In Buddhist teachings, samsara is the opposite of nirvana. Samsara is chaotic, tenuous, and emotional—it’s all about the cycle of highs and lows; nirvana is stillness, clarity, and peace. On paper, we are all after nirvana, but our reality can be quite different.
How many times have you sat with a friend, talking in circles around the horrible day you’ve had? You are essentially reliving it over and over again, reopening the wound each time. Simultaneously, there is a comfort in reliving this cycle.
Like the on-again off-again relationship of your college years, samsara has an excitement that keeps us coming back for more.
In many ways, this drama plays out in our practice. What is going to be the best spot in this room? Do I really have to move my mat? I can’t do that, how can anybody do that? Is that person doing better than I am? Oh! Here’s a part I’m good at, can anyone see me? Crap, it’s time for backbends…
Your mind is designed to spin and spin and spin. To run through thoughts like lines of computer code. In some ways, we are programmed for highs and lows. The lower part of your mind is meant to constantly assess the situation. And, if it senses danger or stress, to call in the adrenaline and the cortisol to get you out of there. Even this deeply rooted evolutionary mechanism is samsara.
In her book The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron says, “In samsara, we continually try to get away from pain by seeking pleasure, and in doing so, we just keep going around and around and around.” Practicing yoga, meditation, and mindfulness helps you find another path. You can actually change the way your brain is wired, without losing the intelligence of evolution.
Releasing our innermost drama queen is no small task. It can take years of practice, and may include a bit of backslide. In order to let it all go you will come face to face with many nasty lies you have told yourself. Sometimes, you will believe them. Practice anyway. Return to your cushion, your mat, your SUP board, over and over.
The only way out is through, but you are already waiting on the other side.
Photo by Kelsey Kradel
Elizabeth Crisci is a yoga teacher and artist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. She is the creator of Love by E, handmade gemstone mala and jewelry. She teaches in workshops, special events, and trainings in the Northeast in addition to a range of regular, weekly classes. She teaches smart and accessible yoga designed to make you feel good. She loves every minute of her work. You can find her writing and her teaching schedule on her website.