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Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

This morning, I was reading a Facebook post by Robert Reich.  I had seen his commentaries on Facebook and in the last week, what I have seen has appeared normal, sane, and much more positive than a lot of other things out there.  So, I decided to “like” him on Facebook so I could read more things from him.

Just after this morning’s post, I know he is a man with a lot to say, both from his intellect and from his heart.  He described being with his 102 year old dad and feeling the need to hide our current state of affairs from him and I totally get that.  And I have a lot of respect for him wanting to shelter his dad from the enormity of just how crazy and scary our world is right now.

How many things his dad has lived through!  My grandfather would be 102 in Feb ’16 if he were still alive.  One of my dad’s cousins just posted that her dad would be 100 years old if he was alive too.  How to even imagine what it means to have lived for 100 years, let alone the last 100 years in the world.   I think back to when Mike died 20 years ago or even Lois dying 15 years ago.  It’s painful to search for people you loved (love) and find no trace of them on the net.  It’s like they didn’t exist.  You can find everything on the net, right?

Even as a child, I was curious about the fight between good and bad, light and dark, saviors and villains.  Maybe it was all the Catholic school teachings?  Maybe it was just from seeing movies, news, tv, etc.  Maybe those “inherent” dichotomies are just born into us?  I’m not sure.  But this is something I think of, time to time, when I let my world get quiet.  We’ve come so far in the treatment of HIV and AIDS.  And yet, where would we be if the US was not so slow to talk about it.  Thank goodness for Rock Hudson and Reagan having HIV sitting in his living room.

On one hand, we have fewer and fewer people acknowledging any religious tradition and many of us do not turn to Judeo-Christian religions for our ethics and morals, or our solace when nothing makes sense.  But we do have people who have made it their spiritual journey to fight for the planet, those less fortunate, those with particular illnesses, and I think that should be commended.

We don’t have to kneel in the pews to praise the glory of the dawn or the expanses of the universe or hold intentions that the hate in the world will one day dissipate.  We have more kids, young kids, trying to solve the problems in the world — the kid who wants to clean the plastic out of the oceans, a 10 year old who sings to the elderly, a 13 year old that sends teddy bears to kids in Haiti after the earthquake, etc, etc.  Maybe listening to our children makes more sense than to listen to the vile hate and evil on the tv and internet today.  You know, the reports of cities make it illegal to feed a homeless person or setting up metal spikes to keep them from holding up outside of buildings.  Or those who spew hate about a particular religion or people. . .

I try to stay away from the news, and try to focus on my world and try to figure out how to break the confines of hate, gossip, treachery, and ill will.  I try to work with those things within my own heart and mind because if I can’t how do I expect anyone else to?  If I can’t what makes me think anyone else will take on that huge task, especially alone like I currently am.

But folks, it’s not a time to give up easily or to flirt with things like spirituality, rightness, goodness, kindness, advocacy, community, etc.  I think we need to take a stand.  Hundreds of people took a stand during WWII.  And I mention WWII because I am a bit of an amateur historian when it comes to the segregation, hostility, brain washing, mass evil that has come to be a part of the history of that time.  And though the world said, let we not forget, I think we have forgotten in the gravest ways.  Where has this rise in antisemitism taken off like a wild fire?  How long have we allowed China to create its own Holocaust within Tibet?  Why do we stand for the mass extinction of our lands, our world that feeds us and can help us to stay whole and healthy?  When does the side of good rise up and do something about all the dangers?

I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were Prof Reich.  I applaud his love and need to protect his dad.  And I bet his father has a world of wisdom to share with us after living for so long.  I hope as a scholar, not a son, the professor has archived his father’s thoughts, ideas, and wisdom.  Heck, I know I want to archive the silly little songs my dad has sung to me while I was growing up or the feel of a hug from him or mom, or to learn every one of mom’s recipes by heart, to have something of her close to me.

I have to admit, I long for the 1980s, yes, beyond just the music (Depeche Mode forever).  I was in my teens, I had two hart working parents and a pain in the neck older brother.  I still had grandparents.  I still lived in the places I had always known.  I had friends, had created friendships, that would still be with me today.  I learned how to be charitable with my time whether it was hanging out on a Friday night to give drunk kids rides or it was going to The Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield and giving love to wise old lonely people when I could get their after school.  Whatever was going on in the world, I think we were sheltered, or at least I was.  I didn’t even realize the person who slept in the bedroom next to mine had HIV.  It was still a time of innocence for me.

And may in our old age, we want to recreate an age of innocence for those older adults that we love.  We want them not to fear the world since aging and dying can be such big fears.  Maybe we want to create a time, like after birth, when the baby is so loved and we are so mindful of their every accomplishment and every beautiful breath?  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have friends make quilts and blankets, and stop by with flowers, or pick up prescriptions, or just to send a not of love?

I am so honored that Prof Reich shared such a deep a meaningful situation from his own life with us.  We are so much stronger, so much more human, when we can be ourselves and share who we are from the heart.  This is the kind of person who I want to know more about. . . his father too.  These are the people who have integrity and want to see good come from this little experiment on this planet that we all signed up for. . .life.

The battle between good and evil will always be there, as long as humans are there.  I pray with every person who takes up a microphone to speak out against Muslims, or people of color, or the President, that there are just as many people encouraging our brave kids to do better to help the world.  I hope there are more people learning yoga and sitting on their zafu.  I hope there are more people who rise to see the sun return to us as they sit and are thankful for the grace in this world.  And I hope there are just as many in the wee hours of the night, finishing school programs, writing songs, praying for world peace, and looking into their own hearts.  I add enough anger, frustration, lack of caring into the world and I need to recommit myself to being that young girl who saw the beauty and awe leaving early for school just to be closer to the Divine.  I need to remember who I am which is an advocate, an educator, and hopefully a person to planet peace in the darkest places.

Prof Reich, wherever you are, I wish you love and peace as you spend time with your dad.  I hope you feel the strength, power, and wisdom of your community as you enjoy each moment with him.  And, probably most importantly, I hope you feel my gratitude for you being genuine and sharing the bittersweetness in want to protect your dad.

Namaste!

May the merit of all our good flow into the universe a thousand-fold.

May the love we feel for those close to us also reach those people who feel unlovable.

May those we love never doubt that we love them with our whole existence and we would not betray the sacredness of them or our relationship to them.

May the merit of every word, every song, every syllable, every breath keep hope alive that there is a different way and we can find a peaceful existence in this threatening world.

Metta, now and always,

Jennifer

 

 

 

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The Third Noble Truth. . .   There is an end to suffering. But how?  Don’t you think if everyone knew there was a way we’d all be signing up?  Ani Pema Chodron writes in Comfortable with Uncertainty, “. . . suffering ceases when we let go of trying to maintain the huge ME at any cost.  This is what we practice in meditation. When we let go of thinking and the story line, we’re left just sitting with the quality and the energy of whatever particular ‘weather’ we’ve been trying to resist.”    What?  Okay, no wonder were not lining up around the corner.  I love Ani Pema but what does this mean in real terms?

The cessation of suffering is to put an end to the cravings, clinging, desire, ignorance, obsession and more.

Oh, okay.  Wait, what?  We can stop suffering by stopping are ignorance and desire?  We can stop it when we let go and stop clinging?  That’s great!  Wait, who would I be without my attachment or my perseverating?  How can I stop wanting?  I’m sure there will be an iSomething out soon. . .  and I will HAVE TO HAVE IT!

Wait, there’s more. . .

When suffering is stopped, there is also no more rebirth, suffering, and no dying again.  This is the liberation of all beings from the cycle.  Then we are free.

Mandy Barrow, on resources.woodlands-junior.ket.school, a homework resource for kids in the UK, interprets the Third Noble Truth like this:  “The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible.  If [we] let go of our craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free.  We then have more time and energy to help others.  This is Nirvana”.

We have so many stories in our heads.   We have so many wishes in our hearts.  And the more impossible they are, the more we probably want them, and the more we want them, the more suffering we have.  I have some that I am not sure I will ever want to let go of, no matter how much pain they cause.  To me, some of these stories, at least right now, are the breath that keeps me alive.  But if I want contentment, peace, ease, am I willing to let go of that which I grasp onto the tightest?

I think it’s so important to do this work (see the upcoming post on the Eight-fold Path) with the Buddha,  Dharma, and the Sangha.  They are our inspiration, our safety net, they are our teacher, and our support.  If the journey was easy, a lot more of us shining in our contentment.  But there isn’t. . . whenever starting a journey into the unknown, make sure you have your tools, your guide, and your desire to let go.

And the best news, the Buddha gave us the tools.  The Fourth Noble Truth is the tool, the ultimate tool.  The Fourth Noble Truth is that they way out of our suffering is The Eight-fold Path.  Over the next few days, in addition to other things, I will write about The Path.

Until then, ask yourself some gentle, kind, questions and just sit with what answers come up for you.  What would you be without your storyline?  You desires?  You want for a different outcome?  Who would you be if you were not always right?  Who are you, stripped down of all the trim and trappings?  Are you ready to sit and be present to whoever it is you find?

With deep respect and honor,

Jennifer

 

 

 

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Mark Hanson, psychologist and neuroscientist, sums up the Second Noble Truth like this:  The Second Noble Truth is the Cause of Suffering.  And what causes suffering?  It is our clinging to things, objects, ideas, rituals, people, etc.

Clinging can be described as:

  • Desire
  • Attachment
  • Obsession
  • Craving pleasures, material goods, immortality, etc
  • Righteousness
  • Griping
  • Hunger
  • Persevering
  • Obstinate
  • Ignorance

In Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes that the Second Noble Truth says, “. . .resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering.”  She goes further to say that we are “addicted to ME”.

Life is constantly changing and everything in life changes as well.  Developmentally, cognitively, spiritually, socially we change.  We might be 60 yrs old and probably don’t have the same friends we do in elementary school (though I plan that to be the exception to that case).  At 21, we might not like the same food we did as kids.  Even the weather changes and depending where you live it might change very, very quickly, like on the ride from the foothills in Boulder, up the mountain, and back down to Denver.  I think we figured it out and we experienced a 30 degree change in one afternoon.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I’ve read several times that people who have migraines have brains that like the same things to happen.  Wake up and go to sleep every day at the same times.  Same amount of caffeine.  Same time eating.  Etc, etc, etc.  I have a feeling that it is not only people with migraines that like that.  I know that I have worked with men and women who have Autism who also like their schedules to stay the same.  And again, I don’t think that it’s just Autistic people that don’t like change.  Actually, I know that to be the truth.  If we are human, most of us desire (need) things to remain the same or we suffer.

I’m dating myself but do you remember when Coke Cola decided to come out with New Coke.  Worst idea ever.  Why?  We like what we like and we don’t like change.  How could they ruin our lives and make us drink New Coke?  I mean really, why spoil great?  Every time hotmail.com changes their email platform my parents want to pull their hair out. . .  “but the button was always on the right, why did they move it”?  We don’t like change and these are small changes in the grand scheme of our lives.

We have people we love move, they get older, they die.  We have fights with people we love or we (or they) betray each other.  I’ve found that I need to keep my keys, jewelry, pen I use at work, and cell phone in a bowl by the door.  I’m great when I do every day.  But, some days, I get a call as I walk in or I have too many grocery bags, (whatever), and the next morning, I am a sheer panic because my safety net is gone.  Panic.  Where’d the phone go?  Oh my god, I’m gonna be late.  Where the hell are those keys?  Where’s the ring that so and so gave me and it will start my morning off in a foul way and I have to make every effort to stop, breathe, and go on.  It is a good reminder of how far I still have to go on my journey.

The Second Noble Truth speaks to the birth of our suffering. . . our clinging, our need for sameness, how we think the world should be, how we think everything should be. We resist change and it is this resistance that causes our suffering.  It’s easy to look at the first and second noble truths and think:  great optimism Buddhists!  There’s suffering in life and our need to live by our ego that guides our persistent need to have everything remain the same and static.  It’s really easy to believe that and close the book.  Walk away.  Shake our heads and think, wow, such nihilists.  But it’s only the beginning.  We have to look at the nature of reality if we want to understand our suffering.

I don’t think there is any better example of the Second Noble Truth than grief.  I know that might be hard to swallow for some.  We can suffer terribly when we experience the loss of someone we love, adore, cherish.  We can’t imagine living our lives without the love of our life.  We certainly cannot fathom the loss of our children while we are still alive.  Now, I don’t think that our connectedness is bad, far from it.  But we experience such immense pain.

And think about what happened when a special person to you died. . .do you remember hearing that joke and wanting to forward that email to that person who isn’t here?  Do you remember how you felt when you started to forward the email?  Or how it felt when your grandfather didn’t call right after dinner to hear how your day was?  Such emptiness. Such longing.  And such suffering and some times we never get over it.  Well, I don’t think we ever get over our loss.  I don’t think we reconcile with it, have closure, etc.  We hope with time it hurts a little less.

So, after some thought, some quiet time:  what do you find are those things in life that you cling to the most?  How you were raised?  Your political views?  Your spiritual views?  What do you desire, need, want, have to have?  And how do we work with our desires while living in a society that is created to make us constantly want what we don’t have and don’t really need?  How do we work to not become extremists in our thinking and how we live our lives?  How do we work with our societal need for youth?  Beauty? Money?  How do we live with our pain (any kind of pain — physical, spiritual, psychological, etc)?  How do we loosen our grip and learn to breathe?

The Third Noble Truth is “There is an End to Suffering.”  Come back in a few days are check out the post on the Third Noble Truth.

In solidarity and with hope,

Jennifer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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