Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Suffering - Cultivating Our Inner Garden

It often seems so easy to focus on our suffering, our anger, our hurt feelings, our sadness, our frustrations, etc. And in my reading of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and attending his retreats I have heard him speak on the importance of acknowledging our suffering and looking deeply at it, it's origins and how it manifests in our mind, body and behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post, Thay suggests that it's good to cradle our suffering as we would a sad or hurt child, offer it our love and a warm smile so that it can be heard and understood. Then I like to imagine symbolically giving my suffering what it needs to be release from within me. This may be thinking of an image or lighting a candle or writing a simple message and then burning the paper so the request can be released into the universe. In this way, we can learn to let go of our attachment to our suffering. Of course, for severe depression, I think these techniques can support formal counseling but shouldn't be used in the place of professional counseling.

If we ignore our suffering, then it can grow and feed on our lack of looking deeply and take the "control" seat in our minds and it can influence our behaviors, thoughts, perceptions, attitudes and words. Then we can start to feel as if we are, at our core, our suffering, we are anger, we are sadness, we are jealousy. That is is who we intrinsically are as a being. But we are not our suffering. We may have feelings related to our suffering but they are impermanent feelings - even if they seem like they are around us all the time, if we look deeply, they come and go. We can laugh and smile and feel moments of happiness even during sad times. My father-in-law passed away recently and during the days following his death, there were moments my husband and I would catch ourselves laughing about something and for those moments we were outside of the suffering that we felt from our loss and in a moment of joy.

Thay has a quote, "The seed of suffering in you may be great but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy." For me, this reiterates the idea that suffering is impermanent, coming and going and that in between those moments of suffering, whatever the type of suffering we may have, are moments of true joy that we often don't notice. If we look deeply enough at the causes of our suffering, we can see that they lie more in our perceptions and beliefs about how we think things "should" be as opposed to seeing things for how they truly are. There may be days when we feel terrible and our normal reaction may be to call someone and wallow in our suffering or to go out and maybe make others feel our suffering too or to just distract ourselves from our suffering so that we can try to ignore it but Thay suggests that this is the perfect time to stay in, look deeply within ourselves to understand the nature of our suffering, where it has come from and what it needs so that we can calm the energy of our suffering and begin to allow those moments of "non-suffering" to stay with us in a more true and everlasting way.

Thay talks about these seeds that are in our "store consciousness" which basically are the potential for any kind of behavior, feeling, attitude, perception, etc that lies within what we call our subconscious. We all have seeds of anger, sadness, jealousy, greed, confusion etc within us but we also have the seeds for joy, happiness, peace, love, clarity etc and it is up to us to decide which of these seeds we want to water and nourish into beautiful flowers for the garden of our conscious mind. Meditation is one of the greatest ways open our awareness and water the seeds of joy.

I love Thay's analogy of a compost pile. We must meditate to help transform our internal garbage into rich fertile soil where we can grow the most beautiful garden.

Breathe. Smile. Compost. Tend to your garden. Be Patient. Love.

Photo for this post is from Nuttakit's portfolio on Free Digital Images.

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