I don’t believe that suffering is always redemptive, that we always get a significant and potentially healing take away. Some losses are irredeemable. Certainly the Nazi Holocaust did not have a “bright side,” nor did suffering In Rwanda or Aleppo or the abduction of 276 school girls in Nigeria. Kenneth Lonergan’s profoundly moving new film, “Manchester by the Sea,” depicts a tragedy and the guilt and remorse that follow that give nothing back to the protagonist Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck.
For meaningful life to continue after tragedy for a Primo Levi or a Nelson Mandela, or for you and me, we wrap our minds around the worst that has happened and seek meaning from it. If we can’t do that, then, like Affleck’s character, we are doomed to remain disconnected, isolated and alone.
What does it take then to move forward from tragedy, to “Keep your gaze on the bandaged place,” as Rumi has written, so the rest of his line, “That’s where the light enters you,” is realized? What does it take to have the kind of faith after the loss of a child that you can believe Leonard Cohen when he sang, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
I believe, and research backs me up, that our practice, be it meditation, yoga, dance, or the creation of art, cultivates within us the ability to bear witness to all that’s arising. Not only does practice—say a heart chant like “Atma Hridaye” or a simple alternate nostril breath self-soothe by calming the hyper-aroused limbic system and by activating the cooling, calming side of the autonomic nervous system, but when in such a state, we are offered moments that transcend the story or the mood. Such moments of connection begin to accumulate. They teach us to step back from the constricting circumstances of our lives and to know ourselves as whole.
In this interview with psychiatrist Dr. Michael Seng, host of the Oneness Summit, I talk about suffering, and how, when I began my own spiritual practice, my personal story of traumas and losses became a portal into a deeper experience of Yoga, of Union, of ultimate Oneness.
A warm namaste,