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One of the hardest lessons we face in a physical body is learning how to be fully present with what is. Yet Eastern gurus – and even some Western sages – teach that the cause of all suffering is our resistance to, or attempted avoidance of what is.
If we like our experience, we feel good; if we don’t, we feel bad. The trouble starts when we try to hold onto what feels good. But our bodies, environment, temperament and relationships change so rapidly that it’s impossible to hold onto anything. The only way to suffer less is to give up trying to avoid the changes. How do we do this? By paying attention to whatever is happening right now – including the desire to resist what we don’t like.
Focusing our attention and our breath on the tension, the place between what is happening now and what we want to happen, may stir up more discomfort. Yet there’s really no other place we can be. Attempts at avoidance just leave us with a shadow, one that looms larger and larger until we finally face it.
In Western society, we aren’t taught how to be with ourselves. We’re conditioned from an early age to cover our pain, guilt and shame with activities, objects and relationships. So we never develop “presence muscles.” But making a conscious decision to stay in the feeling, in the physical tension, is a form of self-love. We are in essence staying with ourselves, and the more we practice this, the stronger and more loving we become.
Yoga is a great example of openings that occur when we remain in the tension of the posture. Trikonasana is hard for me, and I usually come out of it before my instructor’s guidance to do so. Last week, I felt the discomfort of the pose and my longing to get out of it. My body was rebelling: “I hate this pose. It’s too hard.” Then, I heard a soft voice in my head saying, “stay.”