Monday, June 15, 2009

Freedom from Pain and Sorrow

“In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important authority on Yoga philosophy, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of Yoga as a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow. It is said:
‘When the mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a (wo)man becomes a Yukta—one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls h(er)is mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of Spirit within finds fulfillment. Then (s)he knows the joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which reason cannot grasp. (S)He abides in this reality and moves not therefrom. (S)He has found the treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this. (S)He who has achieved it, shall not be moved by the greatest sorrow. This is the real meaning of Yoga—a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.’”
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, fourth paragraph of the Introduction.
**Gender inclusiveness added by me.

A few years ago I had a free session with a well regarded “healer guy” in town (I’m not sure what else to call him—a multi-modality psychic healer aroma therapeutic massage therapist new church energy healing minister approaches description.). So I went. The first time I went he had me waiting so long, I ended up in tears—I can’t really imagine why right now, but that’s what happened. He had just been chatting in the other room with his wife, and didn’t realize I was there, and the receptionist seemed to think that he knew and was coming soon. So I was in the waiting room listening to muffled laughter while stressing mildly(?) about making my next class on time. So maybe I SHOULD have been more suspicious. But he said that he was disappointed and sorry that he had stressed me out and offered me a second free session. And I went.

He had asked me if I wanted to be free of pain and suffering. And I said that I didn’t know because I was experimenting at that time with the notion that processing pain might be part of my purpose in this life. And if agreeing with his request were to take me away from my purpose, I wanted nothing to do with it. At that point I WAS suspicious that he might be practicing healing hokum. And I didn’t stick around for any more sessions.

Also there IS substantial legitimate scriptural evidence that someone can have a “deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow” as stated above. So what I think now is that while the physiology of pain in the body might not change, and situations that have the potential to cause pain might not change, what can change is our perception of how these events affect us.

In the past I interpreted this kind of offering (to be free from pain) as an invitation to escape. And it still could be. Like if you go to an MD for pain and come out with pain-killing drugs, which might be helpful, but doesn’t affect the underlying problem. You still have a problem—it just doesn’t hurt anymore…

So the question becomes: Can freedom from pain and sorrow look different from “numbing-out”?

I think a yoga student of mine is teaching me about this. This person has a degenerative disease, and while they have been doing very well there is evidence of the illness. It is a reality.

One day there was some talk—I was advising that perhaps it might be time to modify behavior to ensure physical safety in the wake of physical challenges caused by the disease. And the response was that this beautiful person didn’t want to give up their self to a disease. It made me think about how even the smallest gesture and utterance that a person makes is a cherished expression of who they are. In a situation like this there can be a fear of loosing one’s self and becoming the disease.

What is the option here? And isn’t this putting a story line to something we all face: loosing our selves to disease, injury or death?

The option I am able to see at this moment is the choice to live every moment to the fullest, to really wake up to the moments of one’s life, and not to settle for things you don’t really want. Most importantly, I want to use what resources I have: the amount of health, physical ability, and everything I can to express my love and gratefulness to be alive in this world. And even if I only had the use of one finger, I hope that I could let that finger move in expression of my unique being without hesitation or shame.


Anonymous said...

I am convinced that it is through suffering that we transition from being, basically, animals to true, full humans.

Now, that does NOT mean we SEEK suffering. No. That is masochistic.

BUT as Thomas Merton would say (and I am Big time paraphrasing here), suffering sucks, but it's how you deal with suffering that makes it into life altering good.

The Phoenix rises from ashes -- AFTER being burned to ash. No rising without the pain of the burning.

"Being free from pain and suffering..." I wonder then if the person is not pushing their edges, not taking risks, not really, really LIVING.

All this is to say that that guy was full of fairy dust! :) (To put it nicely.)

Victoria said...

I have no idea why this much-used advice popped into my head, but I was once again thinking as I finished reading your blog-- "Be here now" Though redundant, it's a great thought to always remember.

sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

Anonymous said...

I've heard it said that even in enlightenment, there's no such thing as transcending pain. Its just that one no longer identifies with pain, and the experience is not the same.

There are many examples of great yogis, such as Ramakrishna who died of an illness like cancer (or is that simply how it looked to the observer?). And I've heard stories about how, sure, they were still in pain. They just weren't debilitated by it.

To transcend pain is to not be fully present in this world. At least that's the teaching I've been given. Instead, I've been told we should contemplate our relationship to pain and our suffering as a result... why are we in pain? Is the pain as bad as we think? Is pain really just another experience in life, but one which we make 'bad' and therefore magnify?

One of the many times I had a broken bone (my right wrist and thumb in this instance), I was told the position my wrist was in had to change before it could be set properly. I had two options: be heavily sedated for this painful experience and stay in hospital overnight; or, make do with lesser pain-killers and go home afterwards.

Having spent way too long in the emergency room already, I wanted to go home that night. So I took the pain killers on offer, and, knowing I would be able to control the pain better if I was in charge of moving my own wrist, I looked at what they wanted me to do.

Then I relaxed into my breathing, instead of cramping up. And sure, it hurt like crazy, but not as much as I'd thought it might. And I was able to shift my wrist into the right place, and go home to my own bed...

Linda-Sama said...

it has been said that the most pain avoiding person is the least joyful.