“Pain is what the world does to you; suffering is what you do yourself.” ~Gautama Buddha
I don’t expect things to be a steady state of bliss.
In fact, I agree with the Buddha that suffering is pretty much part of the human condition. Our expectations just get in the way of our experiences. I’m talking about your garden-variety suffering here, not the kind that comes with traumatic events that take you out at the knees or devastating clinical depression.
I see the now-and-then emergence of lethargy or melancholy as part of the whole emotional spectrum. And, like stepping in water in your stocking feet, bound to happen from time to time for most of us. Plus, for me anyway, I think recognizing the difficult days enables me to better savor the wonderful and even the tremendously ordinary ones.
Still, knowing that the spinning wheel is going to land on grey sometimes does not mean those days aren’t tough. For me, that greyness means my mood, my gait, even my ability to recognize the full bounty that is mine just feels heavier and more arduous. Sort of like moving through muck that slows your pace and clings to your boots.
Just as I think those emotions are due to sometimes arrive, I also know they will leave—I just want to accelerate that departure. And I’ve found a way that works for me. I make a deal with the Universe.
I speak this pact out loud—“I’ll try if you try.”
I commit to trying to pull my boot out the mud by first focusing on my senses.
Under the header of controlling what I can control, I might actively focus on taking in the smell of fresh coffee—holding the cup in my hands, without expectation, and just experiencing it. The rich smell, the playful bubbles, the warm solace held in a favorite mug. I try to let that singular moment envelope me, seeking nothing specific in return.
Or I might stand at a window until I can feel the sun’s warmth on my face. I will then imagine my breath carrying that warmth down my neck to my collar bones, down to my fingers and into my belly. I’m not looking to be instantly “fixed,” just to prime the pump to receive and interpret information differently by bringing my senses and my nervous system into the equation.
The Yoga Sutras, a text from perhaps as early as 500 BCE that codified yogic theory and practice (yoga with “big Y,” way more than just the poses) reinforce the role of the nervous system in expanded consciousness. We take what we experience to be the truth, but as the theory goes, if you change what you feel/believe you experience, your conception of the truth changes.
It’s like the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant—you build your definitions of what is based on what you experience. My rationale proceeds then that if I alter my perceived inputs, the narrative that my nervous system spits out can also be altered.
So that’s my part of the bargain—to widen the sense aperture and find a better experience. For the Universe’s part, I imagine it sending little gifts in return for my efforts—a great parking spot, the wave and smile of a colleague down the hall, a new local tour date for a favorite band.
I don’t actually think the Universe is moving cars or colleagues or tour schedules to accommodate me. It’s simply me noticing. That doesn’t keep me from imagining a sort of an equal and opposite reaction in play that generates goodness in response to my attempts to notice goodness.
I think of this noticing as a reframing of the “Toyota principle.” Long ago when my husband and I got a real car, we got a Toyota. Once we had the Toyota, we suddenly noticed all the other Toyotas on the road and wondered where they’d come from. They hadn’t suddenly flooded the market. It was more about moving the metaphorical antenna to recalibrate the signal—ah, I see things now.
Actively being open to the light and marveling at its forms still doesn’t serve up a twenty-minute fix. It does remind me of all the good standing in wait for me and reinforces that “this too shall pass.” In fact, someone wise once told me “If you want to change something, you’ve got to change something.” These are my somethings.
And so I commit to engaging my senses and being open to the beauty and love in my cup (even if my experience meter feels set to “low”). I believe that if I can do my part, I’ll again come into alignment faster with a Universe that offers no promises, but provides plenty of opportunity and wonder.
About Janet Arnold-Grych
Janet Arnold-Grych is a lucky mama, a yoga practitioner and grateful teacher, a corporate communications professional, and a nature and travel lover. Her work has been published in Elephant Journal, HuffPost, and on the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness site. She lives with her family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.