We are all trying to figure out how to suffer less

Austin TX yellow mushroom

I was talking to a friend of mine after dinner the other day and as the table cleared of plates and people, our conversation turned to the spiritual question of how each of us can have less suffering. He’s spent a lot of his years seeking answers to this question and, of course, I’m very interested in this topic myself. He shared some of his past experiences and where he’s at now. He asked about yoga therapy, wondering how I work with the people I see and how it works in my life.

This is a big topic. There’s so much that the yogic perspective has brought to my life and I still haven’t come up with a good 2-minute elevator speech. So I started talking and came around to this observation that since practicing, my senses are so much more attune. Experiences have a crispness to them, a clarity. I feel like I can see more. There was one particularly remarkable day when I walked to my car after teaching a class.  With every few steps, I noticed these little butterflies, one after another, fluttering around me. I might not have noticed them on another day, but on this day I could feel them. It was really beautiful. Before I even waxed poetic on that butterfly story, my friend dismissed this line of conversation saying that he wasn’t interested in seeing colors more vividly or heightening his senses. That’s not what he’s looking for. He wants to suffer less. So our conversation continued in another vein, which, really, was just as interesting.

But after our conversation, I was a little uneasy.  I wondered, am I missing the point here? Are these enjoyable perks of my yoga practice, the experience of seeing things more vividly or hearing sounds more clearly, a distraction or are they part of spiritual liberation? Of suffering less?

Through yoga, studying with my teacher and ongoing practice, I’m starting to see that my time on the planet has a purpose. There’s work that I’m here to do and there’s a plan for my life, even if I’m not seeing that plan in its fullness just yet. In order to tune in to that plan, I need to connect to the often-quiet communication that comes from within me, I need to be attuned. I need to be able to listen, not only with my ears, but with all my senses. To listen not just what comes to me from the world around me but also from the world within.

The self (body, mind, personality, emotions, senses, and all the other good stuff that goes along with it) is a tool that we’ve been given to help us know spiritual life and to follow our path. Feeling stuff–suffering, joy, all of it, is a way we come to know which way to go and what to listen to.  Refining our system is part of the work, and it doesn’t just happen at a spiritual level.  We refine our tool (mind, body, personality, emotions, senses…) and as we go through this process of removing what’s in the way, we make better decisions.  We understand situations more clearly so we know how to respond appropriately. All of that means we suffer less. We can work with old patterns that no longer serve us.  We can give expression to something that’s been locked up inside and needs to move through.  The self gives our Self something to work through.

As we make efforts and let some stuff go, we’ll get better at discerning the appropriate action to take. When less stuff is in the way, when our discernment improves, our senses just might seem more vivid. What we hear, see, and understand might be more clear. It seems like a nice circular feedback loop. We take cues from what we perceive and what we perceive changes as we improve our clarity.  So what’s the bottom line? This process helps us to suffer less and enjoy the butterflies that fly by a little more.

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2 thoughts on “We are all trying to figure out how to suffer less

  1. If you had talked to me about seeing more clearly, I would not have dismissed you at all. I feel like I’ve always been able to notice certain things, usually things going on in nature, more than other people, and as I get older, and especially as my children led me back into appreciating nature even more, I feel it’s something that gives me joy almost more than anything else. (Except maybe my children!) Just the other day I was outside talking on the phone, and I noticed two butterflies way across the street flitting around each other in a kind of dance. How many people would have noticed that? I think seeing these things just makes it a little clearer to me what is really important in life. It makes all the things humans are fussing about seem rather dull. There is much beauty in this world, and it’s worth turning your attention to. And that definitely lessens suffering for me.

  2. Reading this post makes me curious: why do you think the tool we have to discover follow our spiritual path, the self, as you argue here, is so flawed? At least for me, to find and follow a real spiritual path takes a LOT of work and time – sifting through all the stuff that gets in the way – with constant attention and discipline. Why was our tool created to be so messy? Particularly for those who aren’t willing to do the work, will they never find a spiritual path?

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