Though I’ve been married for eleven years now, it’s only been in about the last eight weeks that I finally stopped living my life on my husband’s rhythms and instead began to live more fully on mine.
We work from home so we mostly make our own schedule and he likes to sleep in. So for years I’ve let the clock tick further into the morning kind of just laying there, even though I wanted to get up. I prioritized hanging out together in bed in the morning over getting on with my day.
And all of that time not meeting my needs made me forget how much I love the dawn, and really how much I need it. I’ve been a lot happier since I just started claiming for myself those hours in the morning when everyone else is asleep and I can do four things that I love:
- Yogic breathing exercises (Pranayama)
- Prayer and meditation
- Yoga physical exercises
- Taking a morning walk
It Ain’t Easy
No matter how much of an early bird I am, it’s still not easy pushing those covers away and making the effort to tend to self care, making the time for it. It’s still easier to do anything else — scroll my phone, open an app, check social media, read the news — and distract myself from that great confrontation within that prayer, meditation, and yoga require.
Prayer, meditation, and yoga are not little happy trips into some superficial “light and love” world. They are tremendously difficult acts of witnessing my physical limits, places of tension, holding, or inflexibility, of body and mind. They are painful acts of hearing my own prayerful words spoken to myself and it registering just how far the journey from where I am and where I want to be are. They’re all those moments when my straying mind in meditation is exposed to me and I have to see my shortcomings.
When I pray the “Our Father,” it’s especially stinging to hear, “forgive us our tresspassses as we forgive those who trespass upon us,” since every day can be a collection of injuries felt and injuries waged, intentionally or unintentionally. And then to try to weave my work and my heart back into a general love and optimism in spite of all the difficulties adds greater pull to all those shiny internet distractions.
It’s especially hard right now when the world at large and America in particular are reeling with not only the realities and the related stresses of COVID-19, but also revisiting our long overdue re-confrontation with race, itself a form of looking within, however uncomfortably, to get to individual truths, and to the extent possible, to get to some kind of collective truth.
I yearn for seeing the dawn each day to help keep me grounded, focused on something larger than myself. That giant fiery sun winking over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and bursting through the clouds to swish an ombré of oranges and pinks and reds across the sky still seeds me with a sense of possibility, hope, and an elusive feeling of something like “freshness” that kind of reminds me of a feeling I had in childhood each morning, a feeling only a new day could bring.
There is No Band Aid for This
But as an adult I have to remember something I’ve learned in life that one finds again and again across all the major religions. The Buddhists might say it best in the Four Noble Truths that the first truth is, “All life is suffering.” Thankfully, within this suffering is the key to its end.
Christianity is, at its heart, a reminder of this, too. Not only did Jesus suffer greatly for bringing an inconvenient message to Earth that defied the norms and mores of his time, but in Christianity we face that, “we all have our crosses to bear.” Yet there is redemption and healing in our journeys, however immediately trying they are.
Islam teaches that there is evil in the world and that while we must resist it ourselves and not become part of it, that the larger story of our suffering is also woven in with mercy and justice.
Another way to say all of these from the spiritual perspective is, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” You can take that religiously to mean God, or if you don’t believe in God it can simply be an acknowledgement of what is beyond our understanding, what is mysterious, what is, in some senses, uncontrollable, even as we bring our whole selves each day to being as present as we can be.
Suffering is at once so unique and individual, often feeling unjust, unfair, and like trials without end. And yet suffering is also this nearly unfathomable constant for everyone, thus giving it its mystery, the warp or the weft in the weaving of our lives but not the only strand.
In the midst of societal tensions today so many of us feel exactly what Rodney King said after the Los Angeles riots in the 1990s that came about from his own unjust beating at the hands of police brutality. He said, “Can we, can we get along?”
Often it appears not. That we can’t get along.
All life is suffering. But the key to solving this suffering is within us.
Fortunately neither Buddhism nor Christianity nor Islam nor Hindu say, “all life is always suffering.” We have our tribes, our people, those who understand us, support us, trust us, believe in us. We have our victories, our happy moments, our goals achieved, those times when it all comes together just right in art or music or sex or laughter or a baby’s face or a perfect moment.
But the truth is, then we go back — there in the background continues the suffering in one form or another, sometimes acute and intense and enough to hold us down powerfully, sometimes a dull persistent kind etched in gray, sometimes random moments, totally unexpected, that throw us back on our heels.
Is This All There Is?
For weeks I’ve been thinking about life, my life I guess. I’m 53 and it feels like I’ve had many lifetimes within this lifetime. But given that those times and memories are in the past, I find myself more concerned with now.
I’m concerned not only in what I hope for myself — my life, my passions, my goals, my self development at a deep level on my spiritual journey. I’m also concerned about what feels incomplete. I find myself confronting boredom within, and fearing I’m stuck, and wondering if each day’s cooking, chores, little pleasures, sleep, and work are all life is really about, rather than those grand notions that are so much a part of the American psyche, like being an individual who’s living large and making a difference in the human story.
But I’m also concerned more broadly, as a member of American society today. We’re living through complex and legitimate grievances in our racial reckoning and wealth disparities and yet we’re also witnessing coarseness and inhumanity in places as diverse as the streets and places of business to fraught virtual spaces and the media corporate messages of TV and radio programming that amps ups tensions, sowing gratuitous discord.
Every day one of my prayers is for our country to start to become defined by a willingness to problem solve together, to see the best in one another, to operate with good faith, and to begin to be known as compromisers (in the good sense) and cooperative. For me oppositional natures, chips on our shoulders, all-or-nothing compliance, and rigid approaches have really jumped the shark. It’s all so exhausting.
But all life is suffering.
Yet as with each dawn, still we hope. The key to resolving this is within us.
This is the mystery. Accepting that razor’s edge is not about a superficial kind of “it’s all good.” Nor is it a shallow prescription for everyone who’s suffering to “just embrace light and love” in the pablum sense.
I Can Only Fix Me
All healing begins with what we can change in ourselves, including accepting our own scarred journeys, the injustices we’ve suffered, and that we might suffer more, and seeing ourselves, like those broken Japanese bowls that are repaired via Kintsugi, joining together the unmarred pieces with their shattered edges and making something more beautiful still for all the imperfections.
I wanted to be eager to meet the dawn today but something had me in knots, my heart heavy, my soul bruised, my will shattered. Yesterday I had an online encounter that shook my faith to my core.
In trying to shine an authentic and deep light of love on someone I found instead that we spoke two different languages in this tense world and that with every word I shared I was apparently injuring this woman rather than providing language and interaction that was acceptable to her. I couldn’t know what that language would be, and there are so many rules that come with interaction in America today. I was completely distrusted by her and not one ounce of my caring stance conveyed.
And with every word she and some of her friends spoke back to me, they were injuring me with mockery, derision, and then name calling, including a name so bad I can’t even bear to post it here.
It was a state of total misunderstanding, a full-bodied clustercuss.
I can’t say I regret it, because I learned a lot, both for good and for ill.
Unfortunately too much of what I learned didn’t leave me with a lot of optimism, at least for the moment, in this snapshot. The wound is raw.
I fear that in “all life is suffering,” and the fear of being stuck, that we’re in a collective moment in our culture when almost nothing positive, nothing nourishing, nothing uplifting, nothing encouraging can pierce through the mistrust, the pain, and the deeply felt sorrow under a veneer of seething anger. Even the best intentions can end in unmitigated disaster.
And then where is the key out of this suffering?
So how do I get up the next morning and keep the faith? On a personal level how can I face the physical infirmities my yoga will reveal to me? How do I listen to the piercing words in my prayers sounding in my ear that tell me I’ve got yet another slow turn in the mysterious inner labyrinth to visit to shed another skin and find the deeper strand of self, humanity, spirit? How do I reconcile my sense of isolation in a world I want to connect with yet find myself missing the mark on again and again?
It’s a long walk that I have to make down the hall from my bedroom to my studio/office, about 20 feet or so each morning. To a dark room, the house silent, the dawn not yet breaking. I can only put one foot in front of the other at 5am, reluctance in every step. Sometimes the only reward for making the effort is seeing the dawn crack the sky and with it that fleeting feeling that there’s some small “freshness” I can still recall from childhood. A real sense of the possible. If only for a minute.
I do recall. I do recall.
— Lady Virginia