We all have preferred styles of attention and ways that we perceive what is happening to us. It takes lifelong practice of what I call “mirror-wiping” to see things as they are, instead of as we are! “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. Similarly, grief work begins with cleansing the lens of my perception, and simply being “here” to what is. Buddhist teacher Cuong Lu is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and here he describes a practical way to be present to our pain.
Do you want to put an end to the dark thoughts racing through your mind, the pressures you feel every day, the many ways you don’t feel seen or heard? What do you really want? What do you really want to end? Your thoughts bombarding you 24/7? Your loneliness? Your despair? What do you think happens when life ends? Do you think you won’t feel anything, that you won’t suffer anymore? . . .
Instead of acting on these impulses—stop, wait, and study the details of your life: the skin on your hands, the despair in your throat, the searing currents running through your veins. Study these things as if your life depended on it. When you stay fully present with your feelings, your sensations, and the world around you, even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin.
The way to free yourself from pain is to feel it, not to run away, as difficult as that may be. Be a mountain and be porous at the same time. Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .
Pain and suffering make life beautiful. This might be hard to believe while you’re suffering, but the lessons you can learn from hardships are jewels to cherish. If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.
The world needs your suffering, your courage, and your strength. Don’t try to kill your pain. Share it with another, communicate it. If the first person you talk to isn’t the right one, find someone else. Somebody somewhere wants to listen to your pain, to connect with you and understand you. When you find them, when you lighten your burden and discover the jewels and joy that are alive beneath the pain, later you’ll be present for others who are suffering.
I never do this in a blog post, but I am making an exception
The most important part of this post is the quote by Cuong Lu. I found it yesterday by chance after I clicked on Richard Rohr’s site – something I haven’t done in a very long time. It certainly speaks to me and what I am going through now as a result of a year and a half of Covid, and I think there are lots of people out there who could benefit from these words, so I am putting it all out there.
One of the distressing byproducts of Covid is the anxiety and depression it can induce in people. One of the high risk groups are people who have dealt with anxiety disorders in the past. In my case, Covid has led to a recurrence of an old anxiety condition that has not surfaced in seven years.
Now it is back and I am working really hard on drawing myself out from a prolonged period of pretty high anxiety. It is certainly a very slow road.
Many others I suspect are going through this too so I hope this is helpful to those who read my blog. These are extraordinary times and I really think we need to be communicating about how we are doing right now. To do so normalizes the distress and helps everyone to feel part of a community that is struggling with the prolonged pandemic.
No one likes to feel bad, whatever form this takes, but I sincerely believe there is value in times of distress. When we suffer, it causes us to lean in, to learn more about ourselves and grow. Growth and learning can be really hard, but it still is an opportunity to look inside with compassion and interest to see ourselves in a new way.
I have written about my own mental health struggles in the past and these posts are usually the ones that get the most response. That is a good thing. I don’t mind putting myself out there, especially if it helps someone else who is suffering.
We don’t like suffering and we usually do whatever we can to avoid this. While this is natural, I suggest that we have to be present to the challenging times, not just the good ones. We need to learn not to judge these times as ‘bad’, they really are just a part of what it means to be human and we all go through these at various times in our lives.
The best response is to take the time to settle in and reflect.
As Cuong Lu says, “Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .”
I hope people respond to this post, especially if this helps. I hope people post on how they are doing right now so we can all realize we are a brave bright community that is struggling. I do believe that there is comfort in all of this and that this particular post may help out as people contribute to what I am writing here now.
Even if you don’t write anything, I hope you find some comfort in the notion that the dark times are times of opportunity to learn and grow. Even in discomfort and distress there can be the beginnings of joy.
Could this be a dialogue? I sincerely hope so.