Tag Archive | suffering

sharing our suffering

Jizo 16The constraints I place on my blogging make it difficult for me to post regularly. When our children were young, I freely shared the many challenges my husband and I faced. I used to write extensively about the difficulties of parenting kids with behaviors and issues typical of post-institutionalized international adoptees. Now that our children are older and members of an internet-savvy peer group, I guard their privacy by posting almost nothing about them. I also cannot write about challenges I face at work. Since these two areas are the sources of most of my stresses, I’m self-censored, with little left to discuss except books I’ve read and my spiritual practice, often devoid of the context necessary to explain my motivations.

These constraints remind me of my email tagline: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Everyone faces challenges that they don’t speak about, whether due to privacy concerns, social mores, embarrassment, or fear. I am constantly surprised by how many people who appear through regular social interaction to be “perfectly happy” are actually combating illness, anxiety, death of a loved one, or family crisis. Often I don’t learn about what they’re dealing with until I talk about my own difficulties and see their faces flush with relief. I know exactly what you mean! someone will say then, completely unexpectedly. I’ve dealt with that too and I didn’t know you who had. It’s so hard to go through alone but you can’t talk about these things with most people.

I suspect that we’d all be a lot happier and healthier if we did talk about these things more openly. Just like there’s still social stigma related to talking about mental health issues, I think there’s significant social stigma related to talking about suffering. From my own experience, I know there are myriad reasons for this beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned. Sometimes I’m worried about being seen as the person whose whining everyone else tries to avoid; we’ve all experienced a person who traps others in endless negative conversations. I want people to think well of me, to see me as someone who’s resolutely positive and who’s got things under control. I also have fear of being misunderstood, worrying that no one else could comprehend what I’m going through unless they’ve gone through it themselves. Many times I’m sick of thinking about my problems, many of which have repeated in seemingly perpetual cycles for more than a decade. The last thing I want to do is to spend even more time explaining all of that to someone else. And if I’m honest with myself, there is also a shame aspect: how can someone with as long of a spiritual practice as I have still struggle so much with suffering? Shouldn’t I have it all worked out by now – especially considering that the challenges I face are so small compared to those faced by so many other people? Continue reading

Suffering

Jizo 33My life is not all equanimity and joy. I’ve gone through periods of darkness when my mind has felt literally fogged up with clouds of misery. During such periods, it’s very difficult to think clearly, like trying to see the world through mud-colored glasses. Sometimes during such periods people have tried to be helpful to me in ways that haven’t been helpful at all. I have never once been comforted by hearing “it could always be worse”, no matter how true the statement is. “The universe never gives you more than you can handle” is another one that does not resonate with me. Sometimes I’ve faced situations that are more than I can handle. Sometimes I have broken. What I have learned, however, is that breaking gives me the opportunity to put myself back together stronger than I was before.

One of my favorite books is The Chocolate Cake Sutra by Geri Larkin. I was pretty skeptical when I started reading the book. There are a lot of pop culture references that initially felt pretty jarring in a Buddhist book and the author tends to be perky in a way that made me doubt whether she’d ever really been tested by difficult experiences. But the more I read, the more I realized that she’d been tested in far greater ways that I ever had and she’d come out with a deep happiness based not on platitudes but on radical acceptance of whatever life was throwing at her in the moment. She writes “Accepting what is leads to the surprise of a lifetime. Suddenly you realize that happiness is yours. And that it grows from the opposite of what you expect. Instead of control, it grows from letting go. Instead of stuff, it grows from simplicity. Instead of the need for fifteen minutes of fame, it grows from planting flowers and vegetables in an abandoned city plot – anonymously.”

This was revelatory to me. On some level, I’d always thought that my life was supposed to be happy all the time – and not little happiness like a clear sky or a fresh strawberry or a hug from my child but Hollywood-style happiness like fame, fortune, and vacations in Europe – and if I got less than that, I was being cheated. And yet. When I look deeply and really think about it – that’s not the way life is. Continue reading