When I talk to people about how much they experience joy, most say, “Not so much.” Joy is not a frequent visitor, and when it does appear, it’s fleeting.
Joy arises when we are open to both the beauty and suffering inherent in living. Like a great sky that includes all different types of weather, joy is an expansive quality of presence. It says “Yes to life, no matter what!” Yet it’s infrequency lets us know our more habitual posture: resisting what’s happening, saying “No” to the life that is here and now. We tend to override our innate capacity for joy with our incessant inner dialogue, our chronic attempts to avoid unpleasantness and to … Read more »
In cultivating compassion we’re responding, with kindness, to the suffering we encounter in life — especially others’ suffering. And the essence of compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering.
But what do we mean by suffering?
There’s an unfortunate tendency for us to think of suffering in grand terms: the person with terminal cancer or a broken leg, the refugee, the starving child in a third world country. So suffering seems to be a special event. But actually, all beings suffer. We all suffer, every day.
The other week I was walking to work after it had rained hard all night. The sidewalks and roads were covered with worms, who like to migrate when the weather is wet (no, it’s not because they would drown in their tunnels).
Now, almost exactly twenty years ago I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t walk past a worm without moving it to safety. Why? Well, I just don’t like the way I feel when I ignore another’s suffering, even if the other is a slimy invertebrate. And the sun was out, the sidewalks were starting to dry out, and it was obvious that many of these worms were going to die.… Read more »
If we believe that we are not responsible for our mental suffering then we are implying we are helpless.
If we believe everything is permanent then we are implying there is no room for change.
If we believe in a fixed self then we are implying we can not transform ourselves.
If we cling on to these thoughts and think they are facts we will continue to be swamped by the ocean of samsara.
If we can begin to see that our mental suffering arises out of our strong habitual behaviours we will begin to transform ourselves.
Where does it hurt?
We’re usually aware of our own suffering, which – broadly defined – includes the whole range of physical and mental discomfort, from mild headache or anxiety to the agony of bone cancer or the anguish of losing a child. (Certainly, there is more to life than suffering, including great joy and fulfillment; that said, we’ll sustain a single focus here.)
But seeing the suffering in others: that’s not so common. All the news and pictures of disaster, murder, and grief that bombard us each day can ironically numb us to suffering in our own country and across the planet. Close to home, it’s easy to tune out or simply miss the … Read more »
I’ve noticed that I have a tendency not to notice that I’m suffering, and I suspect that a lot of other people do this too.
When I get annoyed with someone, I’m suffering. When I crave an experience, I’m suffering. When I’m anxious, I’m suffering, and so on. In a way this may seem obvious, but actually very rarely do we find ourselves annoyed or craving or anxious and say to ourselves “I’m suffering right now.” We tend to focus more on the thing that’s annoying us, or that we want, or that we’re anxious about.
And so a lot of our suffering is “under the radar” and doesn’t get dealt with very skillfully. Our … Read more »
It astonishes me how much time I spend making judgements about people, but the truly surprising thing is that although it makes me feel bad, I keep doing it. And it leads to unfortunate interactions with people which ends up causing them suffering too.
One thing that protects us against this kind of self-imposed suffering is lovingkindness (metta) practice. Lovingkindness is an important complement to mindfulness practice.
To cultivate metta we can do something as simple as repeat to ourselves, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we see others. We can do this while walking or driving, for example.
We can take a more reflective approach to cultivating lovingkindness. I often consider … Read more »
Marge, a woman in our meditation community, was in a painful standoff with her teenage son. At fifteen, Micky was in a downward spiral of skipping classes and using drugs, and had just been suspended for smoking marijuana on school grounds. While Marge blamed herself — she was the parent, after all — she was also furious at him.
The piercings she hadn’t approved, the lies, stale smell of cigarettes, and earphones that kept him in his own removed world — every interaction with Micky left her feeling powerless, angry, and afraid. The more she tried to take control with her criticism, with “groundings” and other ways of setting limits, the more withdrawn and defiant … Read more »
Can you imagine understanding, even loving, someone who belongs to a group of people responsible for killing your father, brother, or best friend? Can you imagine growing close to someone whose people have driven you from your home, humiliated your family, and turned you into a refugee in your own country?
Twenty-two teenage girls from Israel and Palestine were flown in to a camp in rural New Jersey, where they would live together in the face of these questions. As part of a program called Building Bridges for Peace, these … Read more »
My earliest memories of being happy are of playing in the ocean. When our family began going to Cape Cod in the summer, the low piney woods, high dunes, and wide sweep of white sand felt like a true home. We spent hours at the beach, diving into the waves, body surfing, practicing somersaults underwater. Summer after summer, our house filled with friends and family—and later, with spouses and new children. It was a shared heaven. The smell of the air, the open sky, the ever-inviting sea made room for everything in my life—including whatever difficulties I was carrying in my heart.
Then came the morning some years ago when two carloads of friends and … Read more »