heyam dukham anagatam
The suffering from
pain that has
not yet arisen
I wrote earlier about the kleshas, or five poisons for the mind that can lead us off the yogic path towards moksha, or freedom from suffering. The next klesha I’d like to discuss is Dvesha – the avoidance of suffering.
Buddhism states that suffering is a fact of life, and suggests that rather than structure our lives to avoid suffering, we simply embrace the inevitability of this piece of the human experience. The practice of Tonglen, as taught by Pema Chodron, is one that speaks to this belief.
The avoidance of suffering can be also be viewed as a component of our constant search for pleasure. This is something many of us pursue, especially in this day and age with all of our technologies that keep us from the daily drudge of physical toil in order to nourish ourselves and keep a roof over our heads. We are a people with too much time on our hands in search of pleasure. Down time becomes something to fill up, alone time seen as evidence of a failure to connect, and each moment designed for more “pleasure”. Often, this turns into zoning out in front of a teevee, going to a bar and filling ourselves with spirits, or imbibing in other drugs that take us away from the present moment.
In our rush to run away from boredom, we often run right into drama, creating it where there is none in an imitation of the telenovellas, or soap operas that dominate our teevees day and night. Each interaction becomes a confrontation, with one will striving to come out on top, rather than an exchange of information and heartsong.
I find myself as guilty of this affliction as anybody. When I am in a situation that I don’t like, I’ll find myself breathing shallowly, as if I can avoid fully participating by not breathing deeply of the air that surrounds me. Of course, shallow breathing only serves to activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing my body to feel the stress of the “fight or flight” response, which only causes my breathing to become even shallower.
Luckily, years of yoga practice has caused me to regularly tune into the quality of my breath. When I notice my breathing has become shallow, I will activate Ujayi Breath, slightly constricting the back of my throat to lend an aural quality to my breath. This slight activation of the glottis in the throat allows you to hear your breath, and the constriction and awareness of the breath causes it to deepen. That deep inhale, that full interaction with the present moment, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to relax, go with the flow, and to heal.
What can we learn when we instead embrace our suffering? Rather than acting from a state of fear to avoid suffering, we simply expect that suffering, like joy, is something beyond our control. We realize that rather than attempt a control at the external, we can shift our focus to the internal, to our reaction to the present moment.
Another reason to embrace difficulties is for the unique learning experiences that they provide. Looking back, the most difficult times in my life were always the times of most profound change. In facing challenges, I learned that my abilities often exceeded my expectations, and in rising to face those challenges, I was lifted up to new levels of skill and consciousness. These moments of suffering, then, were actually portals to new levels of awareness and connection.
In embracing Dvesha, we are able to step fully into the present moment free from fear, releasing expectations and staying open to the lessons from Spirit. So, take a deep breath, and plunge in!
Links to Other Klesha Posts: