The Universe Is on Your Side by LaChelle Schilling


IMG_0617While I am sure this articulation is on an “inspirational” meme somewhere, my thoughts coalesced to form it while I was looking at the mid-afternoon blue sky in a moment of rare optimism. Too often can I become confused and despondent about the situation of our earth and humanity, myself. “We want healing too,” it whispered. If we are for the sustainable restoration and support of our earth, then we have a whole universe on our side that moves toward this direction as well. Our bodies, one with the universe, join in this want of healing.

Matthew Sanford is a yoga instructor whom I heard speak during an NPR interview. He explained how any reference to “our bodies failing us” does not feel true to him. He explained:

one of the lessons that I’ve learned is it was my body that kept me living. Your body, for as long as it possibly can, will be faithful to living. That’s what it does. [. . .] My body didn’t ask to get hammered and break, and to have its spine shredded, and many bones broken. And it went, ‘OK, let’s regroup. Let’s go.’ And only a little part of my body didn’t heal. Only — you know, an inch or two of my spinal cord was not able to regenerate. It went to work, right, and that’s what it’ll do. It might get confused. It might not know how to grow the right cells, but I’m telling you, it’s moving toward living for as long as it possibly can.

(Sanford was in a car crash when he was a child and his mind cannot recall much or any of it.)

Oftentimes, my body is okay. This morning I feel the cysts on my ovaries, and I wonder if I have done anything to aggravate them. Otherwise, it is what I refer to as my “mind” that seems so outside of this conversation. Could it be that our minds continually attempt to turn toward healing as well? My friend suggested to me that our dreams and sleep are our minds’ attempts to heal themselves. Could our minds also want our psychological healing? So often I, at least, think of my mind as the cause of the inverse. I find it compelling how little we know, or at least I know, about the dream-work of minds. (My dreams are usually ones where I am—along with others—being chased, by the way.)

Sanford talks about practicing non-violence towards the body in the interview and his book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. In this memoir, he writes how healing yoga has been: “I have never seen anyone truly become more aware of his or her body without also becoming more compassionate.” In the interview, he adds, “when mind separates from body, we get more self-destructive. We get more destructive in general.”

I have been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries. In the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, which I have shared with my composition students before, the Buddha takes us through sixteen practices with the breath. We can go from simply following the entire length of breath in and the entire length of breath out (in, out) to noticing the quality of our breath (slow, deep) to using our inhales and exhales to do a scan of the body. (Breathing in, I am aware of my ovaries. Breathing out, I calm my ovaries.)

He mentions how pleasing it is when our bodies are healthy, when we do not have a toothache, for instance, yet how we rarely notice these neutral feelings of health until they turn badly.

Breathing has not always worked as quickly as I would wish in some situations. But I am willing to continue trying in my most difficult, neutral, and pleasant times. This practice, if truly effective, is a signal that we have something great that is for us, on our side—that this simple task to which most of us have access can do calming, healing work.

Trauma and negativity can be bewildering stories to get right. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk in another NPR interview suggests that “people say, ‘Tell me about your trauma.’ But the nature of our trauma is that you actually have no recollection for it as a story in a way. [. . .] The nature of a traumatic experience is that the brain doesn’t allow a story to be created.” I am not sure if this is always true, but it resonates with my recent experience. There have been times when I have wept in grief at nothing I could really point to as cause. It happens when exploration and openness to my psyche have also been occurring, so the grief feels healing, but it also is confusing. What am I mourning the loss or realization of? I am not always sure.

I find it comforting that Hahn/Buddhist literature articulates confidently that “life is suffering” (162). At graduate school, I also had a friend, “the atheist theologian,” who would express, in equanimity, the most honestly bold statements. Why do truths, although seemingly hard, always feel like cool water poured on my rough, scorching soul? Why do they free me? Hahn completes this particular instance of the noble truth in this way: “Although life is suffering, it also has [. . .] the harvest moon, the forsythia bush, the violet bamboo, the clear stream of water” (162). I cannot always pay attention only to my suffering. The idea that the universe is on our side can sound vacuous, but I only mean the earth, our bodies, and we tree-huggers seem to agree on a path to restoration. In the midst of knowing all the work that needs to be done, it feels comforting, at least to me, to pause and wonder how our mindful, compassionate, and earth-loving ideals are supported by an effective, ancient, and still present energy.

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

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Categories: Body, Ecojustice, environment, Healing, Interdependence of Life, Nature, yoga

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17 replies

  1. Blessed be. I agree with you about the body. Although I believe that life includes suffering, much of it not caused by our (individual) selves, I believe that joy and love healing and health are as fundamental if not more fundamental than suffering and death. Before patriarchy people celebrated the cycles of birth, death, AND regeneration, which means that for them, death and suffering were acknowledged but did not have the last and final word. While I think Buddhist meditations can be helpful to many, I also worry that focusing on “life is suffering” is to deny the cycle of birth, death, and regeneration. Only from an ego position that says “I” should live for ever is death the greatest evil. “I” am quite content to know that “I” will die and that the processes of birth, death, and regeneration will continue for others. Of course, we today face the deeper sadness that so many species are dying before our eyes and ecosystems that have functioned since time unremembered are being destroyed before our eyes. This is a great sadness that for me far outweighs any sadness I might have about my own death. At the same time, I know that the processes of birth, death, and regeneration will continue for a long time on our planet and after it “dies” in the universe as a whole. And this is a comforting thought.

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    • Hello Carol. Thank you so much for your response. I hope people could feel bliss more than suffering and I certainly think it is possible. “All life is suffering” is more of a simple observation than fatalistic dictate about what life must be. The first noble truth might be that suffering exists, but there is a cause and a cure. I agree, that one’s suffering isn’t entirely one’s own. We are all interrelated. I think that the message to calm one’s own suffering is only to the extent one can. At least we should not add to it. Perhaps if the rich, powerful, and privileged would work more on being mindful and aware and cool their own anger and ego, they/we would not cause suffering for others in the world. It is so important to ease our own suffering caused by our ignorance and thoughts so that we do not cause suffering for others. If there was a golden age before patriarchy, that is wonderful. I long to know if there is any part of human history not weighed down by war or inequality. I hope with all hope that it was for then it might be possible again.

      I agree that it would be very healing to embrace a perspective on our own deaths that might be based more in curiosity rather than fear. I think the more connected we are to nature, the more observant we can be of the cycles of the trees and other beings in the universe, if we can see ourselves less separate, less different, perhaps we can move in this direction. Actually my readings in Buddhism and Jainism have helped me even be aware there could be another way to think about my own death (one not so full of resistance – I am certainly working on it). Buddhism is all about acceptance and reality, and so I don’t see it having to deny the cycle of birth, death, and regeneration. Roshi Pat O’Hara, zen buddhist, has a chapter on death in her book Most Intimate. I think my ideas about buddhism and death have been influenced by her.

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  2. On working with the earth, not against it — I recently read a miracle in Scientific American, where it says: “New York City recently discovered that it will be 10 times cheaper to buy key parts of its watershed and manage them appropriately than to build new water treatment plants. Likewise, Costa Rica has recognized that its protected forests contribute water for power generation that is worth $104 million per year (in other words, that is how much it would cost to import enough fossil fuels to produce an equivalent amount of energy).

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  3. Measuring my eye pressure (glaucoma) at the ophthalmologist office yesterday, it was at 20. Then the technician said: “Now breathe while I measure” – I was tense and holding my breath. She measured again and the pressure came in at 17. It was a good thing for me to actually experience what I believed. Thank you for your post LaChelle, as always, helpful and encouraging. Keep breathing!

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  4. Yes, indeed, let us all keep breathing. Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of an all-day asthma attack that sent me to the hospital for a week. While I was there, a goddess came to stand by my bed. I saw her. And I’m still here. I’m still breathing. It’s good to read (first thing in the morning) that the universe is on our side.

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  5. Oh YES, I wholeheartedly believe the universe is on our side. We need to keep inviting lovingly, and training others in all the ways we know, the hows for connecting with this universal oneness of light, love, beneficence. This piece uplifted me greatly. I attended a songs of hope concert last weekend in a small upstate NY city of Oswego – SRO – to hear the voices of children, teens, and women singing songs old and new reminding us to breathe, to take each moment as a gift, to walk in peace. I keep getting messages not to despair, but to simply do my part to foster the return of the light. Thank you all for doing, writing, championing the good. Wounds are very real – physical and emotional – but we can open to healing. Thank you Barbara A for your brief story. This seeing is always available to us. Yes, let’s keep breathing.

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    • YAY. Absolutely. Let us teach each other. I’m so glad you had that experience. One reason I love chanting in Sanskrit is all the “hah”s involved in the words that invite me to breathe. Song and sound and breath can be healing. Yes, wounds are real, physical and emotional – I love this. And the being open to what we can heal when we can. I stand with you.

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  6. Reading your post, I thought of several people who are in pain right now who could use your words. Thanks you!

    It’s hard for us in a culture that separates body and mind to not think dualistically about our bodies, to somehow objectify them when we are actually our body-mind-spirits. During the first 2 years of 4 years of unrelenting back pain, I felt that my body had betrayed me. But then I “discovered” that it was my mind (chronic pain is created at least in part when you become more sensitive to small aches and pains; it’s change in the neural paths in your brain). Eventually, I recovered, but having been acculturated to the body/mind split, I’m still capable of falling into that dualism. Then there’s the larger dualism that you speak to in your title; matter and spirit. I agree with you that we are all a part of the interdependent web of existence, and it certainly can help us to heal. Of course, they’re related, since body is defined by our Christo-centric culture as matter, and mind is seen as aligned with spirit.

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    • And then I opened an email from Kripalu (one of my favorite retreat centers in MA) and they were advertising a weekend with Gabrielle Bernstein entitled “The Universe Has Your Back”!

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    • Thank you for your comments, dear. I hope you are in complete recovery. And I’m so glad you found something that could ease your pain somewhat. I have had many times where I have “breathed into” the pain, and it can help. Pertaining to your other comment, ha – I love that! I don’t know about Kripalu. I will have to look up information about it. I would love to go on a retreat some day. Thank you for all your kindness. Be well.

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  7. Spot on and eloquent. I needed to read this today. Thank you, and you have a new follower .

    Liked by 1 person

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