Understanding DUHKHA: Navigating the "Bad Spaces" in life

DUHKHA, a concept in yoga, literally means "bad space." It is the other half to the coin "SUKHA" or sweet space. It seems like life is always one of the other, doesn't it? A sign of progress in your yoga practice is that you shift from habitual, fear based patterns in your consciousness and in your nervous system/body when experiencing DUHKHA and begin seeing suffering as an opportunity for spiritual growth. 

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We all have hungry ghosts clawing at us, guiding us to do things we might regret or influencing our actions before we can really understand their repercussions. You, me, your mother, your brother, we are all a product of our environment and sometimes those places we come from are sweet and at other times they are sour. Culturally we have generated a reluctance to see our own darkness and certain reactions, emotions, mistakes, and imperfections are shamed and labeled as bad. Everyone you interact with usually has an agenda that comes from their own trauma based fear and this can make navigating social groups confusing and difficult. 

Yoga teaches us that while we aren't necessarily entitled to the fruit of our labor, we are entitled to the opportunity to work. The strangest aspect of KARMA is that the fruit doesn't always look like what we want it to and often the work isn't what we expect. If we aren't paying close attention to our lives, to the fluctuations of experiences + consciousness, to how we are habitually reacting when things seem to be going wrong in life, we might actually miss the work that is being asked of us. Be present to your lives my loves. Wake up to what you have right now, what is trying to be resolved within you. Be present to your reluctance or willingness to flow

Myself, I am waking up to layers of bias in myself that I have been committed to remove for a long time and with that, I am waking up to my desire to run from the conflict created by the repercussions of actions that I believe to be in alignment with my highest self. I am waking up with a desire to be graceful, to maintain safe boundaries, to be honest, to maintain my integrity. I am also waking up to a lot of fear based patterns. 

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I have learned through my practice that waking up is a very ordinary experience. We never really get to “evolve” out of suffering. Once we master the perfect headstand or can sit in meditation for over an hour at once without looking at the clock, pain doesn’t magically disappear. We don’t stop making mistakes and angels don’t pop out from behind every cloud to bless us with positive feelings all day. If anything we become more accountable and more responsible for our lives. We embody our highest self on a deeper level and that calls for more experiences that will encourage that growth. 

In the process of waking up to the full spectrum of life, mixed with both sweetness and pain, we also wake up to a still small voice reminding us to not let a bump in the road or a challenging avalanche of experience prevent us from stepping into the roles that have been opening before us. A challenge isn’t a closed door telling you to take a different route, it IS the door into a more evolved, kind, compassionate, and just person.

The signs of a fruitful practice aren’t in how good you look in your yoga pants or how vegan you can be. The true signs of fruit are when you remember to pray for kindness, when you remember that you do not have to react to everything that exposes itself to your senses. There is fruit when you open yourself to a new phase and you shift away from fear as you navigate the rocky or rolling terrain that you have asked to walk over.  

When I see myself retreating from learning the lessons that accompany suffering, I have a sweet, fierce voice in the back of my mind telling me that this can be both my unravelling and my upward spiral. We cannot move upwards without appearing to be moving backwards. This is a marker of a successful practice and a reminder that no matter how painful DUHKHA can be, there is sweetness within. 

Our practice, when diligent and focused, can give us a birds eye view of our life. It can help us shift how we perceive DUHKHA and it creates space to re-pattern our relationship to challenges we may encounter. According to yoga philosophy, fear is always at the root of our suffering (fear of pain, fear of the absence of pleasure, fear of endings, etc) but we learn through the practice that love can get louder.  With every meditation, with every commission of vulnerability, with every willingness to see our pain as an opportunity to get closer to oneness, soon, love will be the loudest. 

A MANTRA PRACTICE TO HELP YOUR HEART FEEL PROTECTED IN TIMES OF “DUHKHA"

If you are in a phase of feeling helpless, lost, oppressed, and like you want to give up on your dreams because of a set back whether huge or minor, call on the the Goddess DURGA. She is a representation of the divine feminine energy that is the great mother, the protector, and a fierce warrior of the heart. She is invincible aspect of shakti, divine feminine energy, and calling her fierceness into your life can support you in making the appropriate choices for how you navigate challenge as well as protecting the sacred whisper of intuition that can be hushed by the challengers, naysayers, manipulators, and the oppressors. She protects the goodness within you and is one of the most widely sought goddesses in India. 

To complete a simple Durga practice, write down on a piece of paper the outcome of working with her energy that you most desire whether spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical and what you need protection from. Put that paper in a safe space where you will most often speak her mantra. Then, sit for a few moments to quiet the mind, heart, and body, and begin to chant or sing her mantra (quietly or out loud) and listen to your body and her wisdom until the energy within you begins to shift. 

By chanting the healing Durga mantras, it is said that all the mental, physical, and economic problems of our life will be eliminated by the Goddess and she will protect us against all types of harm from the waves of suffering of others, as well as the waves of suffering of our biggest enemy, (ourselves) with compassion. 

If you want to dive deep, deep, try committing to this practice for 40 days and see how your life transforms! Chant every day until you trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. For a more traditional practice, chant this mantra 108 times every day.

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THE MANTRA:

OM DUM DURGAYEI NAMAHA

  • OM: Sacred sound invoking all manifest universal energy
  • DUM: The seed sound of protection. This seed sound will invoke Durga as the protectress if fear is an issue and help you feel less afraid. 
  • DURGAYEI: Salutations to Durga, the protectress, remover of fear, and bestower of power
  • NAMAHA: I bow to you

A DURGA PRAYER

Divine mother in the form of Durga, the great and fierce protectress, Protect me from the waves of the suffering of others, protect the crystal heart within me that holds the deepest desires of transformation for my soul, protect the path that I am walking. Adorn me with the power of compassion in the face of wrath, adorn me with the power to learn and grow from my suffering, the power to see all suffering as an opportunity to come closer to you.  Namaste. 

REFLECT

  • When you are in a space of DUHKHA what are the common patterns of tension in your body? Where are you storing that tension, in your neck? Jaw? Stomach? Calves? 
  • How does your resistance to suffering manifest in your behavior to yourself and others? Do you go for the cupcake or cigarette? Do you indulge and then feel guilty? Do you retreat or do you lash out?
  • How do you respond to challenging situations? Do you see them as a road block to overcome or do you see them as a stopping point? Has this pattern served you? 
  • Think of a time where something bad happened but turned out to be a blessing? Can you make a list of 5 of these occurrences? 
  • If you are experiencing some phase of DUHKHA in your life now, try to shift your perspective? What is the lesson that if you are to learn, will make you a stronger person?