Change, longing, habits, and the activity of the gunas can all cause us suffering. In fact, even the wise suffer, for suffering is everywhere. Yoga Sutra 11.15
None of us are immune to suffering. It has been and always will be the way of the world, right?
But, this does not mean all is futile…
Prevent the suffering that is yet to come. Yoga Sutra 11.16
We have the power to choose our reactions and responses to the suffering which will inevitably befall us…
Suffering is universal, yet each person’s perception of distress is unique to them. We all suffer to some degree when we experience:
1. CHANGE – when our circumstances change in ways that adversely affect us, it throws us off our game. Even when the change isn’t huge, change is change and, as creatures of habit, people usually don’t like it. At a bare minimum, most of us find change disruptive, right? On the other end of the spectrum, change can rock us to our core when it is drastic or something completely unexpected. But as we learn to accept change and go with it instead of resist it, it exerts far less negative power over us.
2. LONGING – we suffer when we don’t have something we want. I’ve read in various yogic texts that the root of all pain is wanting. Whether we feel material or emotional deficiency doesn’t matter because quite simply, when we don’t have what we want, we are mad, sad, or upset to some degree. Therefore, if we can detach from expectations (aka: wanting a certain outcome or certain thing) even a little bit, then we can live a little more in harmony.
3. HABIT – When our day-to-day activities, thoughts, and feelings are incongruent with who we think we are or who we want to be, it is like poison to our systems. If we knowingly continue to do things that we know don’t serve us, if we maintain habits that harm us, or constantly say I’ll change x y or z but never do make that shift, then our inner self begins to break down, and we feel anything from tightness in our chest to lethargy and depression. The more aware we are of what we are doing to serve or not serve ourselves or others in our daily life, though, the closer we get to being able to crowd out the unhealthy habits with healthier ones.
So what’s the point in trying if suffering is so inevitable? How do we ease our pain? Three of the seven core traits of my SEMPER Philosophy answer this question perfectly. Choose to be:
1. SINCERE – the more in-tune with yourself you are, the better equipped you will be to respond with composure when suffering strikes. As we cultivate self-awareness and live in congruence with who we genuinely want to be and who we authentically are, we reduce the fluctuations of highs and lows that come with change and difficulty. Equip yourself with tools like yoga, meditation, and simple breathing techniques to get yourself centered. Bolster your defenses by staying healthy through daily movement, fresh air, and connection with others.
2. EMPATHETIC – Stop asking “why me?” As Patanjali (author of the sutras) says, no one is immune to suffering. Through acceptance of this simple truth alone, you can reduce the severity of your suffering. Begin think outside yourself, outside your own immediate surroundings, and realize that there is no hierarchy to suffering. Comparing yourself to others – whether deeming your pain worse (and looking down on them) or less (and berating yourself for feeling bad) than theirs – is absolutely pointless, so instead of judging pain, understand and embrace it for what it is, then chose to move forward or help others move forward. You can put yourself in someone else’s shoes without judging how those shoes feel.
3. RESILIENT – Be willing to take the bad and the good that comes your way. It is truly a difference in mindset alone as to whether or not you feel that the world is for you or against you. Some of the happiest, most generous people I know have been through the most painful experiences you can imagine. Believe me, it’s not a matter of having things go your way all the time or not, but the crazy thing I’ve found is that the less I expect bad things to happen, the less they do happen (not that “bad” things ever stop happening though!) Some people refer to this as the law of attraction and in many cases I think it holds true – you attract what you expect and you attract back what you’re putting out into the world. Truly resilient people perceive obstacles as opportunities for introspection and growth instead of excuses for bitterness and stagnation. Study after study now confirms what ancient traditions have purported for centuries: holding onto the past literally weighs you down and takes years off your life. To be resilient is to be buoyant in a way, to return to your original form after something difficult, altering, painful happens; so although you may get knocked down temporarily, a resilient you will always get back up.
You can’t change your life, situation, or environment right this second. I get that. What you can change today, though, is your attitude and what you can control are your reactions. I don’t care if that sounds cliché; it is a truism because people still need to hear it, believe it, and live it. Transform your attitude into action and aspire to be a model to others as you adeptly handle the “$hit” life throws in your fan (so to speak 😉 ). Surrender just a little bit, and see what happens. Aka: Just Roll With It ;-p
Admittedly, this takes practice. Be patient with yourself and with others. Awareness is the important first step to moving through the suffering with grace and compassion and surrender. You can’t avoid it, but you can mitigate it.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do.” — Pema Chodron in The Places That Scare You
* Remember you can REGISTER HERE for the JUST ROLL WITH IT BOOTCAMP taking place on Saturday December 1st in sunny San Diego! When you enROLL before Veteran’s Day (11 Nov) you get to bring a guest for FREE!