I felt so moved hearing the story of a sensitive, kind young woman at the Yoga Academy who periodically has extreme pain from endometriosis (a disorder where tissue normally lining the uterus grows outside the uterus).
It made me more conscious of the contradictions of life – the pain and the struggles, the joyfulness and splendour that fabricate human experience. She shared that recently she was in so much pain as her father drove them home from an event that she was holding onto the dash board, and moaning and shrieking. In a Mysore class the previous week she was catching her breath and gasping for a moment or two as she entered a pose that stretched the front of the abdomen.
Usually we think our difficulties are interruptions in our lives – that we get to plan our life, and it will be a linear process with progressive and positive outcomes. When this is not the case we engage in a constant war with reality. Confronted with our limitations, we worry and see more clearly our fears, frailties and confusion. And then we blame, become incredibly frustrated and feel as if we are failing. We try to get rid of these feelings can by going into denial, distracting ourselves with buying stuff, eating, drinking or smoking stuff, having sex or doing any number of activities to get as far away from our difficulties as we can.
But what if there were another way to embrace the inevitable suffering that is life?
In his book called Yoga Mala (page 4) our late teacher Sri K Pattabhi Jois raises the issue: “Some people think that one must be lucky to enjoy pleasure. This is of course true. But can it not also be said that, in order to experience disease, one must be lucky as well?”
And I recall so very well a wonderful insight my teacher shared with us one afternoon when Peter (my husband) and I sat and had chai with him and his daughter Saraswathi. This insight arose because he had received some bad news and was clearly feeling sad. In my somewhat naive way I tried to cheer him up by commenting that in his childhood Guruji was very poor and now, as a man in his late eighties, he was famous and had used his wealth to assist his whole family and all those in the village he came from. “Yes, yes ,” he said, “but some sweet comes and also some bitter comes.”
Seeing we were not sure exactly what Guruji meant, Saraswathi explained, “life is both bitter and sweet. My father does a puja each year in which he takes jaggary mashed with bananas and neem leaves and he eats a little of each – the jaggary and banana being very sweet and the neem leaf being very bitter- to remind himself that every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year and every lifetime is filled with both bitter and sweet experiences.”
I took this to mean life involves a succession of difficulties as well as wonder and joy, and that as practitioners of yoga we endeavour to face our actual problems and the contradictions of our life rather than try to bury our heads in sand in denial or to engage in habits such as eating drinking or shopping to escape them.
We see them as natural challenges of life that provide us with opportunities to learn about kindness, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness- and that difficulties are gifts!
With this in mind, I invited our student with endometriosis to consider this wisdom and to see that it is the chronic pain from this condition that has led her to become a dedicated practitioner of yoga- a healing modality.
The health and wellbeing (physically mentally emotionally and spiritually) this young woman will cultivate over her lifetime of a dedicated yoga practice will be the gift she can pass on to others who too suffer from endometriosis. She will change her destiny – she will become well instead of suffering.
To coin a phrase used by the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, this young woman has turned straw into gold, turned a difficulty into a healing practice.