Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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Everyone Hurts

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My daughter couldn’t believe it. “You cried? At a song?”

Before I had children and my parents died I had only cried once at a song. I was at Wembley watching Live Aid and was walking back to my friends having pushed my way forward to get a closer look at Queen and David Bowie. The Cars “Drive” played with images from Ethiopia on the big screen. I had my back to the stage but could see the faces of those I passed as they watched the East African horror. I knew what they were seeing and I cried quietly to myself. I was only 18 and, to be honest, uncertain what to do with this emotion. Was I upset with physical sight of suffering; the beach ball bellies and matchstick legs, the flies on babies eye lids? Was it the unfairness of the world?  I had wiped my face clean before getting back to the group. Whatever it was, the crying was genuine, but my wisdom about it was very limited.

Now I am much older I can see both the start and end of lives. I’ve been in maternity wards and talked to funeral directors about flowers and hearses. I ask friends about the health of their frail parents and the exam results of their children.

People throw around lightly the idea that as you get older your experience makes you wiser. Maybe we have seen a situation play out before many times and can ‘intuitively guess’ what will happen next. But it would be a let down if that is all that we pick up. Instead, if we tried to learn from our own experiences maybe we could then more clearly understand what other people are feeling and going through. If  we opened up to our own emotions we would be able to see that everyone else feels the same kind of things too.

In 2004 or 2005 I was in the Guildhall Portsmouth to see Neil and Tim Finn perform. They played ‘Edible Flowers’ — a song from the album they were touring. I had listened to it a couple of times before, but that night when I heard it I sat in my seat and wept. The emotions I was struggling with about my own father’s recent death came through strong in the song and as they beautifully harmonised “Everybody wants the same thing/ to see another birthday, Look at all the pretty numbers/ scattered on the calendars” the tears involuntarily and without warning flowed. It was no effort at all to weep. I had no heaving chest. I felt a terrible sadness but without any sense of unfairness. Neither did I feel bad about myself. Instead of wanting to scream at the world and push it all away, there was a sense of connection. The song was beautiful and I wanted to make every moment of it holy.

In fact The Finn brothers expressing what they felt made my own emotions not only more real but also more natural. Looking back now I see that the music had done what any good piece of art should do and brought people closer together. My situation was so far from unique that it was better described as completely typical and just an unavoidable part of life.

So the pain and hurt I felt was not mine, it wasn’t me. I was not some person you could now solidly and permanently categorise as sad or hurt. Instead the pain was just pain. It came and it peaked, it dipped and it ended, the same as it does for us all. It is not so much that I felt loss but that there is loss. Life brings dissatisfaction, awkwardness and sadness. If we take the personal out of our suffering we see the emotions for what they are; a part of life. This wisdom brings two advantages:

  1. We can see that we are not this emotion we are feeling right now. We are not a sad person a useless person, an unloved person, a forever-making-mistakes person. These feelings of hurt are not personal; they are not us, they do not define us. We can step back and watch them rise and fall and pass and not limit ourselves by labelling the emotion as “me”. This wisdom allows us to be compassionate to ourselves
  2. We can see that everyone else feels these emotions, has this pain and goes through this hurt just like we do. By de-personalising the suffering we can empathise with others and help them with their bad times. This wisdom allows us to be compassionate to everyone else.

All the trash and the treasure/ all the pain and the pleasure.”

 

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Waking Up

Ven Amy Miller

I heard the Venerable Amy Miller teach this week. She was talking about “Transforming Negative Emotions: Coping with Anxiety and Depression.” I really liked what she had to say about starting your day positively and thought it would be useful to anyone whether they were facing anxiety and/or depression or not.

She suggested four ways to set your mind off well early in the morning. Firstly, think about and be grateful for your life. Look at all the good things that are in it: you have a house, a comfortable bed, when you turn the tap water comes out and it is clean water free of diseases, there is food you can buy and you don’t have to dodge bombs and bullets on the day to the shop or market. Additionally, you have friends who support you, you live in an area with available health care. All these things (and you can probably think of many more) mean you have a fortunate life.

Then look at yourself. Think about your good qualities and abilities. Personally as I am British my culturally engrained modesty kicks in here, but she makes a good point. We all have things we contribute and do that make the world better for others. Maybe it is the skills you bring to your job that help others have an easier and more happy daily life or the care you give members of your family; young or old. These first two points are similar to a line of thinking and meditation in Buddhism called your “precious human rebirth”. Being grateful for all this, or even at first just aware of it, helps make the most of what we have and be happier in our own life and environment.

Thirdly she suggested we consider that we might die today. Now I am sure the first two suggestions make clear logical sense to all, whereas this one may seem at best odd and maybe even nuts to anyone not familiar with Buddhist philosophy. In the West and certainly here in the UK talk of and thoughts about death are avoided, shunned and left ignored. But if you can consider the fragility of your life in the first minutes of the day it lets you see how precious and wonderful it can be. By considering that this could be your final few hours on the planet you can make your day more purposeful and joyful. You can choose to live it with more awareness for how special and  invaluable it is. If you do this then you’ll not only be happier yourself but you will spread some of that joy around the people you connect with. Looking at the impermanence of our lives helps us live them more positively.

Finally she talked about setting a motivation of benefiting all people you meet during the day. This aim gives your time purpose and meaning and helps make yourself and others be happier. And if we were all able to that every day ….

If any of this strikes a chord with you Venerable Amy’s website with more talks, ideas for meditations (and without my misinterpretations) is here http://amymiller.com 


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Last days

Many Buddhists at some time will meditate on death. Tell that to a Westerner and their reaction is normally to screw up their face and say something like “gross” or “ewwww”. But there are many benefits to looking at it in this way. One of these is that it makes you think more about what you have right here, right now; a reminder of the preciousness of it all. Like a wake up call “Look around, ain’t this just great”.

Pretending that things won’t end when they obviously all do is just an unhelpful and, let’s face it, ignorant avoidance of reality. What is happening now is valuable simply because this is the only time it will ever happen like this. If you don’t reflect on the temporary nature of all that you have you will overlook its worth and beauty and be less likely to make the most of each opportunity.

Like all teachers across the country, I woke up this morning knowing that this week I go back to school. I am not asking for any sympathy after I’ve just had 5 and a half weeks holiday, but it is easy to slip into a low feeling as the end approaches. I didn’t do all those wonderful things I’d planned: I still haven’t tidied up that corner of the garden or read that long Russian novel or skipped through the sand dunes by the beach or whatever. But I cannot change that. It is done. The holiday is ending. The best and only ‘faithful-to -reality’ action to take is celebrate what I’ve got, make the most of what is left and enjoy it.


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Mid Life Questions

Personally, I have married, mortgaged and helped raise 3 children Professionally, I have studied, qualified,  applied, been appointed and worked. And now I have a family, a career, savings and a house. All is good. Well done me.

Around about the time William the conqueror was searching out King Harold at Hastings, a  Tibetan saint Milarepa was coming out of a long time of retreat and realisation. He wrote:

“All worldly pursuits have one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow

Acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death.

Knowing this one should, from the very first, renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building and meeting,

And faithful to the demands of an eminent guru, set about realising the truth, which has no birth or death.

That alone is the best science.”

I read this quote in Vicki Mackenzie’s excellent book on Tenzin Palmo called “Cave in the Snow”. Tenzin Palmo is an East ender who became a Tibetan nun in the early 60s and has spent at least 12 years of her life meditating in a cave 12,000 feet up in the Himalayas, which certainly fits in with this definition of good science.

So if you think the spiritual is worth pursuing, to what extent is it worth pursuing? If you believe there is something other, something else, then what value should you place on the material? How do you get the right balance?

I am sorry this is all questions and no answers. You need to read someone a lot more enlightened than me to get some of those. Though Milarepa may be an extreme place to start.

Wikipedia on Milarepa here

Biography of Milarepa here

cave in the snow

 

 

 

 

 


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One way to Spend the Rest of Your Life

I just read this paragraph written by Pema Chodron and I thought it was beautiful

“With each meditation session, you could train in opening to whatever arises, and relaxing with the immediacy of your experience. Just acknowledge your pleasant and unpleasant thoughts without bias and let them pass away. Then at the time of death, you will be ready to let go of your attachment to this life and surrender to the process of dissolving.”

It seems to me she has just described how to live a purposeful life.

It is taken from her book “No time to Lose” in the chapter on enthusiasm. There are reviews of the book and where to buy it here