I was sharing with my beloved students the other day in a yoga class at SHIFT YOGA, in Fulton Maryland, that I noticed I have been experiencing suffering in my mind more than I normally do.
A lover of this uncomfortable path of self-realization, I have been leaning into this. Inquiring within as best I can to see if I might be able to uncover the root cause of my suffering. After all, this is what all the great spiritual traditions teach us. That there is a cause to suffering and (luckily) there is an end to suffering too.
As I witness myself I started seeing a familiar pattern emerge. Every time I observed myself suffering, it was centered around 1 of the following 3 themes that run rampant in my life currently
My daughter Addison
My beloved business
My aging body
Every time I was experiencing suffering in my mind, I watched myself lamenting about one of the above. Suffering over my constant struggle to find strategies that work to rebuild my business, or I am lamenting over and over about how I feel like my body abandoned me after I hit 40, or I circle the drain about how impossibly hard it is to navigate a middle school daughter whose hormonal changes have stolen some of the sparkles in her eyes.
I didn't come to the realization that I was suffering right away, at first I was drowning in the sorrow of it all, buried under my own burdens, compounded by the crushing weight of our world right now. I couldn't see clearly. So I did my best to tend to the frayed ends of my nervous system's ropes, I rested, breathed, and let my emotions flow out onto the pages of my journal. I let myself drown, anchored in a sense of resolve because I have learned all too well, that the only way out - is through. I wrote for weeks in an unrecognizable scribble in the pages of my journal, until some clarity started to emerge.
As the 3 themes of parenting, business and aging began to cycle on repeat in my mind, I was able to get my bearings..."OK, I am circling the drain here..." "Why is my body, my business, and my daughter causing me so much sorrow?"
Then I heard it, my own inner wisdom, tucked away under the pulls of my modern life. She whispered softly at first like she always des. As if she is giving me just the bread comes of realization, to remind me to keep getting quiet and keep getting uncomfortable.
Well I swam in a sea of that discomfort for what felt like months, unable to break the pattern, and then I saw it, the root of my sorrow was coming from the fact that everything changes.
"WTF, but I already knew that, big time." I know that it's all impermanent, it is the foundation of spiritual life. It is something I know deeply and teach about weekly. I was prematurely excited. This wasn't it.
I could have stopped there, content that I was just struggling with change, my daughter is changing - right before my very eyes, the little girl who looked up to me as the center of her whole world, now stares eye to eye with me, her budding breast knocking into my own as she sees me now as nuisance in her way. I could have stopped there, content that I was just struggling about all the changes in my body...seriously - why don't women warn each other that you start to lose eyebrows after 40 or your knee start to click when you walk downstairs."
Yes, I very well could have stopped there, content that I was just struggling with the fact that the way you run a yoga studio has completely changed, and all that used to work no longer applies, but I kept digging a layer deeper.
I dug because I had to. I had scratched the surface but hadn't broken through yet. I had met my sorrow with compassion and gained some insights, but hadn't yet hit pay dirt. In all my years of study of Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology, I have learned a hard but liberating pill to swallow that has been passed down for thousands of years. Often the reason we suffer is self-induced (you mean it's me?) Yup...life changes, that is the way life goes. Cycles and seasons of business evolve and industries change. Children mature, you age...duh. This is why I was suffering.
Oh no...there it was, I bet you can even see it now too. The root of my sorrow... as plain as the nose on my face. Caused entirely by me, myself, and I.
I wasn't suffering because everything was changing. I was suffering because I was attached to the way things used to be.
BINGO! Oh no - I needed to let go. Not of my aging body, but of my obsession over the body of my 30s. She is long gone. I needed to let go of my obsession over how much easier it was to run a business pre-pandemic, "normal" has gone up in flames.
This saga of sorrow, has turned into a story of attachment. I had to realize that I was attached to the former iterations of my child, my business, and my own body in order to move through the suffering.
As any good story of mine goes - it never stays doom and gloom. From all this uncomfortable work comes the message to guide your heart through sorrow and the best news of all.
If we are the reason we are suffering. Then we are also the source of our liberation. That's right my loves, we got ourselves into this mess... We CAN get ourselves out."
"How?" you ask - cause I knew you would.
One of the fundamental core teachings of spiritual life is the message of detachment. It's present in Mindfulness teaching and the 4 Nobel Truths and it is present in the ancient wisdom of our Yoga Practice.
Vairāgya (वैराग्य) is Sanskrit for detachment and it swooped in to save the day and my soul from drowning any deeper down the drain of my own despair.
I am the root of this suffering, I am attached to the way it used to be before the pandemic destroyed my nervous system and the business I was building. But I can make it out, I need to detach from that prior iteration. I need to re-root myself in today, this body, this moment, this hurdle, this roadblock, this "new normal" (even though I hate that phrase), and release the hold that the past has on me.
As one of my most beloved students lovingly joked after sharing this story in one of my yin yoga classes - "your body won't come back, but your daughter will."
So, I meet myself each day, I greet all that I am holding, all that I am feeling and I walk forward on my path and when I catch myself circling the drain and feel sorrow and frustration arise, my spidey senses reminds me..."ah ah ah you must be attached to something here."
Each new day and each new breath, I release the grip the past has over me and walk confidently forward, even though I am unsteady at times because I am in control of my own liberation. I can set myself free from this suffering. My yoga practice, as always leads the way home.
Jessie Kates is a Mindfulness and Meditation teacher, Yoga Therapist, and the owner of SHIFT YOGA Studio in Fulton, MD
SHIFT YOGA focuses on self-care for body, mind, and soul, sharing the teachings, philosophy, and roots of yoga with reverence and care to help shift the narrative around what yoga is and who yoga is for.
SHIFT YOGA offers in-studio and virtual yoga and meditation classes and a yearly 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program