Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

Wow, this summer has been 10 times crazier than I ever would have thought.  I snapped the photo above when I was running errands about 10 days ago.  Even when it’s busy, you’ve gotta stop and check out the clouds… it’s been too hot for a lot of stopping and smelling those proverbial roses.

I’m getting ready to teach General Psych for the first time this fall.  I start in less than 3 weeks and it is a LOT of work, on top of dissertation work and working a stressful 40 hour work week.

So, I have to admit that this blog has suffered.  And I thank all of you who stopped by, left me messages, checked to see if I was okay, etc.  I really enjoy doing the blog and unfortunately, there are only a few things in life that I can put on the back burner.

I’m thinking the Fall will be just as busy but I will do my best to find still, clear moments to share things I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, etc.

I’ve just re-watched Clara’s Heart with Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris several days ago when I was home with a migraine.  It’s the story of several losses and how everyone involved deals with their losses.  And well, it’s fun to see Neil Patrick Harris as a little boy.  If you have Netflix check it out.

I picked up a new book for my Kindle. . . The Wisdom of Listening by Mark Brady.  I have to say that I am really enjoying the few stolen moments that I find to read a couple of passages.

In this book, Mark states,

Once you have the attitude in your mind and heart, no matter how distressing your work environment, you can be really happy. . . Before beginning your daily meditations, spend some time reflecting on the suffering in the world, or your friends’ or patients’ suffering, and as their suffering touches and opens your heart, let your compassion grow even deeper, and your intentions to help even stronger.”

There is a lot of suffering that goes on at my full time job.  Our direct care staff work long hard hours with little gratitude.  We work with very difficult clients and there isn’t a day that goes by that their shifts are probably not very demanding.

Add on top of that all kinds of threats in the last year. . . the Governor will close your site.  The Governor is going to take a big chunk of your pay.

And then there is the world at large that might not impact us day to day but it does wear on our psyche. . . a new shooting today in neighboring WI. . . because someone’s religious beliefs and looks were different.

And a few weeks ago, another shooting in Colorado. . . in Aurora which is not that far from Columbine and it is the story of many systems going wrong. . . the mental health system, schools, enforcement of gun control or the lack thereof.

Of course, there is also the hostility that is the backdrop of most elections. . .

The Buddha was so wise is saying that our problem was suffering and illusion.  We can spend a lot of time focused on the lack, the need, the pain, etc.

But I like Mark’s reframe in this quote.  It’s much like the concepts of metta and tonglen.  We cannot ignore or be ignorant of the pain and suffering in the world.  If we do, we can become foolish or calloused.

But we cannot fret and let the world paralyze us or worse, make us wall off our hearts.

So what do we do?  We walk the middle path. . . we acknowledge the suffering in the world, we hold it close and let it fill us with compassion so that our hearts break open to hold more.

There is so much pain in the world and sometimes it feels like not nearly enough love.  So, when we look at holding compassion and lovingkindness for those who suffer, are filled with fear, are alone, etc., we generate lovingkindness in its midst.  We create love because of the suffering of others.

I know that some will say that just praying for people doesn’t do any real good.  I would disagree.  I don’t know if praying for some different outcome will work, but opening your heart and allowing it to expand to hold much more can never be wrong.

So, before you settle in with a difficult situation, a full schedule, chronic pain, heart break, and other craziness in the world, take those 10 minutes to sit with the suffering on a global level and allow it to touch your innermost essence.  And allow the space for your essence to foster new and deeper love as well.

May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.


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The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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“The Buddhist tradition distinguishes the pain that is simply a part of life

from the suffering that we ourselves create by our response to that.”

~~ Judith L. Lief

The Buddhist tradition differentiates the pain that is simply part of life from the suffering that we ourselves create by our responses to the pain, as Judith Lief suggestions in the above quote.

From the Buddhist perspective, pain, like loss, comes with our birth.  The Buddha came to realize that all human beings will experience old age, illness, and dying.  Human life is ultimately fragile, no matter how hardy we may be.  These three experiences, (illness, aging, and dying) can be thought of as existential givens that we cannot escape.  These givens are also at the most basic level what connects us all to each other.

But what about suffering?  Some people would say that suffering and pain are synonymous.  I’m sure most people assume, if they think of it at all, that it suffering is a part of living.  We see it as unavoidable and some people may even seek it out.

Suffering is our psych-social-spiritual response to pain — in other words, it is how we interact and react to our pain.  You could say that it’s all the baggage that we attach to our pain.  For example, if I have experiences of pain at the dentist’s office, the next time I have to go, the bad experience will color the current situation.  If physical pain was the issue, I will wince at even the slightest nick or sound.  We want to protect ourselves from pain.  But what about more subtle situations?

One of the reasons why this quote spoke to me today was because of a situation at work.   My full time job is not where my passion is.  Our jobs are tedious and highly specialized.  Like with most professionals in any part of social services or medical services, 50-80% of our job is paper work.

There are observations we do, experiments to try out our theory in action and if it is correct and, of course, if our treatment will have the outcome we are looking for.  There are a lot of technical reports, meetings about treatment, medication reviews, staff training, deadlines, etc.

I hated not only writing these reports but the humiliation of reviewing them in a meeting wtih 6-8 peers.  But I never sat mindfully with my strong reactions and experience of this situation.  I never breathed in the pain and breathed out compassion — not only for myself but for anyone in the world that ever felt ridiculed and incredibly inadequate.

At the same time, I had a lot of physical pain problems and some cognitive dysfunction because of the pain and it was hard to imagine that I could sit and detach from the pain when it felt like that’s all there was.

What I did do was a lot of work on my pain problems and turned my life upside-down in the process.  As I slowly felt better physically and mentally, I realized that it wasn’t the meeting, it wasn’t the reports, it wasn’t my peers;  it was MY craziness around all of this.  It was self-inflicted suffering.

I was the one hurting myself.  It was my attachment to my “ego”, my attachment to my pride, and my ideas of what the process should be like that was making me hate life for two days a week.  I was living under the suffering that I was creating in my life.   I realized I didn’t want to live that way now that I was feeling better.  I did a few things that were compassionate to the team and to myself.

It’s still not my favorite day of the week when this meeting rolls around but I don’t suffer nearly as much.  Hopefully my team doesn’t either.

I’ve come to have more moments of acceptance for the reports being a part of what I need to do if I am going to work in this position.  But, I also don’t have the same level of tragedy attached to it and I know that there is so much more I need to work on accepting at work. 

Any time you have strong reactions to something, put both feet on the floor and take a deep breath.  Not a heaving chest kind of breath but a slow breath, that moves your belly and creates room and freedom in your core.

Scan your body and ask where are you physically reacting to the situation (or thoughts).  Would you want someone else you love to feel this?  What are you attaching to?  Can you have mercy and compassion for yourself?

Don’t push yourself to change it.  Not at first, allow yourself to be open.

Over time, perhaps you will come to see that what you have been “looking for” isn’t as important as learning to accept what is with grace and peace.


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