There’s a new kind of indigestion happening in the people I see around me. In my office, I sit down to tea with my clients and the settling in process usually includes a purging of anger, sorrow, and powerlessness about the ‘latest news’. Like the overconsumption of a bitter herb, the body is rejecting it in disgust. If this isn’t on the surface of our conversation, it is often in the background.
It’s clear that we are all being asked to digest a lot of pain and suffering in this time. Though this may not be the first time in history, it is our time. There are aspects that are old and familiar such as power grabbing and oppression, and aspects that are brand new like the influence of high speed internet and global warming.
The original Greek meaning of apocalypse is ‘revelation’. The veil has been lifted and what a sight! So much darkness is being revealed. So much fear that we have stored away in our collective bones is rising to the surface, so much greed and woundedness, imbalance and ignorance. And there is the pain of being complicit in the degradation of the planet, the impoverishment of so many people, and of witnessing the egoic thrashings of a threatened patriarchy. It’s a healing crisis!
So how do we navigate? I turn to spiritual teachers to help me with this, teachers who have maintained integrity through wars and famine, persecution and trauma. And I turn to the wisdom of the yoga tradition which includes the Ayurvedic science of life, a life inseparable from its environment. And the first one who speaks to me is the Buddha.
The Buddha’s first noble truth is that there is suffering, ‘Dukkha’. Yep, that’s for sure. Suffering is noble in the sense that it is fuel for our fire of transformation. That is helpful. There is no escape from it. It is not due to some personal fault or mistake that there is suffering in our lives. We can let go of berating ourselves for the occurrence of difficulty and just deal with it. How wonderful to surrender the self-flagellation? How refreshing to realize we don’t have to use the news to reinforce the habit of being disappointed in ourselves. What a relief!
The second noble truth is that we have a reaction to suffering, ‘Dukkha Samudaya’. We have feelings. The initial event, dukkha, the spark, becomes a fire inside us. That this occurs is okay! It’s real. This is called being activated, being responsive and alive. Loss happens; grief arises. People get hurt; we get angry. The freedom to feel is liberating.
As we see, hear, read the news, are we stopping to feel? Are we attending to our bodies as emotions arise? Do we give ourselves space and time to embody what we feel? Or are we getting more and more activated and anxious and disgusted as we consume even more information as a compulsion to find an answer of some kind? To feel ‘well-informed’? To feel alive by being outraged? Too often we end up feeling demoralized and consumed by a world story of fear, greed and defeat. And so it spreads.
The third noble truth is often translated as cessation. The Sanskrit word ‘Nirodha’, which is also a foundational word in the yoga sutras, is usually interpreted as stopping the arising of reactions. This has always seemed pretty impossible to me.
But I have recently been introduced to a new translation of this word. ‘Rodha’ is the Sanskrit word for an earthen embankment or kiln. It is a container that is solid, grounded, and that can hold the fire of our activated feelings. ‘Ni’ means downward. So perhaps Nirodha is a process of holding our fire and guarding it from the winds that fan the flames into a raging and destructive forest fire. And then it becomes possible to channel our fire down into our world in the form of creative action.
These exacerbating winds that fan the flames are often described as the egoic winds of hatred, greed and ignorance. It is the hatred of what is, wishing that this life was different. It is the wind of greed that can be a craving for distraction from what we are called to do. And it can also be the wind of ignorance keeping us stuck in reinforcing only one side of a many faceted reality. Are any of these winds motivating us to watch just one more video of political atrocity? The word ‘Nirvana’, sweet liberation, translates to ‘no winds’, another reference to these egoic winds that can inflate our fire into a destructive force.
Fire is powerful if it is contained and focused. It cooks a meal, it warms our homes, it bakes a clay pot, it fuels a rocket, it becomes a laser for surgery. The raw power of fire is essential for action when it is protected and directed. When we are depleted and despairing we have not tended our sacred flame.
The fourth noble truth is ‘Marga’, the path that opens for us as we tend our flame. This path is personal and requires clear-headed discernment, ethics, vision, intention. This is our creative process. This is when we become the change we want to see in the world, to paraphrase Gandhi.
When we have digested what we see, hear, or read into our bodies we can feel from within the impetus to move and create a world we envision. Our impressions are food. We transform this food into a living reality, but we cannot over-eat. We cannot make ourselves sick. We have to practice the careful discernment that knows when to stop, feel, contemplate, communicate, and tap back into the stream of love that our hearts long for and that is always available.
Another form of response to the rising fire is a downward connection to gravity. Part of the process of evolving is dissolving. Before we integrate we must disintegrate. We let what is old and too small die and trust a deeper source will rebirth us. There is a type of yoga called Laya Yoga that contrasts with Hatha Yoga’s more willful uprising energy. Laya Yoga is the yoga of dissolving. It is the practice of surrendering to gravity, releasing tension and offering the weight of our bones. We get horizontal, as in Yoga Nidra practice. We feel the earth inside of us and our fluids, our juices, replenish. It is the practice of savasana at the end of yoga class when we lay prone, pull in our senses and actively receive the grace that renews us.
In this liminal state we can begin to be with the questions that arise for us at this time. We can begin to inquire deeply and allow rigid, unexamined assumptions and judgements to soften as our hearts tenderize. We participate cellularly with the transformation of humanity that must take place.
We do this for our health, for disease starts at an energetic level. We must find time for our cup to fill and our radiance to restore. We can find it together when we kindle the flame of love and communion. We also do this for the young ones who look to us. The young ones need to see elders who are glad to be alive. Who act with dignity. Who are not demoralized and hopeless. And we cannot fake it. They always know. So be creative and find your way of being aware, and your way of letting go. Let’s create something new with the sacred fire.