The natural disaster in Japan raises the question that all disasters and all human atrocities bring out: how can we find happiness in a world where this happens? The answer lies hidden in the mysterious nature of our life on Earth, in which we are all participating in a complex dance of joy and pain, ups and downs, loss and gain, smiles and, well, the opposite. The Buddha observed this fundamental nature and declared as the first truth that life is suffering. Yoga describes it as karma, the dramatic dance of life we all participate in as we cycle between creation and destruction. Some new age thinkers describe life as a school where we voluntarily forget our transcendent nature to learn some lessons before regaining greater awareness. All of this is of minor comfort when a tsunami is rowing a ship through your city, but at the same time, no one has come up with a way of eliminating the need to experience life’s challenges.
The more we wonder “why” we have to have challenge, the less we get past it. Some people become defined by their challenges, they even begin to label themselves as their challenges (as in, ‘I’m an invalid’). Byron Katie, whom I wrote about in my last blog post, suffered from a painful eye disease that left her virtually blind, but watching video of her from that time, you don’t notice anything. She is too busy being fully in her current experience to lament the change from her old experience.
I had a chance last year to put myself to the test when I was assaulted on the street. I was pretty shaken up by the attack and the gash in my head, but decided to try to stay in the following moments, rather than telling anyone what had happened. It was a fascinating experience, and through it I realized how much we want recognition and compassion for our mishaps, but how little we need them. We have the freedom to simply move on. I was and still am very glad I avoided the endless retelling and inevitable social commentary, anger, and hatred sharing would have brought.
I’ve watched friends and loved ones lose a limb, lose their sight, lose their job, be robbed, have cancer, and yes, even die. And during those same times, composers created beautiful music, social workers solved children’s problems, lovers met for the first time, mothers gave birth, and chefs created ecstatic pleasures. In tantric yoga, we participate in this dramatic dance of life while remembering to keep returning to the center as a touchstone. Life will include both kinds of experience; it is not an evolution toward pleasure and away from pain. So we try to gain awareness and remain aware through meditation or other appropriate personal practice. Not that we’re not affected by a tsunami washing us away, but instead we work on the cleanup, knowing there will be a sunny day, too, and that it’s our job to stay graceful through both.
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About the Author: Peter Ferko, (www.peterferko.com), writes about finding “Grace” in everyday life for Happiness Series. He pursues happiness on several fronts. He has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and is a teacher at ISHTA Yoga in New York where he trains new teachers. He is an artist in several media, including writing, photography, music, and graphic design. His latest project is a novel in which the main characters are all looking for a way to gracefully negotiate their lives, and it’s no surprise they are turning to yoga as a path. Peter’s work can be found at www.peterferko.com.