Saturday, July 23, 2011
To Decrease Suffering / To Be Fully Present
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Serene Mind / Jakushin, 2011
To decrease suffering and develop the capacity to be fully present in our lives
The practice of yoga, in Yoko Yoshikawa, “Everybody Upside Down,”
Yoga Journal [www.yogajournal.com/practice/214, p. 6 of online article]
(A) THE PRACTICE OF YOGA aspires to decrease suffering.
When we are frustrated and bored and stiff and tired, we suffer. Day in and day out, the practice of yoga does not aspire to end suffering, but rather to decrease suffering. However, when body-mind practices become primarily spiritual practices, there may be an authentic goal of transcending suffering, and such is thought to be the ultimate outcome of yoga in, for example, the “eighth limb of yoga” [Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras]—samadhi. Unfortunately, the transcendence of suffering may become non-spiritual when it becomes a personal compulsion toward exclusiveness or “special-ness” rather than inclusion, or when enlightenment becomes the goal that blinds one from being fully present, or when “cosmic union” and “oneness” abandon life-as-it is, or when practices become extreme and isolating.
First, the practice of yoga addresses the simple, overlooked suffering of inflexibility and lack of strength. Then, increased flexibility of joints and tissues and functional strength allow for more energy and activity that not only decreases personal suffering but also outspread to others in a variety of ways. This social impact may either indirectly or directly decrease suffering of both oneself and others through pleasant de-stressed interaction, as well as through increased creative expressiveness and compassionate intervention and advocacy in behalf of others to optimize empowerment in others.
The pursuit of uber-flexibility and strength [that can appear to be the epitome of yoga] can be wondrous aspects, but they may increase suffering, being associated with increased anxiety and competitiveness, and move away from the comprehensive process of yoga.
(B) Interwoven with decreased suffering, THE PRACTICE OF YOGA aspires to develop the capacity to be fully present in our lives.
Authentic body-mind practices become landscapes that are intentionally designed to reduce distractions to optimize the opportunity to be fully present in the moments of practice. Returns to such practices aspire to affect body-memory enough to gradually extend this capacity into everyday life. After several returns, and even without much intention, basic physiological reactivity to stress or to the fast pace of everyday life is likely to be reduced or “softened.” Further, rather than just be less reactive, the capacity to intentionally self-generate a more relaxed response may be increased [coming perhaps from the autogenic—self-generating—training that is often inherent in body-mind practices. With increased practice, the ability to access relaxation and its associated reduced reactivity/calmness may be generated more quickly—a sort of short-circuiting or bypassing of obstacles to such a response.
OVERALL, the aspirations of yoga practice apply to most body-mind practices, especially to those that emphasize calmness and quietness such as qigong and t’ai chi and martial arts such as aikido, and also to some more energetic, disciplined practices such as kendo/kumdo. For example, while armored with bogu/hogu and striking another participant [defined as more of a “player” than as an “opponent”],
One should learn Kendo properly and diligently; mold the mind and body, cultivate a vigorous spirit through correct and rigorous training; strive for improvement in the art of Kendo; hold others in esteem and behave with courtesy, honor, and sincerity; and forever pursue the cultivation of oneself. Thus one will be able to love one’s country and society, contribute to one’s culture, and promote peace and prosperity among all people.
“Aims of Kendo Practice,” All Japan Kendo Federation
In Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step, this simple book title phrase-sentence captures a way to combine the two aspirations of yoga practice into one process: to sense non-suffering in each moment. In every step, in every breath and in each new day, there is an opportunity to be fully present and to experience peace rather than suffering. In Being Peace [Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1987], Thich Nhat Hanh suggests,
A human being is like a TV set with a million channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn on sorrow, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.
When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves.