Compassion and the High Life

 

My neighbors down the street have been drunk since 4pm
yesterday, roughly two hours after the explosions in Boston. I could hear their hollering from inside my kitchen all afternoon and evening.
They’ve been out on their porch again today since I walked my dogs this morning, holding cans of beer in soggy paper bags.
Does this make me nervous? Yeah, kind of. When they’re
sober, they wave and say hello, but when they’re drunk they just stare at me
hard when I walk by. If you aren’t the kind of person that’s drunk at 9am on a
Tuesday, it’s just sort of hard to wrap your head around, which is why I’ve
been thinking about it all morning.
I’ve been trying really hard to practice feeling compassion
for them. I was mostly failing until a few minutes ago. And then I thought
about how I felt when I heard the news about Boston.
I felt scared, angry, sad, and confused. I felt like
something bad had happened and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt
like something bad might happen to me, my loved ones, or my home and there was
nothing I could do about it.
You name it, I felt it. We all did.
And maybe if I hadn’t sworn off drinking for 2013, I would
be drunk right now, too. Because that moment when you are overwhelmed by grief
and confusion always seems like the best time to have a beer.
I can imagine my neighbors watching the news for an hour,
growing increasingly more agitated, when finally
someone suggested that they turn off the TV and roll a blunt on the porch. What
a relief that first hit and that first crisp swallow of cold High Life must
have been.
And maybe for a few hours they talked, and consoled each
other in the way that a lot of men (and not just men) seem to; by theorizing about
who to blame and how to get revenge. And then a few hours of beer and weed and talk
of vengeance might have passed and eventually settled into angry despondence.
And that’s when I walked by with my dogs and waved and my
neighbors were just too drunk and overwhelmed to acknowledge me, to do anything
but stare. And their stares seemed scary because they were scared.
And then I was scared.

And this, my friends, is often how we deal with grief. We
get it drunk and high and pump it full of tense angry fantasies until it’s
transformed from pain and sadness into a thick blank gaze that sees nothing.
This is how we make ourselves invincible.
If any of this resonates with you, then you already know how
it ends.
There’s always a hangover, a next day, some sober moment
when everything you didn’t want to think about yesterday is still on your mind
and you’re so tired from pushing it down and away and finally it explodes
out of you in some way that you can no longer control. You fight with your
girlfriend. You wreck your car. You cry uncontrollably. Whatever.
The how of this emotional explosion is both completely arbitrary and
intensely personal. The point is that it’s inevitable. You are going to feel
something sometime. It’s just a matter of when.
And this is where the practice of yoga offers us something
truly revolutionary and transformative: resilience in the face of discomfort.
I often tell people that, in yoga, the struggle is the practice. And so you might be
like, “Why the F would I choose to spend my time struggling?” but the truth is
we are already always struggling all the time, yoga is just the practice of struggling.
It is the practice of putting ourselves in uncomfortable
positions and just staying there.  It is
the practice of staying quiet and still when the chaos of your mind and body
are absolutely overwhelming. And when tragedies unfold in the world around us,
it’s time to take the practice off the mat.
Practicing yoga in times of trauma means feeling the pain. It
means accepting the reality of grief and sadness. It means recognizing the pain
and suffering and struggles of others and ourselves and not running from them.
It means staying present even when the present sucks.
Why? What’s the point? Am I about to tell you about how sitting still for suffering is going to make you feel better? Well, only kind of. The point isn’t that you get to feel better. The point is that you get to feel. You get to feel the immediacy of your emotions and make something usable out of them.If you accept the
reality of suffering, what you will find in that process of acceptance is
compassion. The Dalai Lama says that the discomfort we feel when we see/imagine
the suffering of others is the seed of compassion. He says, “We are thus
impelled to relieve the suffering of another so that our own painful suffering
may be relieved.”
In other words, sticking with the discomfort is a practice
that leads to compassion which is a practice that leads to taking actions that relieve suffering.
And that’s what makes the world a better place, right?
Taking actions that relieve suffering? Less suffering = better world. I think
we can all agree on that.
The Dalai Lama also says that “ignorance is the root of all
suffering.” Here I am going to interpret ignorance as willful avoidance, which
is what we do when we try to postpone or obliterate pain instead of accepting
it.
If it seems like I am judging my neighbors (or you, or anyone)
right now, I’m not. I promise that, depending on the year, it’s just as likely
that you would find me tripping on acid at 8am as meditating. What I am trying
to say is: There’s another way. It’s hard, but it’s worthwhile. For yourself
and for the world.
So, whether you get drunk or high today or not, try to take
a few minutes to sit still. Take a few minutes to tune into your pain and the
pain you feel on behalf of all the victims and their families in Boston. Don’t
push it away. Don’t try to pretend that it’s not there. Just sit with it and
see it and see what happens.
Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe you’ll just want a beer
even more than you did before. Maybe you’ll drive to your local hospital and
give blood. Maybe you’ll hug your girlfriend or pet your dog or cry. Whatever
happens is okay. It may be High Life for you today and a higher life for you
tomorrow. Maybe you’ll just get high.
Whether or not you feel overwhelming empathy for your fellow
man or you just feel sorry for yourself, for however long you sit with
intention in the presence of your pain, you will be practicing turning towards compassion.
And even if practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make progress.
Thinking About Ways to Find Hope and Peace in Times of Tragedy:
 

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