“Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” ~ Thich Naht Hanh
“Our practice is to accept ourselves without any expectation that we will be any different.” ~Joanne Friday
Has anyone ever told you that “you need to let go,” or to “get over it?” How did that advice land in your body and your mind? It does depend on who the advice is coming from, the tone and the timing, but for many folks, those helpful words are anything but helpful. There is a tacit understanding in that message to let go of, or get over a situation, that the person who is suffering from a repetitive thought or difficult feeling, is not doing a very efficient job of processing these thoughts or the event. While in Buddhism, we understand the truth of creating our own mind states, uttering these words to someone who is not ready to receive them is not what the Buddha thought of as wise speech. This is advice that often cannot be utilized by the recipient. Often, this urging to let go of, or get over a problem, stems from the hearer’s inability to bear another’s suffering. We all have a right to our suffering and to the way out of our suffering. There is an unexamined inclination to use a “one size fits all” approach with the hope that this reminder will speed things up—and escape our own, or another’s pain.
For some, the idea of changing the thought, or non-identification with a painful thought, is enough to release from grief or sorrow, but for many others it is not. In my experience, hearing the admonishment to “let go,” my problem quadruples. From my original problem, there is a second problem; the suffering I am experiencing is now pointed out as clearly my fault. The third problem is that my unskillful thinking is burdensome to the person who mentioned it and the fourth, is that I can’t just let it go-or I would have done so. My stuckness becomes much more of a problem as the original painful thinking. This compounding of problems creates more tension, wrongness, and more suffering. This notion of the basic wrongness of my actions and thoughts may contribute to creating a war myself.
While there is great freedom and happiness when we do let go. Letting go comes about from a process, not via an external or internal wish or desire. Letting go comes from deep looking at the nature of our suffering. Tibetan Nun, The Venerable, Thubten Chodron, says that we must fully realize the depth of our hurt and suffering and care for our hurt, before we can forgive another. This is also the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teaching is based on not getting rid of any feelings. “After recognizing the feeling, becoming one with it, calming it down, and releasing it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are often based on inaccurate perceptions. As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings, they begin to transform themselves.” We learn to accept all states of our being, and tenderly embrace whatever is arising with loving kindness.
Dharma teacher Joanne Friday speaks about, “no expectation that we will ever be any different,” this total acceptance without judgment or blame can create a space where transformation and insight may become possible. It is this paradox of allowing what is not welcome that gives us the permission to be fully present with the pain, the irritation, or sadness that is arising. Our process may look very different from our friends, but we are all born to experience our unique form of suffering in each of our lives. It is our birthright. We do not need to sweep away our process of suffering and healing, however long it takes, to make ourselves more beautiful and pleasing.
Our suffering and the time we need to fully realize the depth of suffering is as unique as our fingerprint. Often, we create more suffering in our vain attempts to elude our feelings. Spiritual teacher and humanitarian, J. Krisnamurti writes:
This escape is a waste of energy. Not to escape in any form from the ache, the pain of loneliness, the grief, the shock, but to remain completely with the event, with this thing called suffering is that possible? Can we hold any problem hold it and not try to solve it try to look at it as we would hold a precious, exquisite jewel? The very beauty of the jewel is so attractive, so pleasurable that we keep looking at it. In the same way if we could hold our sorrow completely, without a movement of thought or escape, then that very action of not moving away from the fact brings about a total release from that which has caused pain.
We all suffer and heal in our own time. Do not rush through this process. Our pain is the furnace that burns through the impurities to uncover our precious core, our natural goodness that is never damaged, only hidden.
May we all awaken to the kindness in our hearts,
calligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.