Sutra 2.16

So I dipped a toe into the topic of the avoidable, but didn’t delve into the flip-side, did I?

The young woman isn’t identified in the photo credits. Perhaps the photographer, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images didn’t ask. It would take a ballsy person to stroll up to such a scene and play 20 questions though I imagine he’d have gotten chapter verse and the annotated notes if he had.The grave belongs to U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Noah Pier. He was killed February 12, 2010 in Marja, Afghanistan and is resting at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which is just outside the capital.

I’ve been there. It’s beautiful, belies its purpose and history. Arlington was the plantation home of Robert E. Lee’s wife. They abandoned it when he turned down Lincoln’s offer to head the Union Army, resigned his commission and went to serve the Confederacy. The mansion was built by George Washington’s grandson and the father of Lee’s wife, Anna.

The house was commandeered and used as a garrison and it was Union General Mieg’s idea to start burying dead soldiers there, partly as a rebuke to Lee. Mieg’s own son was among the first war dead interred there.

I wonder. Did he sleep on the left side of their bed? Is this the first restful nap she’s had in months? Were they married? Engaged?

Not that any of that matters but I bet she’d have told Chip if he asked.

I found the picture in my blog reader and then just after I found a post about John Cazale, the actor. You’d know him if you saw him. He only made five movies before he died of bone cancer in 1978, but all five were nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, and he is cited by folks like Pacino, De Niro and Streep as being one of their great influences.

But that’s not why I found him interesting or mention him now.

Meryl Streep and John Cazale were engaged to be married when he died. She nursed him throughout his illness. She even took a minor part in The Deer Hunter, just to be with him and take care of him as he went about making his last movie.

She was with him when he died.

And then six months later, she was married.

Some people would find that shocking. Judge her even.

Yet, she’s been married for 31 years and has four children and by all accounts is very content, happy even.

She helped put together a documentary about Cazale and agreed to be interviewed. She is puffy-eyed and tearful at turns on the screen as she talks about him.

And yet …

I wonder about Noah Pier and this girl. On this most recent Memorial Day she is napping on his still fairly fresh grave, but where will she be mid-summer? Or fall? Or next year?

Losing people we love isn’t anymore avoidable than someday being “lost” ourselves. But it isn’t the end … of anything really.

Patanjali states in Sutra 2.16 that “the pain or grief that is yet to come is avoidable” which seems a contradiction taken at face value. Pain is a certainty in the human existence. The questions being only when, how much and how often.

But Patanjali is not saying we will avoid events that can cause pain, he is merely pointing out that how we suffer, or if we suffer, is a choice, and that the sutras can be a great tool for those who choose to use them.

From the physical aches and pains of inactivity, over-activity to aging and illness right through the emotional traumas whether they be bumps, bruises or brutal attacks, yoga is about learning to push through and push away. To endure until one can let go. Whether by means of asana (postures), breathing exercises (pranayama) or meditation (dhyana), we have the tools necessary to avoid future pain.

When we cultivate a physical practice, we strengthen and prepare the body for what it will face as we age. Mindfulness of the breath is the path to controlling stress and wild thoughts. Meditation, or prayer, turns us inward and has the ultimate effect of connecting us to everything. All together, these practices prepare us for accepting and letting go because it is these actions that help us avoid pain.

*This is a rough draft of my presentation for test weekend in June. Thoughts?

Yesterday during yoga training, we spent a bit of time going over the take home exam and receiving our individual teaching lessons for the in class exam.

It’s doable.

For the teaching portion, I am to instruct Adho Mukha Savasana or Downward Facing Dog. my personal nemesis. Down Dog is one of the most basic of poses and it’s one that I am still finding my self in. Every new teacher, workshop or training session shines light on Down Dog. It’s like “the pose that can do anything” because it is always the same yet different every day.

I am also presenting a sutra. Cat assigns each of us one or a short set of sutras and asks us to present/teach it to the rest of the group. Mine is 2.16 – The pain that has not come is avoidable.

And I thought? Seriously?

Because I am sort of – okay – completely – of the theory that we have destinies. Our life paths are not necessarily carved in stone as we are free to embrace or reject experiences, lessons and universal directions, but for the most part, “pain” is as “life” is. We are mortal and therefore subject to all that entails.

You know “bad things happen to good people (and bad people and people of morally ambiguous natures too).

But as I thought about it last evening – and you know me, that’s about all I thought about because I am as bad as a dog with a new chewie when it comes to things like this – I realized I was looking at pain as though it was a condition of certain experiences rather than a choice, an add-on.

Pain is an “a la carte”.

And suddenly, like the revelation of the widening of my sacrum in down dog, I think I got it. It’s about attachment or non-attachment. I can experience without attaching pain. I can detach my experiences from pain when it tries to add itself to the order.

Most obvious example is death. Losing someone is sad but sad is not painful. It’s just sad. I can experience the sadness without attaching pain to it. It’s simply sadness. I feel it for as long as I need to … and I let it.

Acknowledge. Move on.

That’s what an asana practice is preparing me to do. That’s why we chant, practice pranayama and meditate. To gain the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength to let go, detach, life from pain.

The suffering does not make you stronger. Letting go makes you stronger. Feeling the sadness without allowing pain to muscle in, distract and take over is the point. Pain is a choice.

Even on a physical level, a person can detach from pain with the strength of the mind alone.

But pain is still there. It doesn’t go away. It’s just our perception and/or experience of it that makes all the difference.

I think. Maybe.

Gotta get ready for training. Happy Sunday. Namaste.