“People are drawn to yoga, they come to the studio, they practice because they are suffering, because they have recognized some form of this in their lives.”
Perhaps you have come across a similar quote, generally in the opening to a yoga text of some kind. It has been the only consistent thing I have come upon in yoga that creates a feeling of alienation. It was simply not true for me. To this day I can’t exactly say why I started doing yoga, but it definitely was not for having recognized suffering in my life. To the contrary, I began it during some of the least suffering moments I’ve had in my adult life. However, I have heard countless stories of people for whom this quote speaks the exact truth. So for some, yoga calls as an answer to suffering, for others, it is a path to reveal the nature of suffering that exists in our life. In the end, or rather I imagine, what is only the beginning, we have this concept of suffering, of dukha.
To say that dukha is the underlying nature of our life, is not to say we exist in perpetual gloom. We all smile, laugh, experience elation, and other aspects of sukha, the flip side of the coin. The key is in recognizing we are on a cycle that vacillates continually between sukha and dukha, within an asana class, within a day, week, year, and sometimes, within only a few minutes. We feel varying degrees of control over which part of the cycle we’re on. Yoga, and Buddhism too for that matter, offer paths to gaining first awareness of this cycle, and then ways to approach sukha and dukha in order to experience life more intentionally and fully.
I find that sukha (good, happy, sweet, joy, etc.) usually gets the attention of the pair, and wanted to spend some time with dukha this month.
I would like to consider two definitions (outside of the traditional “suffering”) for dukha, and in doing so, find some constructive, concrete ways of directly addressing something we have all, as yogis, by some means, recognized to be part of our reality.*
The missing piece
This is a concept introduced to me both by Sharon and David at Jivamukti Training, but also in podcasts by Michael Stone. Dukha can also be translated as “lack”. This is manifested in our impetus towards achieving things, buying things, changing things, or otherwise altering our current state, which is lacking, in order to achieve happiness. All we need is that better paying job, that home with another room, a partner with a different quirk, a friend that’s around more, another hobby, those new yoga pants, etc. Any time we reach out beyond our current situation as the place where sukha is located, we are setting ourselves in the direct path of dukha.
The mis-aligned wheel
I was first presented with this definition in a writing by Frank Boccio in Michael Stone’s Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind. Dukha, before being appropriated by Buddhism and Yoga, was first used to describe the state of a mis-aligned wheel axle on an oxcart. Frank asks us to imagine how a ride in such a cart would be uncomfortable and jarring. Much akin to the ride we are taking through life – although the sweet moments are there, there is under each of those moments, dukha, waiting for the next bump in the road. This manifests every time we move out of the present moment, refusing to see the bumps or the misaligned wheel. Instead we turn to the past, and berate ourselves for not seeing the bump, berate the person(s) we feel caused the bump to exist, or towards the future where we plot ways the avoid all future bumps, or steer clear of situations or people that would cause them, all in the name of ensuring sukha. Either way puts us once again in the path of dukha, because all of those things are impossible.
First, notice these cycles and thought patterns (citta vritti) that you run in. Be aware of the feelings of lack, and the movements into the past and future. This is always the starting point for work on the yogic path. Awareness. It is the greatest tool to bringing about any evolution of consciousness.
Second, start to re-align with the truth of the present moment. There is a teaching that says it best:
Don’t go forward, don’t go back, don’t stand still
Don’t go into the future, nor the past, nor hide out in the present until everything passes. Nor move forward towards sukha/dukha, nor away from sukha/dukha, nor revel in sukha/dukha. Find the fourth option.
Third, which also can be a result of the work of the first two stages, realize that nothing is missing. Give yourself a few moments of really feeling that nothing is missing. That you, and everything in your life, is complete and full just as it is now. Repeat, and gradually the truth of it arises.
Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
Your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
You will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
That arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
What do we have to fear?
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.
If you don’t realize the source,
You stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
You naturally become tolerant,
Kindhearted as a grandmother,
Dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
You can deal with whatever life brings you,
And when death comes, you are ready.
Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
The Master sees things as they are,
Without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
And resides at the center of the circle.
~Translations by Stephen Mitchell
Above all this is work to be fully present and deeply in life. It is not an escape, nor encouragement towards an unfeeling existence. It is a path towards a life of feeling fully awake, immersed, and aware of life.
*It is also quite possible that you have not quite reached that juncture, and the idea of suffering as the underlying quality of life is off-putting, to say the least. And that is a place I can certainly recognize, having been there myself.