If you are reading along, we are up to the second four sections of part two in our book Living Your Yoga: Finding your Spiritual in Everyday Life. Here author Judith Lasater addresses issues of Attachment, Suffering, Impermanence and Empathy.
Attachment is the process which occurs in the body-mind when you do not get your preference; aversion is a form of attachment. Both create bodily and emotional reactions. Aversion may create frustration, anger, and blame of self or others. I find that fear is often at the root of my reactions when I am in a state of aversion. Clinging to a preference, whether it is from attachment or aversion, creates suffering. It is also the precise moment when you can grow by choosing to recognize attachemtn or aversion for what it is.
How do I know when to persist and when to let go? When to notice a preference or aversion, honor it and when to simply go along? Any creative work involves a degree of attachment, sometimes veering on obsession. Shouldn’t that creative preference induced suffering be endured? I’m confused. When I ask “How should it be?” as Laster suggests, my internal answer is “better.” Do hope and aspiration lead to suffering? Should I not be attached to my preference for ease, clarity, beauty, calmness etc.?
I suppose this dilemma leads to questions about the nature of suffering, the next topic. Laster explains,
…we suffer because of the process of identifying with pain. If we have an internal dialogue that reinforces the belief that we are suffering, that we have no choice, that the whole world is doing it to us, then we will remain stuck in our suffering. The paradox about suffering is the no one can make us suffer. We can choose to feel left out, incompetent, or inferior. Others may act in unkind ways. But there is no way that we will feel left out, incompetent, or inferior unless we participate in the process. Although we may have feeling about what is happening to us, whether we suffer is up to us. It is a matter of choice.
The idea that suffering is a choice is an idea I’m working hard to hold. It requires a level of personal responsibility regardless of worldly demands, while at the same time promises a level of freedom from worldly demands. I can choose to bask in my suffering, big and small or refuse to identify with it. Again like addressing attachment, this is difficult. How can I honor what I am feeling without becoming imprisoned by my feelings? Surely if something irritates me, or hurts me, I should notice………. yet not let it become a part of me. My suffering may shape my experience but does not define me.
Identification seems to be a key switch between self-awareness and self-absorption. The next topic Lasater invites us to consider is impermanence. To illustrate the permanence of change she quotes Thich Naht Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk, who summarizes the five remembrances:
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.
As a philosopher (defined as one who practices the art of dying) this realization comes easy to me. Everything changes. It is both sad and wonderful. Everything is old and new, always. Including my kids. How limiting it would be to confine them to my memories and expectations. I try my best to see them as they are right now and not as I saw them when I first looked down on their little faces. That is my cherished memory, not theirs. Similarly, I enjoy whatever thing I have but I also know that these things do not define me. More things, big as property or small as books, will not solidify my existence into permanence.
If I consider all that I have in light of what those things help me do then the value of my laptop, my phone, my pencil, my coffee mug and my soft fuzzy boots emerge. I belong to my actions. I read-write, eat-cook and hopefully care for people in the process. Most of my life I have felt homeless, this realization gives me much comfort.
Completing this section about how we relate to others, Lasater talks about, empathy.
To cultivate empathy means to see the world through the eyes of another without judgment, without trying to “fix” it, without needing it to be different. It is acceptance independent of agreement, understanding without any implied coercion for oneself or the other to change. There is also no sense of wanting to “educate” the other person about how their perspective is wrong and ours is right.
As a recovering academic, the idea of not trying to “educate” is so counter-intuitive. It is difficult sometimes to just listen and support each his/her own journey. When should I “help”? Only if and when asked? The problem with empathy is that it makes me want to ease the suffering, makes me want to “fix” it. But, I suppose I’m only supposed to see from a different perspective without making it my own. So many unresolved feelings.
I have much work to do in addressing my attachments, suffering, impermanence and empathy.
How was this section for you? Do you find it as messy as I do?
Lasater, Judith Hanson. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life (Kindle Locations 1527-1530). Shambhala.