It is a familiar refrain you hear early on in spiritual life: it’s the human condition to experience suffering. There’s no getting around this. The question I now ponder is, can we change our experience of suffering such that we do not suffer as acutely or even as often?
I recall a darshan in which Swami Jaya Devi once instructed someone to seek a life that was “simple and organized”. That really struck a nerve with me because it is one of my guiding principles as I “do” my life. I ask myself about how I can actively cultivate simplicity with my day-to-day decisions.
Recently, I spent a weekend in which I witnessed unprecedented levels of chaos and drama in someone profoundly close to me who I don’t see all that often. The amount of turmoil in the span of four days was the equivalent of what I might encounter, say, in a year! It seemed as if an entire year’s worth of normal stress-inducing, pain-in-the-neck experiences for me were compressed into just four days for this person. And I learned that the near-constant encounter of high-level toxic stress, negativity, drama, and chaos is typical for that person. Talk about pushing my compassion button!
My curiosity got me asking, “What accounts for our radically different experiences of life, and most especially, the suffering we encounter in life? Do we have the ability to change our relationship to our suffering?”
Swami Jaya Devi often teaches that the strength we cultivate as yogis is designed precisely to make us sturdy in the face of what life throws at us: being “in the eye of the storm”, she’ll say.
I have been thinking about the practices of being a yogi like the courses offered at a most grand and sumptuous banquet. One can feast on these abundant courses and become filled with such a lavish and gracious kind of nourishment that fosters a kind of inner resilience, poise, and grace for when you meet adversity and challenges. You encounter the stress of the world with a greater ability to maintain equilibrium.
Just what are these courses we consume as yogis? For me, the “menu” includes:
- The Breath
- Yoga Asana
- Service to Others
I am not posting this list to suggest that I am better than anyone who experiences truckloads of chaos or that I am great at all of these all of the time — far from it! I, too, continue to get swept up by hurricanes from time to time. I, too, could avail myself more fully in this feast of spiritual practices.
That said, I do actively try and feed myself from these practices that are designed to keep me strong and resilient when I experience chaos, as well as discerning, aware, and wise. With this more finely attuned awareness, I notice that I have a better chance of making choices that lead to orderly and calm outcomes. It’s almost as if in using these practices, I head-off the chaos before it even happens!
What are you feeding yourself? What is your nourishment? My Guru Ma taught over and over again that there were two ways of living: you either consume life or you are consumed by it.
What I am coming to understand is that filling up at the spiritual banquet assists us in consuming the chaos of life rather than having it swallow us whole. Surely, our engagement with and commitment to the spiritual banquet helps us encounter the inevitable human experience of suffering with an incredible strength.
When I look at my own relationship to suffering and especially the suffering I bring on through chaos, I can say from personal experience that my own engagement and commitment to the spiritual banquet has brought a different quality to my experience of life and suffering than 16 years ago when I was just beginning to explore the life of a yogi at Kashi Atlanta.
For these spiritual gifts, for my devotion to living a more gentle life, I am so very grateful. In this season in which we reflect on abundance and all the goodness we have in our lives, I invite you to pull up a chair to the spiritual table and feast on the bounty.