Opting Out of Suffering
I’ve just returned from our annual international yoga retreat. This year we went to Puerto Vallarta. The villa was lovely. It had an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
Yoga on the beach, the sound of the waves, beautiful weather! After so many hours spent finding the villa and making all the arrangements, I was relieved that everyone was happy and no one was sick.
The morning of the second day I broke my foot falling down oddly constructed stairs. I spent the next afternoon in the ER, where they were very nice, told me I had a fracture of the navicular bone and would have to be non-weight baring for 6 weeks. So I went back to the villa to navigate its stairs on crutches. And the absolute truth of the matter is I did not suffer for one moment over this injury. I had pain, but no suffering. I continued to teach 2 classes a day with the help of Joyti Ananda demonstrating. I continued to enjoy seeing and hearing the ocean, and refused to entertain the idea that the retreat had been ruined in any way. This enabled everyone else to enjoy as well.
Yoga practice gives us the knowledge and tools to choose not to suffer. The Yoga Sutras define five root causes of suffering called the Kleshas. The first Klesha is Avidyā, ignorance. This refers to ignorance of the true eternal self, Mahat. This is also the root cause of the other Kleshas.
The second Klesha is Asmita, egoism, the identification of the Self with the ego I have personally experienced the suffering of egoism. After spending a great deal of time and energy on a very important project, the project did not succeed. I identified myself with my work and ambitions, felt like a failure, and this caused a great deal of suffering.
The third and forth Kleshas are Raga – attraction, and Dvesa – aversion. These are really two sides of the same coin. When I broke my foot, I was able to avoid suffering by remaining unattached to what I was hoping my retreat experience would be, and by not succumbing to the aversion of being on crutches and having some pain. The beach is my happy place. I love seeing and hearing the ocean, walking on the beach, and playing in the water. While the injury needed to be accommodated and cared for, I was resolved to enjoy what I could instead of suffering from attachment to the things what were not accessible. I’ve taught regular classes after 2 shoulder surgeries, 3 knee surgeries, and a broken ankle and wasn’t going to allow a broken foot to diminish this retreat. And it didn’t. Everyone else relaxed and had a good time once they realized I was fine.
The fifth klesha is Abhinivesha, the fear of death. Patanjali says even the wise suffer from this.
It is helpful to note what is not on that list, including back pain, chronic pain, arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, diabetes, or many of the other dis-eases and challenges that may cause so many to suffer. Stephen Hawking, who recently passed, is a brilliant example of how fully life can be lived despite what most would consider overwhelming disabilities. He stated that his disability, which is fatal to most within 5 years of diagnosis, was no disability at all in theoretical physics.
By comparison, a broken foot that will eventually heal is certainly nothing that needs to cause suffering. And the side benefit is that I am learning a lot figuring out how to modify the practices in the advanced classes I teach so I can flow through them with grace, focus and breath while employing a large selection of props. What fun! Really!
Yoga provides us with a rich set of practical and effective tools to help build resilience to flow through whatever life throws our way. I feel blessed to have this knowledge available to me on this journey, and blessed to be able to share it with others to help them alleviate suffering and avoid future suffering.
Now if I can only get beyond the aversion of tech support calls, my source of greatest suffering right now. Oh well, it’s always a practice.