It’s been a rough week. My husband, Jim, has been suffering from severe chest congestion and then he pulled out his back. He hasn’t slept in days and only finds relief in his recliner. It may well be a resurgence of his congestive heart failure condition so we’re both very concerned. On top of that, my beloved yellow lab, Titan, is declining noticeably – he has a lot of trouble getting up from a reclining position and can’t control his bowels. I can’t help but think that history is repeating itself – in 2008, my wonderful husband, Chris, died after a year of suffering with leukemia. A month later, my beautiful lab/spaniel mix, Tasha, crossed the rainbow bridge too. A bit dramatic – yes, it is. But that’s how I feel and I’ve been consumed by negative feelings this week. Fear, anxiety, resentment, anger. It’s all about suffering. Is it wrong to have these feelings of suffering? Before I begin to self-flagellate, I went again to the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, to see if he could give me some clarity. Here is what he has to say about suffering:
“Without suffering, you cannot grow. Without suffering, you cannot get the peace and joy you deserve. Please don’t run away from your suffering. Embrace it and cherish it. Go to the Buddha (the Buddha within us all), sit with him, and show him your pain. He will look at you with loving kindness, compassion, and mindfulness, and show you ways to embrace your suffering and look deeply into it. With understanding and compassion, you will be able to heal the wounds in your heart, and the wounds in the world. The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way to peace.” (Thich Nhat Hahn)
So, suffering, in ourselves and others, shouldn’t be avoided or denied. Acknowledging these feelings can help us to transform them. But how can I transform negative feelings into positive ones? At this stage in my musings, I turned to my meditation alter table where I keep a small, smiling figure of the Buddha to help me relax. I meditated at this table this morning and it indeed helped me to settle down from all this upset. While I meditated, I noticed my focus on my breath being distracted by worry and fear. I just acknowledged the negative feelings by saying to myself, “I notice my worry right now. I notice my fear for the future right now.” Then, I returned my focus to my breath. That helped me a lot.
After about fifteen minutes of meditating, I stopped and shifted my gaze to the window overlooking the ocean channel outside. The sun was shining and creating a sparkling shimmer on the moving tide. As I watched, Angel, our resident white egret, and her mate flew into view and landed in the marsh grasses. The contrast between the bright green grasses and the snow white of the egrets was startling. Suddenly, my thoughts were of the gratitude I felt at being able to witness this beauty right outside my window. Life is like that, isn’t it? Alternating between suffering and wonder. But too often, we dwell on the suffering, or we try to avoid it. Both suffering and wonder are all around us at the same time. Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us that being mindful is accepting and releasing ourselves from the suffering in order to notice the wondrous miracle of life around us. I am so grateful for learning to be present for this miracle.
I hope you love this poem by e.e. cummings as much as I do.
“i thank You God ” by e.e. cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)