Sometimes things don't go your way, but understanding the causes of suffering will help you meet life's challenges with equanimity.
Patanjali said, "Change, longing, habits and the activity of the gunas can all cause us suffering.
In fact, even the wise suffer for suffering is everywhere."
The Sanskrit word for suffering is dukkha. It literally translates to 'tightness or constriction in the chest or heart area.'
Think of a time when you were really upset and what it felt like in your body. Do you remember the feeling? Like a dull heaviness in your chest? That was dukkha.
In Yoga Sutra, Patanjali used dukkha to refer to all kinds of disturbances in our equilibrium - that of sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, heart-ache and others. He attributed these disturbances to four causes:
1- Parinam or Change
Any change of circumstances, in conflict with our liking and preferences, results in suffering. Getting old, losing a job or a loved one are all stressful experiences.
2- Tapa or Longing
A strong desire to possess something you don't have. This causes an emotional imbalance, which keeps you from enjoying the present moment and what you are already blessed with.
3- Sanskara or Habit
A conditioned or ingrained pattern of behavior that doesn't serve us anymore and may actually be a major roadblock to our progress.
4- Gunas or Innate Energies
According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, our body is the manifestation of a delicate equilibrium achieved by energies in flux.
These constantly fluctuating internal energies, go out of balance due to poor lifestyle choices, illness or disease, change of seasons and unhealthy foods.
Even those who have reached the highest stages of spiritual advancement are subject to fluctuations of the gunas.
While they may have risen above the first three causes, they are subject to the influence of gunas as long as they reside in the body. They can never be free from experiencing its discomforts.
No one can escape suffering altogether.
Once you understand that no one is immune from suffering, and you understand its 4 causes, you get better at handling any suffering in the future.
Instead of aggravating it through blame, guilt, regret and asking 'Why me?', you approach the situation with compassion and empathy (because everyone else is suffering too).
You stop judging others and yourself.
What has to happen will happen. Nobody can change it or argue against it. We all know of enough tragedies befalling undeserving people.
But, when an unfortunate event actually happens, we can change how we respond to it. When we understand that everybody in this world undergoes suffering (we are not special in that regard) and we know its causes, we can choose our reaction to suffering.
It will not be easy (Is anything worthwhile in life ever easy?).
With effort, you can develop a clearer perception that allows you to stay connected with your quiet inner-self, even in face of great difficulty.
The stronger this connection, the better poised you are to respond with equanimity to changing circumstances, unmet longing and patterns of behavior that no longer serve you.
Forget the past and focus on choosing the best way forward.
How to connect with the inner-self in a crisis?
When faced with a situation that causes disturbance or agitation, bring your attention to your breath.
You will notice that it has become short and shallow. Regulate it to make it deep and smooth.
Next, reflect upon the situation and the range of feelings you are experiencing. Some feelings are overwhelming - the absolute devastation of losing a loved one in an accident, but others can be under your control, like your guilt at feeling somehow responsbile for that accident.
Can you let go of the guilt?
The 'extra' feelings we burden ourselves with add to the hardship and worsen our suffering. Let them go.
As you cultivate self-awareness and make changes to how you react to difficult situations, you will learn to tap into your inner strength and resolve to move with grace and compassion through suffering.
Nothing will upset you anymore. When things don't go your way, you will remain happy, and who knows, maybe even feel awesome.
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