Thursday, January 6, 2011

Suffering is Optional

Many years ago I took my first yoga class. It was at a Bikram center for "power" yoga. The room was excruciatingly hot. I remember sweat pouring off of my face as I held a "downward dog" position. I had borrowed a mat from the studio and the words "suffering is optional" were written at the top of my mat. As I stared down at those words, arms aching, nose itching, they rang so true to me. That day I returned the mat and didn't suffer through another yoga class for 10 years.

This past summer, I decided to try yoga again. When I stepped into that hot room, and unrolled my mat, I tried to approach the class with an open mind and let go of my suffering. The full saying is actually, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." So often we confuse pain and suffering. Just because it hurts, it doesn't mean I have to suffer. Now when downward dog is too much, I rest in child's pose. I let go of my competitive nature and allow my body to recompose itself before attempting more challenging tasks. I breath, re-center and stop for a moment or two. I try to accept my role in my own suffering.

What does this have to do with eduction or technology? I am in the business of asking people to change and try new things. For some people this is painful and they suffer. According to Robert Evans, who recently spoke to our faculty, everyone hates change. We cling to to patterns. We are more attuned to the risk of loss than the possibility of growth and development. And change brings with it loss which can lead to grief and pain. I think it can help to remember and to remind ourselves and our colleagues, that, while change may be painful, suffering is optional. If we can help each other let go of the suffering, maybe we can get something done.

I guess I'm in a philosophical mood today. What are your thoughts on suffering? Does this make sense? I would love to hear from you today. It has been a while since I've gotten many comments here. Please take a moment to share your ideas.


Ldelia said...

Love this article. It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, "You are the source of your own misery." Getting out of our own way is quite challenging, especially when there is significant change involved. Thanks for the great reminder that suffering is not a prerequisite (although some artists may disagree!)

Anonymous said...

I love the connection you make between your yoga experience and the change process in schools. The "suffering" that people go through in organizational change is very real - but to think about it as the part that is controllable makes sense to me. Change is hard work, and in your example it is the "pain" that is inevitable. I like the thought of the "suffering" part being the part we can control of the change process. I also love using mantras to help with change - sometimes giving people things to think or say out loud when they are feeling that tension that comes with change helps them get through the moment (it works wonders with kids as well!). This mantra would be very helpful in that respect.

Thanks for the philosophical moment! Very helpful, I intend on using that to help guide schools! Jen

Jim Walker said...

I could not agree more with you that pain is part of being alive, but suffering is optional. Two years of doing Bikram yoga taught me to welcome the pain to learn to not be attached to it. Pain is a natural process of the body, suffering is a mental process we can learn to let go of.
I am still learning to not be attached to my blog, and write just because it is a place to express ideas that may never be explored unless I write them down.

Liz Davis said...

Thanks Laura, Carl and Jim for your thoughts. I feel like my blog has been a comment wasteland for a while. It is so nice to hear from my readers.

Laura - Getting out of your own way is definitely very challenging. I still suffer in yoga and elsewhere, but I "do my best with breath" and each time I try to let go. There is always hope.

Carl - I love the idea of offering the mantra to my teachers. I certainly use it myself all the time.

Jim - I agree about the blog bit. It certainly causes me suffering at times. This post has been wiggling around in my head since July. I finally got it out.

Carolyn said...

This is such a good reminder for us all. I am a retired teacher currently doing mini-trainings for a couple of school systems in my area. I will be sharing this thought with attendees, many of whom are anxious about stretching themselves and trying new things. (It's a good reminder for me, too! I DO have a choice!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

AB said...

Sometimes pain means that suffering is not optional. I wish it were. But remember there are people out there in pain who can't control it; can't go into child pose; and endure the pain despite it.

Mr.Primrose said...

I feel that most people do not realize how much stress there is involved with teaching. There is a lot that we deal with from parents, to state tests, and poor attitudes of students. This can cause a lot of stress to build up throughout the school year. I have found out by doing a short workout before school greatly reduces the amount of stress that I encounter throughout the week, I highly recommend working out before school to all teachers.

Liz Davis said...

Carolyn - I hope this helps.
AB - Yes, I hear you. Suffering from physical pain is much harder to opt out of.
Mr. Primrose - I wish my school didn't start so early. It makes it much harder to exercise in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Saudações do Brasil

Namastê para você,com certeza a Yoga e uma aventura de descobrimento do seu corpo e o encontro com o auto conhecimento.
Tambem sou uma profissional que acredita no poder da educação.Sou psicologa escolar e gostaria de conhecer seu trabalho.

Até mais.
Patricia Rosa Lara

Nicole Albamont said...

I loved the connection you made between yoga & education. As a fellow teacher and lover of yoga, you made this article very real. In regards to implementing technology into the classroom, change may be hard, but it is so necessary in today's day and age. We have the ability to let technology transform classroom instruction, and although there may be some "suffering" along the way, the end result will be worth it, just like the pain and difficulties we may face during our yoga practice, when all is said and done, it's worth it all.

Keep posting! I'll keep reading! :)

Babasofia said...

I guess suffering and fear are linked pretty tightly, and there i agree with Jim. It is a very yogic ideal, but the goal is to separate the pain from the fear (or the suffering). My wife was given this advice before childbirth. Her midwife calmly told her that her body was sublimely prepared to give birth, and that all that pain was just a natural part of the process. What would make it such a trying time would be the fear that inevitable accompanies the pain.

Anonymous said...

LLoyd Spruill said at a recent conference that "No one like change - except a baby with a wet diaper." I am not sure that I agree with the statement that no one likes change. I suppose it has more to do with attachment as Jim says (hi Jim!) and also if one feels like things are good or bad in the current moment.

Samsara is about judging... no? If things in the moment are perceived as good, one might like to keep them as is. That is attachment. If one thinks things can get better, one might look forward to change. If one always assumes that things can only get worse, that person should try yoga!

I am ready for change! Embrace change!

Andrea Hernandez said...

I think it was meant to be that yoga came up in our brief conversation...directing me to this post. It so happens that I am reading a very good book right now, The Wisdom of Yoga, by Stephen Cope that goes deep into yoga philosophy. There is a lot about patterns, how so much of our behavior is governed by deeply grooved patterns in the mind and how extremely difficult it is to change. It's not just that we don't like change or don't want to change. Even when we are motivated to change and willing to put forth the effort, we are still trapped to some degree by the deep, unconscious layers.

I've experienced this myself at work. I am supposed to be leading the change and inspiring others to want to change, and often, I fall back into an old pattern, rut or expectation.

One of the things I think EduCon does is it helps us all change our patterns together-- change our language, the way we work together, etc. Does this make any sense?

Because I love yoga so much, I have started trying to extrapolate some of the lessons from yoga class and how they relate to the school/ classroom....or, after EduCon "other learning spaces." I started a blog for these musings.

PS- You do know there are other types of yoga besides Bikram, right? I used to do Bikram and suffering did not seem optional! Now I do a hot power yoga that is much less rigid and not as hot, and I love it.

Liz Davis said...

Andrea - I am so glad I got a chance to talk to you at educon, if only briefly. Thanks for sharing the link to your yoga blog. I don't know how you manage two blogs (I can barely do one), it is great! I started with Bikram, but I don't do that anymore. There is a hot yoga place right near my house and it is wonderful.