Have felt worse


Everyone Hurts


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.”



Leave a comment

There is suffering (and this is good news)

Man goes off to find the meaning of life. Man finds the meaning of life – he actually finds it. He has the answer. At first he chooses not to tell anyone else as he is not sure they will understand, but after a short while he remembers 5 old friends he left after a falling out; he thinks they might get it and decides to teach them.

So, after finding what life is all about he gives his first talk. He must have thought long and very carefully about what to say. If he were to pitch it wrong, to choose the wrong words his discovery might never get shared, might become lost again. So his opening point in his first ever talk after working out the meaning of life was …..


Now that may be perceived at best as dull or mundane and more likely as depressing. But really it is exactly the right starting point. Because he didn’t say “you will suffer” but “there is suffering” so it is not your fault you felt bad, you are not the reason things aren’t going 100% your way. We don’t need to blame ourselves when things don’t work out how we had wished. We can drop that train of thought we like to run about how we are no good, how we cannot cope, how we are a failure. Equally, we can release that string of ideas blaming our father, our boss, our education, that company or whatever else we like to rage against. They are just as much not to blame as we are not to blame. There is suffering. It is part of life.

And at that moment of noticing the suffering we can try two thing. Firstly, just feel that disappointment, that raw hurt; don’t let those thoughts run away with their “what if’s” and the “if only’s”. Instead we can notice them and let them go. Because right there is the chance to move on, to begin to release the untrue storylines of  blaming ourselves or someone/something else. And secondly we can realise that everyone else feels exactly the same in their lives. There is suffering for everyone. Understand that and compassion and love, empathy and care will naturally follow.

I think therefore Buddha chose wisely when he chose the very first part of his discovery to speak about.

(This post was inspired by starting to read Pema Chodron’s “fail fail again fail better”)

Leave a comment

Dukkha Dukkha everywhere (but don’t worry)

I am writing this on World Mental Health Day……… At the week end I hoovered and dusted the lounge. I am not someone who takes very easily to housework: in fact I should make clear from the start, that I dust very rarely indeed. I am a prone to laziness where i can grab it in my day. Not surprisingly therefore, I was very pleased with how the room looked at the end. But this satisfaction was short lived and, on reflection, had the seeds of discontent sown in it from the outset.

Firstly, straight after lunch an iPad, some colouring pens, a hair bobble or two and a DVD case had already been left across the floor and sofa by my children. I was angry because I had had hoped this tidiness would last. I had seen it as an achievement, a thing on its own and existant. There was a tidy room I had created. Since it is there, I felt it would remain so. Now I know that is stupid and if I had stopped for even half a second to reflect on that or if you had asked me “How long will your lounge remain like this?” I would have immediately admitted and seen it could not last. But intellectually understanding and fully knowing are different things. I have what Buddha would call ignorance. The tidying was done within the context of my ignorance and so there was  suffering. I couldn’t escape from that.

Secondly, my wife made no comment or words of gratitude for my cleaning (probably because she was so shocked I had actually done some!) This made me angry. you can see that I didn’t do the tidying just as an act to do because it would make others happier or as it would be a good thing to do; I cleaned partly for my own benefit, to feed my ego and to feel good about myself. So again the tidying was done within the context of my ignorance (this time in the form of pride and a desire for praise). So dukkha (suffering or dissatisfaction) was unavoidable from the moment I plugged in that hoover.

But in Buddha’s first teaching he taught the FOUR Noble Truths: there is suffering and there is a cause of suffering were the first two. If he had stopped there then Buddhism would be a dire belief system and to be honest the best thing would be to fill our sensory pleasures all day long. But he didn’t, for the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths are that there is an end to suffering and the method for that is the Noble 8-fold path. The more we can see the interconnectedness of all things and care for other peoples’ happiness, the more we will find true happiness ourselves.

So Buddhism is not in the end a sad and gloomy religion but a happy and positive one. I believe that on World Mental Health Day that is something worth investigating further.

Leave a comment


We all know how Vyvyan felt

Take a minute to picture this ….. Maybe at the weekend when you have no more work to do, when the chores are done, the washing put away, the children content, when you have nothing planned, no responsibilities and no deadlines. Maybe then you get to sit on the sofa for 5 quiet and peaceful minutes with no TV, no radio, no computer, no internet, no music and no book for distraction…. Doesn’t that sound good?

Or maybe imagine the same situation but instead of 5 minutes maybe 10. Or instead of 10 maybe 30 or an hour or even the whole day with nothing: uninterrupted and undisturbed stillness and inactivity for a day. Who could do that? Who would want to do that? How long till you were BORED of it?

In my first job I was bored. If I hadn’t checked the clock until after 09:30 I considered it a good start to the day. But they paid me and I quickly understood that the cash in the brown envelope given to me on Friday afternoon was compensation for my 37 and a half hours of boredom that week. That was the contract we had. And with the money I could buy myself away from boredom over the weekend.

Boredom is unnerving and scary. It is never invited in. It is no one’s friend. I was taught that boredom was a sign of failure. “If you are bored, it means that you are boring.” The insinuation being I should be able to use my own initiative to find something to do; something to cover over the boredom and if I couldn’t, well then I was the one to blame. In other words, the bored are lesser people than the not bored.

My boredom arises when things things aren’t going as I would like: which is either when a) I have to do something I don’t want to (“tidying up is SO boring”) or b) I can’t do something I want to do (“its so boring without my friends here”). Yet it is so stupid to try ironing out all the parts of my life that are not perfect, to rage against the changes and vacillations  when they will NEVER stop. Life won’t ever be perfect; there is dukkha and boredom is just one example that. So maybe there aren’t bored people and not bored people – all of us get bored

I have just started to look at my meditation as 20 minutes of boredom every day. Which has made me wonder if our life long boredom avoidance strategies are just skin deep, attachment driven, pointless chasing of distraction after distraction and pushing away of unpleasantness after unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better if we all just got a little bit more comfortable with our boredom, to breathe it in and let it go.


Leave a comment

Johnny Cash: Feeling Bad and Feeling Good

When Johnny Cash sang the Nine Inch Nails’ song “Hurt” he let you know what pain was.

You can find the lyrics here

When He sings “will the circle be unbroken” (with June Carter, Pops Staples and Carleen Anderson) he let you know what hope there is.

That pain he felt: that is temporary.

That joy he felt: that is temporary

Buddha talked about the the differences between how an uninstructed worldling and an instructed noble disciple (guess which one I am!) deals with and reacts to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He called them the 8 worldly concerns or conditions. He put them into four pairs; gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. This brief explanation of his can be read here, but the bottom line is the worldling gets engrossed by the ups and downs, by becoming attracted to or repelled from each of the pairs and so perpetuates their life. Whilst the noble disciple sees the eight as ephemeral and is not caught up in elation and dejection.

I read a Sharon Salzberg quote recently shared by @mindfuleveryday which put it more succinctly still ““We long for permanence but everything in the known universe is transient. That’s a fact but one we fight.”

At the moment I am going through a tough time at work:I thought I was good, but I have not being doing so well recently. So the trick I need (but find it SO hard) to learn is to see the loss, blame and disrepute happening to me as insubstantial, temporary and not existing from its own side. Then I shan’t run away from it and I shall be able to accept and deal with it better. I am nowhere near being able to do that, but at least thanks to this teaching I know what I should be aiming for.

Leave a comment

There is Suffering

So this guy gives up the luxuries of a royal prince and being heir to the throne for a life of a moneyless, homeless tramp. Then after years of self induced hardship he finally discovers Enlightenment and the path to happiness.

Yet when he first speaks about this momentous achievement he doesn’t describe the delights of what he has now or the ecstasies of what he has uncovered. Instead Buddha opens his first ever teaching with

“There is suffering”

If that was today, his TV show ratings would immediately drop and anyone online would be off surfing elsewhere for happiness and joy. People don’t want to hear that, we just want happiness and nothing else.

But there is comfort in what at first appears to be a dreary sentence. He didn’t say “you are suffering” or even “we all suffer” but “there is suffering”.

“There is….” means that the pain and sadness isn’t mine or yours; the universe isn’t out to get me. In some ways the suffering isn’t even my fault (but I don’t properly understand that yet), it’s just there

If that is the case, then those dark times when my mind turns inward and can only see negatives and a lack of any self worth (“cant do my job”, “I am a terrible husband and an awful father”, “everyone can see through my sellotape thin layer of self confidence”) is just wrong.

It’s not my fault or someone else’s. THIS IS JUST HOW IT IS and looking for fault in a person or system won’t solve anything.

There is a freedom in seeing it in that way; a freedom from hating myself, from raging against the decisions of government, from slagging off my boss(es) for their decisions and policies; from bemoaning my friends and family for their way of living. Because doing any of that won’t solve anything, because they didn’t cause this suffering, this dukkha, it is just there.


And if I can return accurately and gently to that idea and just let go of my perception of suffering then progress is possible.