Ending Suffering

try-not-to-feelI attended a beautiful meditation gathering last Friday, and after we sat, they posed a question to the group about what ways pain had been transformative for us.  I don’t think they knew that the previous weeks had been one of the most painful periods of my life.  Emotionally, I had been grieving Jerry Candelaria – my first life coach and dear friend – who had unexpectedly passed the previous week.  Physically, I found myself with some kind of pinched nerve in my back.  Coincidence?  I wonder.

As a yogi, I had been studying pain for a long time, collecting a distinctions around pain to help me understand what sensations are helpful and what aren’t.  If you want to geek out a bit, I put a list at the bottom for you, and I’ll expose more of them in future posts.
There’s one in particular that spoke loudest to me in these last weeks:
suffering = pain x resistance
I had the thought that not only is suffering due to the resistance to feeling pain, but is the interest we pay for deferring our due date with the inevitable pain.  Suffering can feel milder than pain, and it can feel easier to suffer around something than to dive in and feel it so I can heal it.  Sometimes I’ll pay the interest of the suffering (complaining about how bad things are) rather than the principle (facing the actual issue.)  This leaves me with the ongoing “-ing” of suffering, rather than the concise information that the pain sensation is trying to offer us.
When in physical or emotional pain, I feel tempted not to feel it, or just feel a little of it before pulling myself back together so I can “get over it.”
Generally “pulling myself together” involves tension: a stuffing of the unfelt feelings back down into the body, unwittingly saving it for later.  When it came to my back these last few weeks, there was an intensity there.  My body was trying to tell me to pay attention to something, but it was so white hot intense that I would clench my body, trying desperately to shift and move and get myself into a comfortable position where it could let go.  I found my hip and thigh getting in the act, seizing up somehow beyond my control, and mysteriously easing my back.  The sensations seemed to ping-pong from leg to hip to back with no relief until I lay down and had my wife or daughter pull on my leg a bit.
This had me so curious – and scared.  I’ve had so few body pains since I began to understand yoga that I couldn’t release in a few minutes with a few simple exercises.  As my training dictates, I stayed in the curiosity.
I sought help from several bodyworkers and chiropractors, one of which was also a yogi.  He had me move towards but not directly into the heart of the pain, feel it, open to it, learn from it.  The emotions came up.  The grief of losing Jerry, the other complaints of my life I had been bracing myself to get through.  Just as I always teach, I went into the tigers exhibit without climbing into the tigers cage, until I made friends with the tiger.  I slowly moved in and felt what my body was trying to tell me, which allowed my body to soften.  He adjusted my foot, knee and hip,  but said my back wasn’t ready.  This frustrated me because the back had been so painful.  My mantra driving home was “just feel and let go, just feel and let go.”
No back pain the next day.
The grief… when my dear friend Christopher died a few years back, his girlfriend’s far-wiser-than-her-years daughter said “grief is this really really bad feeling that you just HAVE to feel.”  So I’ve been feeling Jerry, breathing deep into the feelings.  No resistance to sensation.  None.  I cry when it hits, and make no move to stop it.
One thing Jerry taught me, in his trademark “point out and make you love the part of yourself you have the hardest time loving” kind of way…
He had worked with me on the shame I felt around having taken someone’s life in a car accident.  That’s been an enormous burden for me, a lot to feel. At the time I’d dealt with the shock of my mistake, hated myself somewhat, but brushed it off and carried on.  In that moment I’d feel as much of the shame as I could, think I’m all better, and move on.  Years go by and periodically it would present itself.  I’d bravely face it.  Repeat.
A few years after I had worked with Jerry to clear up some of it, he looked at me, at my birthday party, and with a mischievous look in his eye said “How’s it goin’, Killer?” I was flabbergasted.  He continued, “you heard right, killer.  How’s it going?”  I felt this pain in my gut.  I could feel where in my body I was clenched around it, and let it go.  It was the strangest coyote teaching.  It showed me how avoiding feeling something can lead to long chains of pain.
So I continue to feel into parts of myself I’ve avoided feeling. I’m cleaning up the old, unfelt feelings by attending to them.  I’m creating freedom in areas I used to avoid.
“Love, you have wrecked my body.  Keep doing that” – Mirabai
Practice on.
P.S.  as promised, for the curious, my pain distinction list…
  • Discomfort eases when you back off, pain of injury lasts when you back off
  • The “fear > tension > pain” loop, where expectation of pain creates the pain and more fear of it
  • The difference between fear, danger, pain, and injury.  Fear is the expectation of danger.  Danger is a circumstance where you could get injured, pain is a sensation that indicates you might be injuring yourself, injury is what we want to avoid.
  • Learned that the sensation of pain doesn’t hurt, it’s just telling you where to look for injury.
  • Pain acts like an invitation NOT to feel it.
  • Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
  • Suffering = pain x resistance.

1 Comment

  1. Jeff Hand

    Hey David:

    I wanted to get in touch. I read your post on Facebook about moving out / separating. and then I could not find it to ping you. I so rarely use Facebook and social media. Would love to connect, Also, I am now practicing yoga 5+ times a week and completed a 200-hour teacher training. My intention is to teach a class by year-end. My number 415.824.5000


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