Last Sunday as the sunset over the Hudson River, a small group of us gathered at Yoga Shivaya Yoga Studio in Tarrytown, to meditate and explore the rich topic of suffering. It was my evening to lead the meditation, and I thought it would be interesting to go back to the core insight of the Buddha—that life inevitably contains suffering or unease or dissatisfaction. “Can this be true?” I asked. I shared an experience of intense embarrassment I had recently—that feeling of flushing with heat, of being caught (between two stools, as Gurdjieff put it). I described the feeling of things going terribly wrong—just not according to plan. “When you get right down to it, nothing really unfolds exactly the way you plan.” The others shared their own fresh examples of life not going to plan. “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched,” said one man, quoting Mike Tyson. Life can throw a hook. It was marvelous taking a single word—“suffering” —and really questioning it, drawing on the material of our own lives. Here is Walt Whitman, in “Leaves of Grass”:
“Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the
spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.
Here is realization,
Here is a man tallied—he realizes here what he has in him,
The past, the future, majesty, love—if they are vacant of you, you
are vacant of them.”
In the course of our exchange, I realized that turning back towards our own experience with curiosity has a way of opening up our experience, enlarging and stimulating heart and mind. Questioning loosens identification. Examining our experience, we become brighter (if not fully enlightened)—we are less likely to just pugnaciously side with ourselves.
And truth has a way of emerging in a group. The conversation about suffering began to reveal the way out of suffering. One man wondered why suffering couldn’t just be transcended—couldn’t philosophy and strategy be applied? A woman said that in her experience there was a kind of understanding that can only be earned by consciously being with suffering—without indulging or repressing it. It has to be earned to be yours. It can’t be found in a book or a thought. I could tell she had lived this. It struck as marvelous—to be in that sunset washed room hearing someone’s own realization. Seeing—in the full sense of receiving and holding—is transforming.
When I was young, I dreamed of going to India on a spiritual quest. I loved the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Now that I’m not quite so young, I realize that life itself is a teacher—if we can learn to turn and see ourselves. Here is Siddhartha, after his long, strange journey.
“No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it… I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to live it and be glad to belong to it. “
What do think? Does suffering contain freedom from suffering? Does sin contain grace? Can every moment be perfect?