Dancing with life
Ten days of Silence; surrounded by healing bountiful nature, a community of humble Korean Buddhist ministers (women & men), the support of 55 other participants and the safe guidance of our caring teachers Sarah & Ty Powers. I arrived with the hope of finding the same peace and rest for mind, body and soul as last year´s five-day retreat and I did!
Only this time, staying twice as long, there were more unexpected thunderstorms coming up! I was determined to hold my seat throughout the rocky moments of doubt, aversion and pain. When I finally found a deeper inner meaning to the continuous state of silence, I experienced layer after layer of my existence falling off giving space to a new, raw and strong connection to life itself. I learned to dance with life!
The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is In Life, there is suffering. My first reaction to this statement was strong aversion and rejection. How could you possibly start a spiritual path with such a pessimistic point of view when all we are looking for are some tools to reduce our daily suffering? I love life, I love the beauty and perfection of nature’s cycles, I am in awe with every single living being, with how perfectly made and interconnected we all are with each other. It is true, life IS precious and there is so much good happening in this world where we can and should put all our focus and energy on. So why bring up this suffering first?!?
What interests me is how do I deal with all the unpleasant events in life? When my body gets sick? When I don’t know if my beloved ones will come home safe? The loss of a parent, friend or even a child?
The worries about politics and environmental difficulties like the daily presence of famine, war, injustice, torture and destruction of the planet and the extinction of so many animal species? How can I face these facts and bring comfort to those who suffer while equally deepening the understanding and ease for my own suffering in life?
On my meditation cushion contemplating the Buddhist’ natural relationship with suffering, I suddenly realize how consistently and easily I ignore all negative events and emotions in my life. I have gone through very painful and challenging periods and I have suffered enough on a physical and emotional level to get important insights of life´s dark and desperate sides. My resilience and positive attitude have allowed my family and me to come out of these rocky times with even more joy and a strong belief in life’s beauty. However, I have never given suffering the well deserved attention and place in my life. Instead, I put all my efforts into moving it aside, erasing it from my memories and banishing it from my life.
Could there be a possible link between this unhealthy relationship to suffering itself and the frequent attacks of anxiety around my early morning hours that show up without any reason? Am I constantly going against life’s laws because I label suffering as failure and am doing everything and anything to avoid it!
In his book ‘Dancing with life,’ Philippe Moffitt explains this very well:
The opposite of suffering is not happiness! The benefit of non-suffering is having a relaxed mind that is fully present with whatever is occurring in the moment. It is the capacity to be in relationship to whatever is arising such as being able to respond from our deepest intentions. Only if we start to see that suffering is an opportunity of life for practice and not a sign of failure can we fully accept it, reflect and experience it to then allow it to leave our systems for sure.
Well, if I am willing to meet my suffering and view it as an opportunity for personal growth, I definitively need some deeper understanding of Dukkha the Pali word for suffering or dissatisfaction.
The Buddha identified three kinds of suffering:
- Dukkha of physical and emotional pain
- Dukkha of constant change (impermanence of life)
- Dukkha of life’s compositional nature (linked to invisible reasons)
None of us can escape these kinds of dukkha as they are inherent to being alive. However, we can change our response when suffering occurs. Once we accept suffering as one of life’s natural ingredients, we do not take things as personal anymore and can embrace challenges with more calmness. This allows us to investigate the nature of our suffering, experience it with our body and emotions and eventually allow it to leave our system. This way we still live life at it’s fullest and avoid adding unnecessary suffering because we label it “unpleasant”.
Ajahn Sumedho, a prominent figure on the Thai Forest Tradition, avoids intellectual abstractions of the Buddhist teachings and focuses almost exclusively on their practical application in daily life. He offers us one simple and powerful sentence to move through life’s sacred dance:
This moment is like this.
With this single sentence, everything, pleasant and unpleasant, can be fully experienced without losing ourselves in too much enthusiasm nor grief. We learn to appreciate life as it is while accepting its important laws.
- Life is precious
- Everything is impermanent
- All of our thoughts, words and actions have their consequences
What a bliss to join life in its sacred dance without putting resistance to it! Have you ever tried to dance with someone who does not follow your safe guidance? Instead of being elegant and smooth the dance turns into a clumsy helplessly lost combination of stumbling steps. Well, just take it for granted that in this case LIFE is the guiding partner and we better join in with faith and humility so that we can dance our part with the most grace possible, no matter how often the rhythm changes.
Believe me, it wasn´t pleasant at all to discover that most of my personal suffering was caused by my own resistance to the constant changes and aversion to suffering itself. But now, I feel that this insight and a new attitude towards suffering reduce its power to control my life. Just learning to be with it brings enhanced peace and meaning to my life.
By simply choosing to be present with our pain we signal our willingness to be transformed and allow the purification process to begin. When we embrace life just as it is and just as we are, it ignites a mysterious process of inner development. We are voluntarily submitting to the purging fire of the ´feeling experience´ and are more aware of a fuller, richer, more vital presence in ourselves that ripples outward. Instead of ignoring the pain and suffering in the world or complaining how hard and unfair life is, we can open our hearts with love and compassion to inevitable difficulties. Then we are finally capable of joining life’s magic dance of beauty, tears and joy without fear or resistance!