Suffering With Grace

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It’s been a while! I have no excuses really except that I was on vacation and tried to write a few times but either didn’t have the time or was too hungover too. But I’ve returned to New York City and my shitty East Village apartment. Outside my window, the French Bakery, Le Fournil, has painted a French flag above their door. As I write, I listen to Mozart’s vesperae solennes kv 339, one of the most stunningly beautiful pieces of music ever written. (It was featured in the movie, “Moonlight.”) I feel at peace at least right now. 

But I have a confession. I also have not written because I have been going through it emotionally! I won’t bore you with the details. While this is a personal blog, it is not a confessional one per se. But I’ve felt a bit knocked to the floor by life and some depression has set in. I am feeling better today, but it has been a very hard week emotionally and physically.

As I sit here now in solitude, I consider my suffering. I have suffered. I suffer now. I will continue to suffer. None of this surprises me any longer. It is the First Noble Truth after all: Life is Suffering. To be born means to suffer and die. I have made peace with that at least 65% of the time. I’m working on the other 35%. 

But as I’ve gone through my depression, I’ve tried to be observant of what I was feeling and how I coped. Some of it has come out in anger, but mostly angry internal thoughts. I’ve been angry at certain people. I’ve been angry at my lack of power and helplessness. I’ve been angry at myself. Some of it has come out in distraction. I want nothing more than to be alone and sleep or watch TV and play some video games. Some of those distractions have been incredibly helpful. For instance, I saw “2046” at the IFC Center yesterday, and, man, what a fucking movie. Art is a wonderful way to face suffering. Life can be so hard. Real art can make us feel connected and understood in a way very few things can. Art can let us have empathy for ourselves and others. It is so goddamn important. 

I’ve also tried some obvious interventions. I have sought a therapist, which I have been meaning to do. I’ve had several years of therapy in the past, but my last therapist had retired, and haven’t looked for one since. I felt it was a good time to find one. It’s so strange, even though I work as a therapist, I feel some resistance to therapy. I think it’s because I know that I will be naked and vulnerable in front of someone. It’s a good reminder with my patients. It is terrifying to sit in front of someone and reveal yourself. 

I’ve also sat with what I was feeling in meditation. As I wrote elsewhere, I think it’s important to come to life with a heart of bodhicitta, to let myself fall apart with a measure of kindness, patience, and grace. It’s ok to be a fucking mess, I’ve realized. There is no shame in it. Life is hard enough. The last thing any of us needs is more judgments. I’ve had to just sit with the fact that life can be so sad and disappointing, and that my heart feels a bit broken right now. 

So I’ve sat with myself and allowed myself to sit still what I am in the moment. I don’t think I realize how simple and incredibly revolutionary and freeing this act can be for myself. If ever get the chance to truly watch your mind and its movements, you realize what you are is an incredibly jumbled mess of thinking. My mind in meditation shifts from future anxiety or thought or past regret or anger. Our minds are many things, but one thing it truly is is a narrative meaning-making machine. It is always trying to discriminate and make sense of living. It is constantly projecting its various fears onto the world. What your projections are depends on what you’ve experienced in life. But we’re all doing it all the time. 

It’s a strange act to sit with all this. It doesn’t make all the suffering go away. But it gives me some clarity. I suffer in part because of what I bring to experiences happening to me. That’s ok. Can I accept that suffering with grace and live up to some sense of bodhisattva vows? I am trying. I am trying to endure it all with some tenderness and forbearance. I am trying not to react but be open with a beginner’s mind. Suffering cannot be avoided. But I can always stand to be a little more vulnerable in the face of it all. 

One comment

  1. It’s funny how we call a lot of the “psychic stuff” that goes on in the mind “thinking”. Really, that’s too grand a title for it! There’s little thinking and even less in the way of concepts. It’s more like flotsam and jetsam, assertions and fragments. As you rightly say: “an incredibly jumbled mess”. Why is it so captivating?


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