Yikes! Have you ever been caught up in the terrible and transfixing plot of a horror movie or thriller? It’s like you don’t want to look, but you can’t help peeking through your fingers. It’s yucky, but it’s also thrilling. You don’t want it to happen to you, but it’s kinda exciting to watch. And kinda addictive. Even though you can’t sleep that night.
Well, my friend, that’s what we’re doing with our own lives–we’re getting a thrill from something we don’t like. I’m talking about our suffering.
Let me explain a bit more…
The Yoga Sutras (classic ancient text on yoga which helps us break free from our suffering so we can live happy and fulfilled lives) explain how suffering comes in different flavors. For instance, there’s the flavor of attachment or grasping: hanging on too tightly to something we have, or wanting something that we don’t have (money, car, job, guy, weight loss, peace).
Then there’s the flavor of suffering that comes from aversion or hatred: wanting to avoid something or disliking something (poverty, humiliation, illness, the in-laws). There are other flavors, but these two suffice for now.
Through the practice of inner yoga, we begin to see more and more clearly what sufferings we have in our life, so we can reduce them and their causes. The ancient yogis experimented with various practices over a long time, and really refined the practices.
Now it gets weird, and your brain may want to shut off, but stay with me…
According to David Frawley (a great yoga and ayurveda teacher and writer that I took a course on Soma from) in his decades of working with thousands of students and patients, he’s discovered that most of us can give up things that we grasp for far more easily than we can give up the suffering we already have because of something we don’t want. In fact, at some deep level we are each grasping onto the suffering-that-we- know so hard, that it actually is like we are attracted to it.
But when you start becoming really, really aware of what’s going on through the practice of yoga, you can see (oh, the horror!) that you are actually going back into old patterns of suffering–that probably were natural to have at one point but aren’t really necessary now–because they are stimulating. You’ve gotten so used to (addicted to?) the thrill of the suffering (think horror movie thrill) that you don’t what to do or who to be without it. And so you keep picking at it–usually unconsciously.
Would an example help here?
Through my yoga practice and self-study, I’ve recognized that one of the biggest sufferings I have is uncertainty and indecisiveness. For example, when I was deciding 6 years ago about whether to open my wellness studio, I worked with a mentor and crunched the numbers. After about 30 days I had taken everything I reasonably could into account. And still I couldn’t decide whether I should open a studio or not. So I proceeded to crunch the numbers…for another 11 months!
And nothing really changed — the overall outlook stayed exactly the same. But, hey, I got to suffer with indecision for 11 extra months! To feel stuck, and unsettled, and to keep wishing that I knew how everything would turn out (I’ve never been able to know the future).
That’s a major example, but I see the pattern of suffering about indecisiveness playing out in my life over and over again. I’m talking about on a daily basis, for decisions big and small. I can feel how my heart beats faster, my throat tightens up, my thoughts get frantic, I shut down a bit emotionally.
Once I had clarity about this, I started asking myself, what do I get from “having” to suffer in this way? After some true soul-searching in meditation, I see that I really am getting a warped sort of “high” from this pattern. The stimulus of the suffering releases certain hormones and chemicals in my system that I’ve gotten very used to. And it feels very hard to get out of. It’s sneaky. I don’t do it on purpose.
So how do you proceed with something like this? The first step is the awareness of it. And then the acceptance of it while at the same time being willing to engage with it in a strategic way so that it eventually reduces or “burns up”. This is an approach of gratitude, compassion for self, and relentless awareness. Willingness to be with it without judgment. It’s very powerful.
And the rest of the story? Am I “clean” now? Uncertainty totally gone? No, of course not, I’m in process. And I’m human. Things have improved, it’s ongoing, and the seed of uncertainty still sprouts up in the right conditions.
But you know, I’m a lot more peaceful now, with uncertainty. It’s kind of like a little friend–“Oh, well hello, uncertainty! No need to sneak around. Welcome! Let’s have a little sit-down together, shall we?”
Now I invite you, if you’re ready, to start noticing what is a common theme to your personal suffering? And then please, don’t just hang out there with the awareness. Get thee to a qualified yoga teacher who can help you get out of the horror movie.
A final thought: This is not for wimps. Most people aren’t ready to take on this level of responsibility and self-work. But if you are one of them, then congratulations! Let the transformation begin!