Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The Truth About It
[Right about that time, this song was popularized by Three Dog Night.]
Your first yoga teacher - maybe it's like your first love: wonderful. George came to our small town and brought us yoga to candlelight and such music as an ethereal recording of the Panamian nose flute, and this was the early 70s. It was part of the revolution, which was good, but not all good.
One of his pieces of wisdom comes back to me often. He would say, as we lay there at the end imitating corpses, "It feels good to relax." And boy, it did. George was flawless. But there was one thing I still disagree with him on; now and then he'd murmur, almost as if talking to himself, "It's all good." My life wasn't. It was highly unsatisfactory. In fact, the years to follow that first yoga class would be the most painful of my life. Mania and depression almost killed me. Sometimes I realize how lucky I was to live through it, and I suspect it's true, that God, the universe, tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.
I can disagree with George's positivism today from a more respectable position, since I am 70 now, officially old. So I've been thinking about this question of how it all is for many years, more diligently than I thought about (or practiced) down dog. Now I have Zen to back me up, I believe, when I say, It's not all good. The Buddha's first teaching was that life is difficult, unsatisfactory. But it's not all bad; a lot of it is beautiful, fun, interesting, or at least feels good. What it is, it all just is.
I must admit, that looks like a bald statement, and one that hardly needs saying. I mean, obviously, it is. But I myself have spent a great deal of energy in my life trying to escape or control it. From not accepting it to hating it. At the moment I'm working to cultivate equanimity; it's been a theatrical year with some really bad depression. If equanimity came naturally, we wouldn't have to cultivate it.
But to be calmly accepting of reality is not natural; what's natural is desire and aversion, greed and hatred, and don't forget delusion. Maybe one of those delusions is that if we wear only organic cotton and eat vegan and practice a chronic smile, it will all feel good. Or maybe that's a another desire, and a natural desire, too. We are equipped to feel pain and pleasure, hunger and satisfaction. Pain hurts - it is unnatural to like it, and generally good to avoid it. But sometimes it just is. Life is still worth celebrating. Sometimes.