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On suffering

Why are we here, what is our purpose and what is our role with regards to the rest of the universe? Many philosophers have developed theories about the human condition, creating various forms of political movements, religions or social groupings, and every generation has dealt with these issues on a collective and personal basis. A search for an identity, a desperate need to be recognised, a need for coherence. It always seems that the answer is out there, that someone understands it better than we do, that we may be missing something and that we need to follow the trend at hand. But what if....

The premise in yoga (found in early yoga texts such as the Yoga Sutra, the Samkhya Karika, the Bhagavad Gita) is that the origin of all human existence is suffering. This understanding of suffering has led to a lot of confusion. Even though the idea prevailed overtime, the solution on how to liberate from this suffering has been lost and replaced by the idea of how to escape it, creating an increased sense of alienation, isolation and chaos in the world and us.

The moment we identify with our ego, the suffering begins. It brings on a basic human suffering and none of us are spared. This becomes the essence of our human condition. This suffering brings on great sadness that we try to escape. The sadness is simply the realization that we have “isolated” ourselves from the whole, that we have lost an important element of our “Self” to the “me”. We don’t always recognize this process. There is just this deep rooted sadness that we feel and we don’t really understand it. And because we don’t understand it, we spend our lives running away from it, minimizing it, trying to escape the doom it may bring.

When we can recognize this suffering, we can start observing many interesting phenomenon. For instance, we are given a name and brought up with an idea of what we need to become. We identify with what is expected of us. We project ourselves on what we think we would like to be, an image of what we believe would bring happiness. We are taught to think, analyze, explain all that is around us. We move away from our “self” starting the numbing process and this endless search for “happiness” begins. It’s in the small things; foods or possessions that make us feel better and fill the void we have created. Ultimately we build a world around our desires, which lead to the development of anger, and these two alone suffice to keep us bound to the numbing process. In this way we create the greatest injustice to ourselves and the world around us.

We spend little time thinking, analyzing and explaining our inner workings. Just by taking a little time to observe, simply observing our behavior we learn a lot. That may be the first step to some kind of liberation. What we fail to recognize is that this suffering is the strength we need to find liberation. Only when we suffer do we truly feel the intensity of our life. We ache so deeply that our existence takes on meaning. Without this suffering we could not acknowledge the rawness of our being. This suffering is the essence of our life, it is the link to all, our ability to feel compassion. Without compassion we take away our capacity to love and care. We should not be running from it, we should be running towards it. Inwardly gazing is fundamental. So maybe we start simply by observing. Observing how we react, observing what drives our actions. We observe without judgment. And we accept to face “the demons” that we seem to be running from.

So that is exactly what yoga does. It gives us a time for internal gazing, a time as Robert Boustany calls it of “temporary relief” from the physical and emotional pains and aches, a time so we can quiet the mind and recognize what is. But this moment does not suffice in itself. Yoga is a way of life. As we need to sleep to be healthy, brush our teeth or eat every day, we also need to allow for a moment for internal gazing. Each of these moments gives us more strength, conviction and confidence, creating greater wellness and equanimity.

On a personal note, to me yoga has always been Charles Baudelaire’s poem: L’Invitation au Voyage: ou “tout y parlerait à l’âme en secret sa douce langue natale”. An invitation to a voyage, an exploration that deepens our senses / awareness / consciousness, and brings us closer to our inner stillness, our peace. “Là tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, Luxe, calme, et volupté”.

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