I went to a Yin Yoga workshop recently with a Buddhist teacher named Sarah Powers. She explained that in Buddhist philosophy, it is a given that suffering happens in life. No one gets out unscathed.
So, there is suffering. But then there is something she described as “making the suffering worse,” or blatant suffering.
Suffering is an unavoidable aspect of being alive, but then we pour gasoline on the fire of our suffering, and really run with it.
Easy example: Someone cuts me off in traffic, I suffer. Maybe it was a close call. Maybe it scared me. But then what do I do to hold onto that suffering? What do I make someone cutting me off in traffic mean? What is at the core?
-He didn’t wait his turn.
-That’s not fair.
-I’ve been disrespected.
-I don’t matter (how far back does that go)?
How long do I suffer over this incident? Am I still suffering ten miles down the road? Do I need to be?
My child has a problem at school. I suffer. I don’t like to see my child in pain. Putting wind in the sails of my suffering, I look too far ahead. Off I go, predicting all kinds of future suffering for my child (and thus for me). Berating myself as a parent. Did I not do enough of this, or too much of that? Berating the other players involved. Lamenting why the world is the way it is.
Do I need to go there? Can I just be in this difficult moment with my sorrow? Do I need to heap onto it and make it worse?
Can I make room for my own suffering, rather than run from it?
Can I meet my own suffering with humility, rather than chesting up to it screaming, “NO!”
Can I just say, “Oh…there you are,” and offer it compassion, acknowledging every other person on the planet suffers too, at some point. Even if they put on a show, pretending they are immune.
The first step is to recognize suffering for what it is. In a moment of angst, can I be present enough to pause and name it:
I am suffering.
This would be a good time to take some breaths.
And then might I ask, How am I making it worse?
Pain in my shoulder roused me from sleep this morning. It’s chronic, off and on, but mostly on. In those moments between sleep and awake I noted it as suffering.
Lying there in bed, in the dark, eyes closed, I didn’t resist. Silently, I whispered to my shoulder pain, “There is room for you.”
lifting into consciousness.
By the time I was fully awake,
it was gone.