Archive for December 5th, 2015

So in my post the other day, #Enough, I started to discuss the Four Noble Truths.  The first truth is: Life has inevitable suffering.  In Pali, the word for suffering is dukkha.  Dukkha can also mean ill-being, uneasiness, pain, or suffering.  Our experiences are not satisfying.  We cannot avoid pain, illness, trauma, stress, etc.  We age.  We get sick.  We experience the death of a loved one.  We can feel restless, hurt, disappointed, let down, depressed.  All of these experiences are seen or felt as negative and give us some sort of discomfort.  Right now, it’s 85 degrees in my office and I’m flushed and cranky.  That is dukkha.

When I read the posts on Facebook this week, I felt sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, etc.  All of this is suffering.  All over the world.  It’s unavoidable if you are sentient.  Think about childbirth; wonderful thing, right?  But with it comes morning sickness, nausea, stretch marks, pain, contractions, bloating, and swollen ankles and feet.  Yes, our end result is the beautiful life we bring into this world, but that beauty and love, and natural impulse toward bringing life into this world comes with difficult experiences.

And just as our suffering is part of our experience, from the very first breath we take, so is our innate desire to move away from pain.  I’m a baby and I’m hungry.  I want to move away from the hunger and I cry to let you know I need something.  Suffering.  I can’t leave a job I have, despite hating it, because I need the money, insurance, whatever it is that we get from being employed.  Suffering.  Payday comes and I feel happy to have money.  Almost all of my money goes towards paying bills and I’m left with enough to just get by. . .   Suffering.

No matter how happy we are, how loved we feel, how grounded, we still experience this kind of suffering.  It’s December and I’m too cold and wish it was 85.  It’s July and humid and I want it to be cold.  All this suffering that we try to escape.  And escaping isn’t necessarily bad but it can also cause more suffering.  But do I even realize I am suffering or am I just constantly ill-tempered and don’t know that I am constantly complaining.  This is suffering because I don’t even know what is contributing to my pain, and sometimes, I do not realize that I am in pain.

Stephen Levine has a wonderful cd mediation about grief.  Not just the loss of a person but all of the losses in our lives, such as pain.  So, he’s really talking about our dukkha.  And as he asks us to acknowledge it, feel it in our bodies, through the meditation he asks us to connect with all being, all over the world and in all times, that are having or have had the same experience of pain.  We connect with them and we see we are not alone.  We realize that if others feel pain, that pain is universal.  This realization can helps us to move from my pain into the pain.  Even though we are acknowledging all the pain in the world, when we look at the pain, it becomes easier to handle.  It’s not my pain or even our pain; it is the pain.

I had moved when I was in college, not really by my choice or so I thought at the time.  I had just spent two years studying existentialism and had read The Plague by one of my favorite authors, Albert Camus.  I felt alone, lonely, angry, frustrated, out of place. . .  I felt like I had been exiled from my own land, the place I knew and had lived for 20 years.  When I remembered Camus’ book and how some of the people felt out of place, I felt better.  I could relate and I felt less alone.  Someone, even it was Camus, as depicted by the characters in his book, knew the experience I was in.  I knew I wasn’t as alone, despite the fact that Camus had died in 1960 (11 yrs before my birth).

Two years later, I found out my brother had HIV and again, I turned my attention to Camus.  As Mike was dying and I was finishing college, I went to work for an AIDS social service agency.  I felt the plague all around me; not the HIV, but the suffering and dying.  Everyone I knew, save my parents and friends back home, was dying.  I felt like I was suffocating at times.  But when I thought of the residents of Oran, Algeria, and how they watched the suffering of others, sometimes to the point of doing not much more than talk about the weather to avoid the suffering that was everywhere.

As I worked with this fear, pain, sadness, and overwhelming experience, I realized, we are all dying.  All over this planet, as long as people had been alive, they were dying.  We might experience it differently, but in the end, dying.  So when I could settle myself and breathe, I could see that whether we knew we had an illness or not, whether we could predict when or not, we were all dying but it wasn’t my death or the death of my clients, it was THE DYING of all impermanent things/beings.

So I ask you, what suffering do you have in your present life?  Have you sat and just experienced it, with the tv off, without the sounds of the dog, the kids, the co-workers down the hall?  Have you allowed your awareness to scan your body and see where your suffering lives?  Have you breathed it into your heart and sat with the fact that there is suffering of all kinds in your life, all kinds of pain and losses.

Can you or will you just sit with what that is and feel it in your body, in your cells.  They tell people in AA that the first step is acknowledging that you are powerless.  In the case of Buddhism, the first truth is acknowledging your suffering.

Do you have a friend, a dog, a lover, a sibling, anyone who can sit with you in silence and allow you to sit with your suffering and be there to hold a safe space for you?  If not, what is that like?  If yes, are you willing to sit with it?

The First Noble Truth is there is suffering in our existence.  The Second Noble Truth is: There is a cause to our suffering.  This will be the next truth we explore.  Please share your experiences, if you feel comfortable and please come back and learn more about the Four Noble Truths.  Also, come back as I will have a post about Tongle Meditation that will post soon, giving you a way to sit with and work with your suffering

Until then, Metta.  Jennifer

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“If you love someone but rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love.” ~

Thích Nhất Hạnh

I remember when I worked at hospice, I had purchased a round candle holder.  I bet you had one… it was round, maybe terra-cotta and was little people holding hands around a space for a candle.  I know, it’s beginning to come back to you.  It was a great symbol for the interdisciplinary team at hospice, holding the candle in the middle, representing the patient and patient’s family in the center.

Sometimes, we need to be that candle in the middle of the circle.  Hopefully you have a circle of friends/family who can envelope you during your dark times.  We don’t learn early enough that we don’t need just a best friend, we need a team of closest, each with their own unique perspective, style, time allowances, and different humor, personality, traits, strengths, and amount of time they have available.  It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a coven, clan, sangha, mates, buddies, cohorts, and compatriots to keep us alive and filled with light.  At work, these people are known as your “peeps”, which only reminds me of the yellow stale marshmallows.

In dark times, it’s easy to implode.  Especially if you sit at your computer (or TV) and watch what’s going on in the world.  (Notice I didn’t say read the paper… do people do that still)?  The world has changed so much just in the 15 years and it feels like we’re getting ready to have a round of growing pains. . . the wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night, charlie horse in both legs at once kind of growing pains.  (Yes, I studied Existentialism and Heidegger  — I can hyphenate too).

Anyway, when the world is falling apart, or at least appears to, we can lose perspective when we down and close off.  Or our pain is so large, we are afraid to share it with only one person.  Last weekend, I was home and didn’t go out because of snow.  I binge watched some series I found and streamed.  It made me sad. . . it felt like it was a 2015 version of an odd mix of Heathers, Sex in the City, Ally McBeal, Friends, etc.  I’m apparently old.  I kept thinking “is this what the Golden Girls would have been like when they were 20-30s?”  That was a sad thought.  And then I remember an article I read about these actresses and how they did not get along in real life at all.   Sometimes I wonder, if anything real, is anything what it seems to be (I don’t think they have an emoji that is THAT sad).

Not sure why this was so sad for me.  I guess maybe because all of these shows depict the petty, crappy, turn-on-each-other, can’t-trust-anyone kinds of relationships that I see out there among friends.  And it makes me very homesick for my family of friends, as mine are all over the country and in some cases, in different realms.  And speaking of different realms, that’s who I am missing the most right now, my friend L.

L. died in 2001, only a few days before the terror attacks in 2001.  I’ve never met someone so alive and probably never will again.  Even in her dying, she was so vibrant, celebratory, dynamic, vital, sensitive, and wise. L. had the lions share of light that emanated for miles around her.

L. was my “sister”, mentor at work, “mother” in my spiritual life, wise woman, crone, and she had spent a good part of her life working with those who were dying.  And she did no less during her last two years of life.  But, I’ve written about her before and you can read those posts.  Why she comes to mind in this blog is because I find that I am feeling the loss of what roles she had in my life.

I don’t know about other women, but when I did my graduate work, I had a silly idea that school was like sitting the C.S. Lewis, Einstein, or even Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.  I was in for a rude awakening.  My experience was not like that at all — barely had teachers, let alone mentors.  Everyone was too busy with their own research, their own caseloads, etc.  Especially the farther I got into my studies and realized that the old boys club is alive and kicking in academia.  And I think that’s why when I met L at the beginning of my clinical career, I felt so lucky to have a mentor who had “been there, done that”.  She provided the feminine energy of a priestess and journey guide that I needed desperately after having been a daddy’s girl and a student of male profs for so long.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Right now I’m at a point in my life where I find myself seeking again.  Siiiggghhhhhh.  Ah, another leg of the journey. . .

Aside:  NCIS is actually playing in the background while I write this.  And, duh, I miss my Gibbs!  Yeah, that’s who L was, less the white walls and head-slaps.  And not a minute after I write that does Gibbs do the unspeakable, he gives one of his team mates a full hug, I mean a “L. hug”,  and you had to see Gibbs (or L.) do this to get what I mean.  When this hug comes your way, you are an active participant in the healing circle of a thousand wise ones who are all living through that one Being that is hugging you back.  It’s like a hug with the collective unconscious.

Sorry for the digression.  I stop for NCIS could be my bumpersticker. . . it was a bonding thing with my dad and I.  I used to stop by after my late support group and we’d watch it together.

Going back to seeking. . .  there seem to be some journeys we do by ourselves and some with a guide, some with a companion. . .   some times that journey is a quest, a stroll through memories like a stroll through an old grave yard. . . some times it’s an arduous hike, uphill, both ways.  Some days feel like our name should be Sisyphus, other days Johnny Appleseed and some days, we set out to find out who we are or to fine a clan to name us.  Some journeys we set out to find a wise person and others we have no where we are going and we end up being the wise person we are looking for on the journey.

Who is there with you on your current journey?  Are they a helper, a guide or are they a trickster?  Who is there to take pics of you when you are off to eat, pray, and love and who is there to translate for you when you arrive in a foreign land?  And who is there when you return from your travels, changed forever?

When you are in your very darkest hour, who is there with a fire in their hearth for you to warm your hands up?  Who’s there when you meet your Ogre in the bathroom like Hermione?  Who is there to be your mirror, mirror on the wall. . . the one to hold and shine your light back to you?  Who is there for your late night panic or your home-run hit?

I have been so blessed to meet so many light holders on my journey. . . so many places I’ve lived and people I have come to love.  L was there for me as my brother died and I was stepping into the world of the wounded healer.  She was there to show me how someone could live their dying like a spiritual warrior.  J has been there for me since I wore a plaid skirt in Catholic school and is there for me almost every day of my life and blesses my life with his laughter.  P & A are there for me, whether it’s been 3 yrs or 3 months, or 3 days, with laughter and history and sarcasm and sweetness.

These are a few of the people who hold my light when I doubt myself, feel betrayed by my body, am uncertain about the future, and healing from the past.  They are the ones who will keep me alive when the time comes for me to start my next incarnation.  They are the souls, the stardust, the angels, the loves that travel with me time and time again.  These are the light beings that I’ve made a contract with, a contract of the heart and spirit. . . to be there, to hold each other, to challenge each other, and to take on the utmost important role in each other’s lives. . . to be the friend(s) who shower my life with light and who hold mine, even after my light has faded.

With the deepest gratitude and love for Lois, John, Pam, Amy.  With the deepest respect for all of my family of friends.  May you feel the light and warm of our friendship in these darkest of hours.

Namaste, Jennifer








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