context,  all of which is hard to do by myself. I do have sources for adding into my practice from reading, from observations of my own teaching experiences, even from using music to accompany practice or not, or to practice in different contexts with and without the usual props. But injury or anxiety will get me to the mat or cushion fast!

What if our practice brings us to a place of equanimity? Does it then become hard to continue the practice unless we routinize it? Doesn't a routine dull the senses? Lull the mind into complacency? Or set us up for judgment and comparison? Where does the urge for inquiry come from? Must it be suffering, or dissatisfaction, or making a goal?

If we take the moment and tune in, just this moment, I think the experience itself actually is the motivation. Attentiveness is the source of inspiration. Even the most beginning student who arrives in class feeling poor self image or damaged in a shoulder joint can very quickly become entirely consumed with remembering to align their knee over their ankle, or finding the neck adjustment that brings the weight of their head above their heart. What they derive from this is intrinsic: alignment of the self and noticing the difference in their normal patterns. The original motives vanish with rewards that are embedded in the experience. Not just savasana, but even in the moments of rolling up the mats, the sense of integrity and integration of mind/body/spirit, of wonder and peace, combine into a feeling of wellbeing.

Can we get there without the pain or dissatisfaction that drives us in the first place to get to the mat? Perhaps not. Rarely is it joy that brings us to that first meditation experience.  It is one of the truths of human experience that this layer of irritation (judgment or separation from seeing and accepting the self as we truly are) can motivate the deepest search. Is this what provokes all spiritual study, the yearning to understand and explain, integrate and absorb beyond the small self, its conditional, impermanent and frail nature?

These motivations can be called suffering or misery. In Patanjali's terms they are the kleshas, those 5 aspects which doom us to the never-ending cycle of suffering, separating us from our true nature and the bliss and equanimity of that nature. These five aspects are Avidya - ignorance of the true self (not recognizing who we are), Asmita - egoism (seeing the separate self  as all important), Raga - attachment (things, definitions, judgments, others), Dvesha - aversion (avoidance, pushing away, judging), Abhimivesa - fear of loss (fear of death, of losing our self).

The crazy thing is that with practice (paying attention) we can see our own suffering as the source for profound inquiry, even a challenge to rise to our full stature and cultivate greater awareness of the breadth of our own experiences. Even suffering is a transitory experience, a result of conditions, and with practice that, too, can be experienced with something like equanimity.

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