Someone recently contacted me in reponse to my latest newsletter, requesting to be removed from future communications because they "objected to my fear-mongering". Surprised and a little bruised, I reread the email several times, but struggled to see the fear mongering, even doing my best to open the aperature of perception. Being a teacher and therapist can among other things, be a dance between being of service and creating a space for a person to exist as they are, with their potential to grow and heal, while also maintaining one's own authenticity. The space between is inhabited by the sameness of being human.
Incidentally, I also recieved several emails thanking me for the book recommendations, for the links, for my wisdom and honesty. All were sent the same email, but the interpretations were completely different.
vastu-sāmye citta-bhedāt tayor vibhaktaḥ panthāḥ
Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras IV.15
or, in Buddhist terms:
With our minds, we create the world,
but before we create the world with our minds,
the world creates our mind.
I'll admit, I am not a naturally a 'glass is half-full' person. While I have made some effort over the past several decades to invite the possibility for the glass being half full, the bigger challenge, and my primary practice today, is seeing things as they actually are.
However we look at life, with the glass half-full, or half-empty, suffering exists. It is the first of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and a primary shared human experience from the moment we are born, if not before. So if all of us, regardless of race, colour, creed, gender, wealth, have this one, fundamental thing in common, how did we become so disconnected?
Amoung the thousands of possible reasons, one stands out in my mind. Society and modern culture condition us not to feel. In most instances, doctors tell parents not to pick up a crying child at night, so the child is left alone with their tears until they disassociate and forget what their basic infantile needs are (to feel safe, to be held). Most of us take and share images of the smiles, the good times, and withhold the more challenging situations - who wants to hear about those? Then there are a million slogans to help us 'Keep Calm and Carry On', to 'turn the other cheek', 'hold our tongue', etc. Alongside mainstream news of a planet in crisis, there is an advert inviting us to book a cruise. "It must not be much of a crisis", one might think, "if I can still book a cruise." (Each day a cruise ship's fuel usage is equivalent to a million cars' output on the road).
It's no surprise, many of us are in a state of confusion about what is really going on today in the world, and in ourselves. So, is the end to suffering in re-learning to feel?
My sense is that being aware of our emotions is the first step in being able to communicate authentically, which aides in re-building connections (the ultimate suffering is the belief we are all alone in the world). The more vulnerable we can be with one another when we suffer, for whatever reason, the more possibility there is for honesty, connection and growth. This may not be the stories of Enlightenment the ancient texts describe, but the point is to to experience the present moment, which happens more easily when we are not in a cycle of suppressing emotions of reinforcing old beliefs. The four Noble Truths and the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali also include a way out of suffering which involves learning to be aware and present, compassionate yet detatched from beliefs and projections (total awareness and total presence being the goal). I have a deep respect for these ancient practices; reading and studying these instructive texts is a pillar of practice. Sometimes though, the teaching found in these books can be inaccessible. Perhaps a starting point is in learning to be more in touch with our emotions, and more in touch with one another. When these 'protective' emotions surface (anger, fear, a judgement about someone/oneself), they are there for a good reason, but something is always underneath. In my personal practice, if I sit long enough with curiosity and by asking questions (Byron Katie's 4 questions are a great starting place), with a lens of compassion and honesty, deeper, more painful emotions begin to emerge, and by emerging, they eventually clear. Emotions can be like the weather, in that way. And of course, having a guide, a witness in this process the changing tides can be a powerful tool for transforming thoughts, and beliefs.
It is easy to look away from distressing facts. We all want to be in perfect health. Most of us would rather not age. If you're a parent, it's lovely to think that the future of our children and our children's children will be better than our own. But it's also (in my humble opinion) dangerous to count on any of the above being the case. I don't think it is a stretch to say we are living through challenging times.
There is an age-old saying, that 'ignorance is bliss'. There is no doubt that there is some truth to that statement. Being happy and unaware until your dying breath may save you from years of worry, anxiety and mental anguish...but being aware of a problem up front, on the other hand, may change the course of how you choose to live, and in turn, change the world for others.
Practices that are intended to help our wellbeing seek balance and adaptability, not an ultimate stance of right or wrong, of unbending rigidity. Being able to see various sides, not being too attached to one or the other is important in both discernment, and detachment.
As Lisa Masters writes:
"...if you are going to build an earthquake-resistant structure you need to build a flexible foundation. There are a whole lot of tremors out there these days. To be rigid in the practice would never allow for the flexibility necessary to survive, never mind evolve. If the foundation has to support all the other parts it must remain a continuous effort. The space in which we practice needn't always be a safe space, but more often a brave space."