This week I have been thinking a lot about the nature of grief and suffering. I see it all around me, in me, and pervading the consciousness of our world. I've been reading a book by a Buddhist nun Pema Chodron called "When Things Fall Apart". I am not a Buddhist, but I have found the teachings to make more sense to me than any other philosophy or religion, and as a non-theistic religion, the teachings apply to our human experience versus a spiritual realm and much like Yoga, can aptly be applied in anyone's life.
As I move through emotions such as sadness and grief, I notice not only thoughts pervading my consciousness, but also specific feelings in my body... constriction in the chest, tension in my neck, tightness in my gut, clenching of my jaw. For this, I rely on self-care techniques such as deep breathing or kapalabhati breath (breath of fire), I've done a heart strengthening kundalini practice, and received acupuncture to help with the subtle tensions of my body. Self-care, self-care, self-care. It also helps to name the emotion, name the physical sensation, and sit with it, instead of constantly fighting against it.
As I work with the subtle body, I find the words of Pema Chodron help align some of the disconnect and discontent. As things as you know them break down around you, see if this phrase rings a truth, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us." You may start to notice little deaths in each moment-- the sun sets at the end of each day, the bottom of your delicious cup of coffee, the close of a delightful hug, your child waving as she gets on a school bus and out of your sight, you see that each petit mort, little death, prepares you for the bigger losses-- ultimately your own mortality.
So often the temptation is to cover up, draw away, or escape from the suffering that comes from each little loss-- reaching for a pill, a distraction, anything to take our minds off the feeling of pain and loss. Yet, "thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly." Our suffering is based on the misconception that things last, that they are permanent (the 'good' and the 'bad'). Yet everything is subject to change and alteration, "decay is inherent in all component things". And more importantly, our suffering is a direct reaction to the belief that things are permanent and unchanging. Suffering is "inevitable" for humans as long as we cling to the belief that things last, and "that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security".
So my challenge recently has been to sit with feelings of grief and sadness, open myself up to the changing nature of all things, and be gentle. Use a light touch, notice the range of emotions that come and go... over seconds, minutes, days. A feeling, thought or emotion crosses across your experience like clouds in the sky, ever changing and impermanent. As I open up to the experience, I no longer cling to the feeling or thought, knowing that it, too shall pass. As I move through anger, sadness, denial, acceptance (in a circular, not linear way), I see each moment as a way to be a friend to myself. "Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." I know that when the joy comes after the grief is passed, that it, too, is not permanent. All things arise and disappear, and that is the nature of reality. All we have for CERTAIN is the present moment.
The cherry blossom falls after its short beautiful bloom.
It floats gently down to earth. Its life is over, but the limitedness of its existence is one of the biggest reasons the blossom is so gorgeous. If we knew that the blossom would last forever, it wouldn't have the same poignant beauty, and we'd take it for granted. - Leo Babauta
Last Sunday I celebrated the end of my cleanse with what I jokingly call a 'retox'. I bought a delicious bottle of Indian Wells Red Blend from Chateau St Michelle. I swear it's the most delicious red wine you can get for under $20! I am not a connoisseur, but I can usually discern a great wine from a not-so-great wine.
I'm writing about wine today because I feel drawn to discuss finding a good balance in life. We probably all know people who are 'extremists'... who tend towards an all-or-nothing approach. Someone who decides they love running and they do it every day rain or shine through injury and illness. Maybe they find a game they like and it's a daily event, at the exclusion of all social activity, or they go raw vegan and never turn back. And then there are the people who get fed up with Facebook, make a big announcement that they're leaving... but usually a few months later they quietly creep back on (I knew they would!). Some people thrive in that extreme environment.
For me, and probably for most of us, there is a middle ground, a delicate balance between effort and ease-- like in a standing yoga pose where you ground down to reach up, you find a strong base, you stretch your spine up, and then relax your shoulders and face, unclench your jaw. You let go of tension in order to move forward.
Some clients worry about telling me that they like to drink wine at the end of their day. It usually makes me laugh a little... the misconception that 'wellness' or 'health' means never drinking or having a treat. I find great joy in sharing the theory that 'healthy lifestyle' allows for treats, it allows for letting go, it means you thrive in a healthy balance. A good rule for me is the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time I know I am making choices that fully support my physical health and wellbeing. This allows for 20% of 'flex spending'... maybe a treat I wouldn't normally choose, maybe a nap instead of a walk, maybe a TV show when I 'should' be reading. These treats allow for balance in mind and soul, and take the strain off of an extreme approach. It also keeps you from beating yourself up when you make what may be conceived as a less-than-perfect choice.
In a great book "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind", the author explains "to give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him". To me this means, allow yourself to roam around in a zone where there is room to play and enjoy your life, knowing that you will not be lost. The tighter you hold on to control, the more suffering you instigate. The more you keep yourself from your desires in a strict, stuck way, the more the desires and cravings will control you.
So... I open up a delicious bottle of red, I aerate it into my glass, I swirl and smell it, I enjoy a first sip. I taste the flavors balanced and symphonic in my mouth. I feel my life is balanced and in harmony.
I am a lifetime learner and researcher in happy, healthy, fun living.