Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.Pema Chödrön
I have a young friend who has been through an unconscionable amount of suffering. I don’t use that word lightly. (In fact, it makes me shudder.) It was often used to describe the behavior of my teenage years, and it meant business. Unthinkable. Unimaginable. The worst.
This young friend recently took a class on Buddhism and told me he was not particularly happy with the premise that life is suffering.
Don’t we all struggle with this one? If true, it’s a bit of a harsh reality.
Aren’t we supposed to have positive mental attitudes, channel good energy, water the seeds of positivity? Yes, this is true. We can choose to find a glass half-full or half-empty. And we can choose what to do when life serves us a bunch of lemons, knowing that, if we don’t ever get our hands on lemons, we’ll miss the opportunity to make lemonade.
No one likes suffering and, in the 21st century, we have so many wonderful ways of escaping it. Social media, 24-hour ESPN, celebrity gossip, craft cocktails, Botox, spin class with a beating bass. We have trillions of ways to distract and avoid our painful realities.
Acknowledged in all spiritual traditions, said differently in each, is some mention of pain and suffering, light and dark, good and evil.
Thich Nhát Hánh says, “No mud, no lotus.”
Leonard Cohen sings,“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Buddhists refer to a suffering of material attachments that can never be satisfied. (Spoiler alert!) And Jesus had a pretty brutal situation from which he was resurrected. Many of the greatest saints endured tremendous deprivation before finding peace. Pain is part of the landscape of life.
Here’s the really scary thing: our kids aren’t experiencing much time in the mud or in the dark.
I’m encountering the word enabling a lot. It especially applies to us who mother, which is most of us, male and female, at some point, in some capacity. Our instinct is to love and protect those we love. But, inadvertently, we often hold them back from the opportunity to experience the growth, improvement, connection, and love that inevitably comes from hardship.
Two teachers in my life, both devoted to daily meditation and mindful practices, mentioned the idea of spiritual bypassing to me (on the same day!). A friend today encouraged I take the advice of Buddhist monk Anam Thubten Rinpoche, which I understood to be something like this:
Be with your realities, even the harsh ones. Do not navigate your way around them. The first step is acknowledgement – of the good, the bad, and the ugly. (It’s all there.) Breathe, wait, be. You don’t have to do anything right away. Just be present. And breathe.
God only knows what good will come from doing this. I trust, some. We’ll see.
A recommended read: Spiritual By-passing by Robert Masters