There is no way to avoid it. Pain of loss, someone you love dies, you lose a friend, a relationship ends, chronic illness, so many ways to suffer. Even pain that you know will go away but for now it’s right here and is terrible. During this pandemic we have all suffered what I call compound trauma: fear of the virus that could kill you, stuck at home, very limited ways to get away from whatever we are dealing with that is hard to bear, worry, even extreme anxiety about what could happen next.
Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has been my teacher about suffering. His teachings about meditation and what to do with suffering during the difficult days of the last two years were a necessary re-read and he is a wise friend in a book. Since we all suffer, the thing to do is to practice; to sit with whatever hurts, to hold it in front of you in the present moment. There are many ways to do this. Here is one: Breathe deeply and really notice what you are feeling. This pain, even if it is very deep will not last forever. Imagine that it is like a bright yellow leaf that you imagine floating down the creek in your mind’s eye. The water catches it, tosses it, see the yellow!! Watch it as it keeps floating until it disappears around a turn.
It is entirely possible to deal with suffering right now, in the present. We can hold it and breathe through it. We often make it worse by thinking it will never stop, that it will always be this bad. The experience of joy is very similar. If something wonderful just happened, you can hold it in your mind in the present, smile, even laugh at how wonderful it feels, take it in, feel good. And then you must let it go because joy doesn’t last forever either. The Buddhists teach that it is our attachment to suffering or joy that causes the problem. The wise saying, “nothing too good or too bad lasts for too long!” is so true! Don’t want to make the miscalculation of assuming that your suffering doesn’t matter. Your suffering is your suffering and you want to take it seriously. Is there someone else who is suffering more than you? Surely, and that isn’t the point. What you don’t want to do is grab hold of the suffering and make it stay for hours and hours by going over it and over it. That is feeding it, making it bigger and stronger by repeating all the details of what happened, or what the other person did or said. Even the death of a loved one we can hold and then let go for a little while to return to it later. So you can practice staying in the present moment, accept the suffering, breathing to let it move on through your body, watching the yellow leaf, as it floats around the bend in the creek of your mind.