In Praise of Suffering —And How to Do it Well

By Eve Eliot, August, 2011

Human consciousness is deepening. It is doing so because it needs to during the alarming changes being demanded of so many of us, not only due to an accumulation of sudden, catastrophic developments with our climate, but in emotional climates as well. Our relationships with other people and with our own integrity seem also to need to be renovated. People understandably feel out of balance and “up in the air” and it’s not comfy.

Yogis know well that in order to stabilize in a balance pose, we need to stay grounded. As Manorama says, in order to reach further out and not fall over, we first need to go deeper in. How can we learn to stabilize unless there is something that comes along to throw us off balance, forcing us to go deeper. Why would anyone voluntarily place themselves in a difficult situation? People do that every day, though, when they go to the gym to lift weights. We ASK for this resistance, and we methodically push against the weights to get stronger. Yogis ask for difficulty every day in asana practice.

We volunteer for difficulty when we practice warrior poses. We payto have someone guide us through difficult poses which demand grounding, strength, flexibility, balance, and alignment.

We need warrior pose practice more than ever now. And we need that practice off the mat as well. We cannot have too much practice. We need to ground. Using inner body awareness, we need to find alignment, strength, balance and flexibility to get through the day, not just to get through a yoga class.

When life is seen as one very long warrior pose, suffering, formerly hated, feared, and shunned, becomes, like a warrior pose, a tool for transformation. One can then choose to align with suffering exactly as one would align with a warrior pose. In this context, suffering becomes an invigorating challenge. How exciting really! One can now look forward to the next bout of suffering with the same enthusiasm as one might anticipate an advanced yoga workshop…and that workshop is available any time there is hardship.

It’s just more yoga…and it’s available any time there is challenge arising.

It is not the suffering itself that brings what Pema describes as that hollow, jumpy icky feeling, it is our relationship with it. Viewed in this context, alignment with suffering is freedom itself. It is yoga, the calming of the fluctuations of the mind, the mood. When we review our former relationship with suffering, we find we have made choices to sidestep it which have brought us disastrously worse pain than the discomfort we sought to avoid. We can be at peace with reality  rather than at war with it. This is yoga, the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.  We can ground and align with whatever is challenging, and we can be tranquil.

If we do not bring enough willingness to a pose to fully align with it, correctly ground in it, “get our minds around it,” then we will more than likely wind up with an injury. Isn’t that how we injure ourselves in yoga, placing our bodies in a shape without cultivating the inner body awareness needed to allow each muscle group, each joint, each breath to integrate in order to make the pose not only possible, not only non -injurious, but finally, easeful? Beautiful? Jubilant?

This is how we destroy the possibility of ease in our lives, by being unwilling to fully be with a given moment because it is inconvenient, painful, unattractive, or just not what was planned for…

Slowing down, coming in for a landing, seeing what is there, and joining with it is not that difficult, especially for yogis, but it does take time, breath, and presence. And it is, as Pema is so brilliant at pointing out … counter-intuitive. We run from the “sharp points.”

But there is help! A practice! Yogis invented warrior poses! They are “sharp points” and we strive to master them with poise. We can achieve equanimity in the most ridiculous seeming positions. That’s the point! Yogis are good at that. We voluntarily choose to be in positions of difficulty, and we hold still there, we ground, align, breathe and notice.

What if life itself were one big warrior pose? It’s yoga off the mat. It’s a long yoga workshop without having to commute, park, or pay for class. We can meet difficulty by just noticing whatever we would do in a difficult warrior pose and then do that in life: ground, carefully align the body, focus the mind, breathe….breathe….awarely.

We witness our personal discomfort in the pose and notice what the tendency of the mind is when we’re under pressure. We join with the pressure. Indeed, we welcome it. WE ASK FOR IT WHEN GO TO A YOGA CLASS. Now a situation has arisen outside of yoga (if there is such a thing), and we are moping. We are personally uncomfy and we’re moping. (What’s so important about personal comfort? That’s another article I think.) We don’t seek comfort in a yoga class; we want to be challenged. But the minute we’re in the car again, we get upset if something is challenging…it’s funny really.

And eventually, even the most difficult pose comes to an end,… and we can go home and have a muffin.

Eve Eliot

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