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.

It 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.


  1. You are wise, and your wisdom is hard-won which, for me, makes it all the more authentic. Thank you for passing it on.

    That last paragraph that you wrote should be a poster for living (and living well, I might add), or possibly a bumper sticker for the myriad "gurus" who make a fortune telling us to just let go and meditate and we'll find peace, abundance and nirvana in 7 steps or two weeks or whatever.

    1. I love what you wrote. Recently I imagined our two cars having two vanity license plates (I don't know whether you can buy those in Canada). One would say Sit Hard. The other would say Sit Easy. It would be cool when we were parked side by side. However, we never are; it's one in the garage and one on the drive.
      A bumper sticker: Life is worth celebrating. Sometimes. I feel tempted.

  2. Pleasure depends on things, happiness does not. As long as we believe that we need things to make us happy, we shall also believe that in their absence we must be miserable. Mind always shapes itself according to its beliefs. Hence the importance of convincing oneself that one need not be prodded into happiness; that, on the contrary, pleasure is a distraction and a nuisance, for it merely increases the false conviction that one needs to have and do things to be happy, when in reality it is just the opposite. But why talk of happiness at all? You do not think of happiness except when you are unhappy. A man who says "Now I am happy" is between two sorrows, past and future. This happiness is mere excitement caused by relief from pain. Real happiness is utterly unselfconscious. It is best expressed negatively as: "there is nothing wrong with me, I have nothing to worry about".
    Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

    1. It is interesting to think that pleasure is in the material body, a sort of interruption of unhappiness. Certainly I've seen how generally miserable addicts are, living for the next hit of alcohol or pot.

      I agree that "real happiness is utterly unselfconscious." Zen advises me to just throw myself completely into whatever I do. This, not trying to be mindful, is genuine mindfulness. Thank you, once more.