It is said that fight or flight response is a response given to us in order to warn and protect us from life threatening danger. We still need this presently, but most of the time we are protected.
We tend to have the same stress response during other forms of disappointment. Today it's the horrible boss, the bills pilling up, the negative in-law, the person who just cut you off in traffic, the partner that cheated, the energy vampire, the bounced check, the video game that got erased. The list goes on and on. If we experience trauma or loss, for ex: mental, physical, violent, emotional, verbal abuse, bullying, a traumatic accident, or death of a loved one, we tend to repeat the traumas in our heads. This re-creates the stress or emotion as if it were happening now. If we do not speak up for ourselves or set the proper boundaries, the only other choice is to let it go. Holding onto stress and worry can spin in our heads like a broken record. Spinning keeps you “stuck” on the couch starring into space. You lose sleep, while those who may have triggered the stress sleep like a baby. You feel exhausted, which leads to possibly guilt and shame. Suffering will eventually lead to physical illness or “awakening”.
I spent the majority of my childhood plotting out revenge on those who were harming me. I just needed someone to reach out to me and take me away from the abuse. I wanted someone to confirm that it was wrong and I deserved better. That never happened, and there are millions of similar cases. The reason being fear. Being a child and having to stuff all levels of abuse was confusing. I carried revenge, hatred, self blame, and rage into my adult life. On the surface, I faked happiness to the best of my ability. Just below my surface, was my inner child smothered in depression, anxiety, and loss of hope. There comes a time in childhood where the actual abuse ends, but because we do not know how to let go, we repeat the abuse in our heads. Being attached to the emotion leads you to the same feelings as if it were happening now. This is self abuse. Luckily, I had enough self love to reach out for help. Psychotherapy and medications lead to Yoga and Meditation. Long story short, I have not taken medications since 2004. I no longer suffer. I work very compassionately with myself, guiding myself to remain in the Present Moment. All human beings have the ability to do the same.
What causes suffering and how do we heal? In yoga, there are five afflictions or obstacles (Klesas) that are believed to cause stress or suffering. Lack of knowledge, the ego, attachment or desire, like or dislike, and fear of death.
Lack of knowledge is your lack of taking time to look it up, or experience it to understand. It took me giving birth to another life to finally awaken to life’s big questions. Who am I? and what is my purpose? I had a huge dislike of reading, so i was grateful for Google and podcasts. Immediately, I found information that opened my eyes and heart. Listening to podcasts and researching the web turned into reading books. Researching and experiencing is what we will do for the rest of our lives. Assumption is also another form of suffering.
“You are what you think”. The “Ego” is a mind made sense of self. We all have one. If we do not recognize it, the ego can take over. We mistake the labels we give as our identity. For ex: “I am a yogi”, ”I am a teacher”, or “I am a mother”. It can get destructive, for ex: “I am stupid”, “I don’t deserve”, “I am bad”, or “I am weak”. Make a list of your labels. How do you or others around you identify you? Interesting. Is it not? Can you recognize the illusion? When you can separate yourself from “the illusion”, your true self automatically begins to surface. Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose), explains the ego well and how to free yourself from it (audio version available).
With the way the world is creating today, we seem to have a hard time keeping up with the latest “must haves”. Desire is healthy, but can create suffering if attachment forms. Do you have anything that would cause major suffering if it were taken away or destroyed? If we can not attain it, we stress out. If we break it or lose it, we suffer horribly. Detaching does not mean drive a crappy car and have no desires. It is recognizing you have no control and everything is impermanent. Whether it is a partner, a friend, an object, a food, or a pet, if it creates suffering in you, it has become an affliction. It is healthy to take time and look over what you have. Pass it on if it no longer serves you. Plus, it is a wonderful way to give back. Giving brings happiness to the surface.
Like or dislike (judgement) definitely causes suffering. “One we like because it seems to bring us happiness; the other we dislike because it seems to bring unhappiness”. We all want to be happy. The aversion is looking for it outside ourselves. Happiness is inside. That is why we suffer with disappointment when we can’t achieve it through our partners, kids, pets, or shopping sprees. We can spread our happiness onto others. When we are sad, it becomes challenging because we can unconsciously steal good energy from others.
Fear of aging or death can be a challenge to overcome. At birth, we are soft and supple. At our death, stiff and hard. We have no memory of before or after, but it happens to all of us. All I can express on fear of death, is it will lessen as you choose to experience life NOW.
Reconditioning your mind to spin less and think positive will reward you with a better quality of life. How do we do this? It takes assistance in the beginning. May it be attending a yoga class, downloading the latest yoga podcast, or committing to a relaxation practice. Your mind and body will recondition over time. You will have less stress. You will notice that life doesn't “affect you” anymore.
As a Yogi, I am Not completely free of my obstacles. I use them as teachers or lessons to keep me moving forward in the present moment because the “Present Moment” is all that we truly have.