Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering

🕊Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

If you are in the garden, I will dress myself in leaves. If you are in the sea I will slide into that smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt. But if you are sad, I will not dress myself in desolation. I will present myself with all the laughters I can muster. And if you are angry I will come, calm and steady, with some small and easy story. 

– MARY OLIVER –



When I was small, I’d avoid the monsters who secreted themselves at the clothes in my closet by staying up all night; I’d hide under the bedcovers with a book and a flashlight. Nevermind the fact that I read Stephen King novels. Those were psychological spooks I could manage by taking a break with a Betty & Veronica comic. As a teen, I avoided phys ed classes by joining jazz band, so as to avoid any game involving a ball (which was every game when I was in school) thus pointing out my devastating hand-eye coordination along with ridicule from the cool athletic girls. My cheeky attempts at skipping the conversations I couldn’t handle in my youth, be it ghouls or teenage girls, fostered my love of literature and musical aptitude. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I gone to bed when asked or obliged to playing team sports. 

🕊Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

My parents worried over me in elementary school when they discovered I ignored all the kids to sit on the bench and read The Chronicles of Narnia at recess and lunch. I’d remove myself from any situation I didn’t prefer, crafting ways to opt out of classes I didn’t enjoy and skipping social settings where I felt uncomfortable.

My avoidance is a character of suffering; a result of my inability to come to terms with how I feel and sit with all the sensations we experience in life. 

 

 

I still prefer to witness and revel in the conflict of characters marked by the turn of a page, which caused me a major step in development. Conflict is necessary to develop boundaries, discover your voice and personal power, and more importantly, the skills to resolve disagreements. I never established such skills in my youth, and what little skill I did cultivate, wasn’t strong enough to match my super power of avoidance. I’m not alone in my distaste for sticky situations in relationships, but there has to be a space where you acknowledge all of these uncomforting, sickly, swollen, belly-aching emotions in yourself and with others. There has to be room to express the full spectrum of emotions in the darkness and the light for you to truly face all that you are and the space you take up in the world. 

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life —
is the source from which self-respect springs. – Joan Didion

I avoid tricky conversations with others to escape how I feel. It has little to do with the other person and it isn’t personal. As a kid, instead of saying “I’m scared,” I said, “I’m going to read my book.” As a teenager, instead of saying, “I suck at sports, my feelings are hurt,” I said, “I’m going to join the school marching band.” And now, as an adult instead of saying, “this relationship doesn’t work for me, here’s how I feel and why,” I say, “everything’s fine, I just need space.” 

Same coping tactic, same character, same storyline; just a few different twists thrown into the equation to thicken the plot.

🕊Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.
Image source, Ann Arbor District Library.

The Kleshas and Our Bondage to Suffering

In Buddhist and Hindu traditions, removing the self from dukkha, suffering, is the ultimate goal to attain enlightenment, or samadhi. Suffering is caused by the five afflictions or mental states, known as kleshas. In Sanskrit, kleshas translates to the form of poison as they are toxic and cause mental suffering through bondage. The five kleshas were identified by Patanjali  in the Yoga Sutras. 

The five kleshas are: Avidya (Ignorance), Asmita (Egoism) Raga (Attachments), Dvesa (Aversions), Abhinivesa (Fear). 

  1. Avidya is wrong knowledge, or ignorance. Each of us approaches life with preconditions ideas based on our culture, education, social conditioning, past experiences, expectations, values and preferences. We create our own reality based on these judgments and believe this to be the true reality when in fact, it’s subjective. Our subjective identities are important in shaping who we are and giving us our independence and yet we need to live in harmony and co-exist with each other to survive. Acknowledging our own ignorance, that what we believe to be true may not in fact be, creates less suffering.
  2. Asmita is the ego-self, the small-self that clings to attachments and desires, acting from a place that serves the singular self over others. We need our ego for survival and to develop emotionally and psychologically, but an ego-centric individual takes everything personally, feels disconnected from others, and sees only a very small portion of what reality is. Understanding asmita would mean acknowledging others, striving for selfless service, and seeing the vastness of the universe and the connectedness of all beings and events.
  3. Raga is the pull toward attachments and desires. Attachment affects our behaviors, moods, and actions, causing suffering through stress and anxiety when things don’t go as we hoped or planned. Addiction is a very big component of attachment as we become addicted to things that bring us instant gratification inclusive of food, drugs, sex, technology, relationships, and the like. When we become so dependent on something outside of ourselves, we suffer when we don’t receive or attain it. Overcoming attachment would mean welcoming all the experiences, and learning to sit with how we feel. 
  4. Dvesa is the avoidance of the things we don’t like and works with raga in a tug-of-war to avoid negative sensations and pursue positive affirmations. Labeling things as good or bad is a judgment based on our past experiences and cultivated in our upbringing. What resists, persists. It is important to face our emotions as they arise, especially sensations we don’t ‘like’ such as sitting in our own fear, resentment, anger, shame, guilt, sadness. Avoidance provides insight to look into why we are feeling how we feel, our triggers, and why we feel this way. It’s a crack to peek through to examine our misinformation and judgments of the world and how we may shift our perception.
    Aversion (dvesa) is the opposite side of attachment (raga). It is a repulsion that leads to enmity and hate, like the same poles of two magnets pushing away from each other. ” – B.K.S. Iyengar. 
  5. Abhinivesa relates to our fear, the fear of the unknown and ultimately the fear of death itself. Examining our lives and accepting our eventual departure from this world can bring joy to the life that we’re living. When we accept death we have to opportunity to see the blessing we have in this life, in this moment. The fear of the unknown requires a deep trust in the universe and greater powers outside of the self, outside of your ego, and coming to terms with being present and open to all that the world offers. 

“There is only one reality, but there are many ways that reality can be interpreted.”
– B.K.S. Iyengar

Examining the way the kleshas appear in your world is the first step to seeing how ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear keep you tied to patterns of suffering. B.K.S. Iyengar believed in the power and practice of yoga to heal the body, mind, and soul. Meditation, yoga, and studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is a way to align yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to transform your limited perceptions of the world. 

The Stoics on Avoidance and Obstacles

Buddhist and Hindu traditions weren’t the only cultures to identify the avoidance of pain in causing immense suffering. The Stoics believed in the virtue of judgement to lead a contented life. Stoicism was practiced and preached by Zeno, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism was founded on the idea that we don’t control our surroundings, all is in constant flux, and the only way to manage the uncertainty we live in is to rely on ourselves and our response to our external environments. 

The Stoics believed strongly in transforming obstacles into moments of opportunity. Avoidance was not an option; those who chose a stoic life would welcome hardship and use challenges to strengthen their character. Acceptance was a virtue of the highest regard and management of the self through sound judgement, discipline, and control of emotions. By observing the emotions and responding accordingly, and welcoming hardship and using conflict as a means to express and resolve, Stoicism is still a relevant guide to live without bondage to suffering.

🕊Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

In Conversation with Your Avoidance

A bildungsroman is a coming-of-age novel that deals with a character’s psychological growth. Some of my favourite books of this genre include Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch, John Irving’s, The World According to Garp, and Wally Lamb’s, She’s Come Undone. The main characters undergo considerable spiritual development and are repeatedly confronted and challenged by the five kleshas. This is one of the ways the authors created memorable characters who evoked the readers empathy. 

When you confront your patterns of ignorance, avoidance, ego, attachment, and fear, you create the space and power to shift your cycles of suffering. The only way to overcome this cycle is to see it for what it is and accept it and move through it.

Last year, I started seeing a therapist who specializes in professional development more so than sifting through childhood traumas. I went to one appointment where I was asked questions concerning how I feel about my current lifestyle, what I desire most in life, and what steps I could take to get to where I desired. I went on to repeatedly cancel and reschedule the following appointment on three separate occasions. Seeing my pattern, my therapist messaged me to say, firm and polite, that she did not work with people who wouldn’t commit to themselves. Her message hit hard and I’ve kept my original appointments ever since and made a conscious effort to sit with how I feel instead of running away

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” — Joan Didion.

Commit to yourself. Find something that helps you meet your character of avoidance and break the cycle of suffering. For me, it’s through writing. Unlike the characters I meet in fiction, I cannot escape who I am once I’ve committed words to paper. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is one way to understand the world and how you operate in it. Yoga is so much more than asana practice, it’s a way to unite your body, mind, and sense so you may accept and align with yourself within the greater context of the universe.

Big love,
Stephanie
stephaniedawntrembath

Always Lonely; Quiet Teachings from the Heart

Solitude, choosing to take space from the distractions of the day to day to contemplate, experience and quite simply be. It is a foundational piece of the practice of self-inquiry. Take time, take space and get quiet. You will begin to hear the great teachings of your own heart.
– CLARA ROBERTS-OSS

Always lonely; the tattoo Florence Welch got on her left arm as a reminder to accept her loneliness and create joy from her despair. Loneliness is perceived as a sad state and something to avoid through cultivation social networks and relationships with others. In exploring loneliness and what it feels like to be alone, we may discover the quiet teachings of the heart and a deep inner solitude where creativity, courage, and compassion reside.

Hiking in the woods last week, supported in the silence of the trees, I felt a deep longing inside. I’ve used fitness as a form of escapism for years (swimming, running, cycling, yoga, dance) as a coping mechanism when I’m feeling anxious and unsettled. It’s easier for me to push my body and burst with sweat and hyper-stimulation than it is for me to be with the less-dopamine fuelled sensations that arise when I’m alone. This is my cycle. This is how I/we may avoid being with our loneliness. Fitness, food, drugs, booze, Instagram, shopping, sex; the list of ways we distract ourselves are numerous and multifaceted. 

The path I refer to is one we will always walk alone. It’s transforming your loneliness into solitude. Walking your own path is listening to your heart and fostering the most important relationship you’ll have in your life: the one with yourself.

Loneliness without Despair

The first relationship you have is with yourself. Feeling cut-off, lonely, and disconnected from others and your environment is a symptom of the complexity of longing we each carry within. The world and our relationship to it is in constant flux; many variables contribute to how we feel moment-to-moment. 

In The Taming of Solitude: Separation Anxiety in Psychoanalysis, the authors show how the root of loneliness is a separation anxiety unresolved since childhood. As adolescents, our growing pains extend beyond the biological demands of puberty as we learn how to set boundaries, communicate, and negotiate space in our private and public spheres.

Exploring the vastness of what it means to be alone is made more complex when we consider the online echo-chambers and realities we’re presented with through online communities where we seek external validation. As a species, we create meaning through social context. Our perceptions are based on the environments and relationships we develop and exist within. It’s a lot harder today than it was before the SmartPhone to remove oneself from social spheres and develop an individuated identity to explore our own thoughts. I was at the cusp of my teenage years when the cellphone evolved into a piece of technology where we could access the internet in the swipe of a thumb. As a teenager, I grew up in a world where I could be immersed in my aloneness once I left the public realm. Today, teenagers have iPhones, Tablets, iPads, MacBooks, and dozens of social media apps that allow them to connect and engage with people all over the world. It’s exhilarating to be heard and seen and liked by so many people. The trade-off is our time spent alone and what it means to be alone in the era of virtual technology. 

Loneliness is only
an opportunity to
cut adrift and find
yourself. In solitude
you are least alone.
BRUCE LEE

Jack Fong, philosopher and sociologist, said it best when he stated, “When people explore solitude, they will be confronted with who they are.” The precarious balance between your inner and outer worlds will continue to test your capacity to be alone. The ongoing exchange of internal and external relationships will have you feeling like a yo-yo as you strive to negotiate the needs and desires of others against your own. Developing the awareness to be alone and observe all the facets of the self is uncomfortable and requires patience, compassion, and idle time to explore. This process is one that never goes away; you’ll constantly be challenged with the task of fostering relationships with others in your societies, and you’ll constantly be asked to make time to come back to yourself. If technology translates one thing beautifully, it’s in how the world is constantly changing and your relationship to it will continue to evolve with or without your conscious consent.

Surrender to Your Hearts Longing

  Know thyself, truer words were never spoken. Greek Poetess Phemonoe spoke thus at the Temple of Delphi in Ancient Greece, and later a little more loud and clear by Socrates and Shakespeare. Observing, understanding, and accepting what motivates you and why you do what you do is essential in understanding how to navigate the world. We’re driven by our emotions: an unresolved formula that hinges on our hormonal complexities and past experiences. 

The yogi strives to break this chain of events; questioning habits, forming new patterns, and ultimately, admitting to the utter lack of knowledge of our existence. The best you can do is what Kurt Wolff calls the surrender and catch theory: give yourself over to moments of personal epiphany, surrender to what is, observe the totality of self, and give so you may receive.

Surrendering to what is allows for space to accept yourself and all of the events in your life exactly as they are. Observation leads to greater awareness of self in body and mind. Giving is living a life of love and compassion and trusting in the reciprocal process of nature. Personal moments of epiphany arise spontaneously when you make space to be alone. We fill our lives with so much external noise to avoid being alone and investigate our inner longing. You don’t have to look very far to see it. Technology is a great device if you know your intention. The incessant use of social media and search for fulfilment through external applications is crippling to not only our self esteem, it takes us away from developing the confidence, creativity, and comfort in being alone. 

We all need space to let our subconscious wander. To breathe. To be. Without external stimuli; without external provocation or validation. A good friend, mentor, and fellow yogi, Sandra Stephanson, has termed her alone-time as, Solita TimeSolita is the spanish term for lonely. Solita is also a name for a female in Spanish, this origin is from a variation of Soledad, or Solitude. This interconnectedness of loneliness and solitude is captured beautifully as Solita Time.

Wisdom through Accepting the Emptiness

The Sanskrit language illustrates the essence of loneliness beautifully as sunyata: emptiness, loneliness, desolation, distraction, nothingness, non-existence, non-reality, illusory nature of all world phenomena. The essential idea of sunyata is that the world is in constant flux and nothing is entirely independent from anything else. All is connected, nothing is permanent. Acceptance of sunyata, according to the Buddha,  is the cure for all suffering.

Emptiness is the central teaching of Buddhism. Buddhists have a very practical and accessible approach to meditation and what it means to exist. There is no Atman (soul). There is no Dharma (greater purpose for your life). Things just are as they are, and that’s it.

In 2015 I took a Vipassana Meditation where I became acutely aware of the impermanence of all things by observing the sensations of my body and the goings-on of my mind. In Vipassana I would witness how an itch or irritation would eventually pass with or without my active involvement and how the rapid, reckless, and whirling thoughts of my mind would spin stories and attempt to rationalize each moment. In Vipassana you sit for approximately 9 hours a day in meditation. It’s hard to escape who you are under such conditions. In this setting I was able to identify and appreciate the flux and emptiness of the Buddhist teachings of the Heart Sutra. You don’t need to sit in the extremes of Vipassana to become aware of this process. Seated meditation at home, walking in the woods, being alone; each could be a practice of observing the impermanence of self. 

Emptiness in terms of sunyata, is the idea that we’re all connected and part of something much larger than ourselves. The Dalai Lama calls this dependent origination, or in Sanskrit, Pratītyasamutpāda. Dependent origination is a Buddhist concept that the basic law of the universe comes down to cause and effect: nothing exists independently and all comes from earlier circumstances. If you start to think of your existence and actions as influenced and influencing everything around you, you begin to see and understand the interconnectedness of all things. You’ll see how what we do now directly affects others and our future. In this context, we are never truly alone. 

We’re all a part of a greater tapestry, a grand mosaic where you cannot separate the one from the many, or the many from the one.

Transform Your Loneliness into Solitude

In my experience of loneliness, it seeps into my heart when I’m disconnected from myself; when I haven’t made time to be alone and luxuriate in activities that bring me joy. Reading, writing, and being in nature ground me and bring me back into a space where I trust, accept, and love. Loneliness is a signal to me that I haven’t fulfilled my needs in someway, that the inner lack/longing I’m experiencing is causing me to reach outside of myself for the answers. Svabhava is the Sanskrit term that would relate this process. Svabhava is a poetic expression of solitude in that it represents the intrinsic nature of the self, the becoming of a particular entity in the fullest capacity of truth and love.

 Love is a practice. When you focus on something that engages your entire interest, the mundane world dissolves and all your troubles are transformed.  – LORIN ROCHE

Project your wildest fantasy onto your current reality; this is possible when you transform your loneliness into solitude.  There will always be moments of ache and longing. Cherish these as gentle reminders from your heart, little nudges that point to where your attention is needed. 

Always lonely,
Stephanie 
stephaniedawntrembath

 

Questions for Quiet Consideration

  • When I feel lonely, where does this feeling live?
    (Belly, Heart, Bowels).

  • What is the emotion attached to this feeling?
    (Fear, Sadness, Angst).

  • What are my actions (if any) that I’m unsettled by? 

    • Do I have the capacity to sit with what I feel and accept my past actions, my guilt and/or shame and/or betrayal, in order to move forward and be filled with loving compassion.

  • Do I act from a place of love and integrity in my relationships?

  • Do I have things that I do just for me, to create ritual and honor my relationship to myself?