Duhkha: Mental and Emotional Suffering

We started the second chapter of the Sutras this week, and I gave a brief talk on the concept of Duhkha which is usually translated as “suffering.” However, I prefer to think of it as “things did not turn out the way I expected or the way I think they should be.” Patanjali lists five causes of suffering and the first is considered the root of the others–ignorance and lack of awareness. The other four are self-centeredness, attachment to pleasure, attachment to past suffering, and clinging to life out of fear of death.

Of course it never fails that when I plan to talk or teach about something as profound as suffering, I get a chance to learn about it all again the hard way–through experience. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say over the last month or so a number of things did not turn out the way I expected. My mind churned with anger, bitterness and disappointment. It took awhile for me to stop, reflect and recognize what was going on. When I did, I once again found that this yogic approach cut through the clutter of my thoughts to my calm center. From that center I was better able to assess the situation and decide what to do. It’s still tempting to rehash all the details and wallow in the drama, but I keep bringing my focus back to the present and working toward my goals.

I see a lot of posts on social media with advice for living a better life. Some are inspiring, some make me raise my eyebrows a bit, and on more than a few I simply have to call bullsh*t. Mostly, though, they seem a little too simplistic. The sutras acknowledge our mental complexity and the challenge of developing mental and emotional skillfulness. Patanjali recommends the following: self-study, diligent practice and humility with faith (from Nicolai Bachman’s translation). I would add good company to the list.

In our weekly practice we are working from the outside in–starting with awareness of our bodies, moving to the breath and finally to our thoughts and emotions. Through the flow of vinyasa and steady postures, we are developing our physical and mental core, moving in and out of balance, finding our center. Most days the practice itself is enough, but then one day it overflows and the practice becomes a helpful skill. One person is able to quiet her mind and fall asleep. Another person discovers that she is a little stronger. Another is able to release tension through her breath–not during practice, but at home where she needed it the most.

%d bloggers like this: