Being Happy While Acknowledging Pain

Being Happy While Acknowledging Pain

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In the first paragraph of Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that for a practitioner, suffering is not enough:

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.

This Thursday evening, after our sitting, we will explore together how we can be happy while acknowledging the pain that is in us and around us. Our discussion will be framed by Kenley Neufeld, a long-time Dharma friend, an Order of Interbeing member from Ojai, California, and perhaps the most active lay-volunteer at Deer Park Monastery. Kenley writes:

At the close of the annual teen retreat this week at Deer Park Monastery, I had the opportunity to talk with a 13-year old boy. He asked, "What does it mean to be happy?" He followed up with another question, "How do you be happy when a friend brings up an experience from the past that is difficult and still is painful?"

I was amazed by these simple, yet insightful, questions.

It is the second question from this boy that I want to focus on because it raises the topic of difficult emotions.  We all have them in our lives. Working with those emotions can be a challenge. I am a parent of a six-year old girl and ten-year old boy with special needs. My wife and I have been together for twenty years. Difficult emotions have been a common theme for me as I’ve learned to be a parent and partner. 

Our most basic practices of breathing and walking have sustained me and helped me to calm the storms. The next phase, transforming the pain and suffering, requires looking more closely at particular emotions, feelings, and habit energies: understanding where they come from and what sustains them. Working with the difficult emotions that have arisen in my family life has pushed me to talk about them with mentors, to enter family therapy, and to focus on them more in my sitting, reflecting, and writing. This has been my path, my practice. The rewards have been immeasurable.

You are invited to be with us this Thursday for our meditation and our program.

You are also invited to join The Still Water community on Sunday, July 11, for Touching Life Deeply, a Day of Practice at Blueberry Gardens

Warm Wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:40), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:50).

Love and Liberation:
An interview with Thich Nhat Hanh
Excerpted from the July 2010 issue of the Shambhala Sun

Melvin McLeod: Why is mindfulness the key to happiness?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Mindfulness brings concentration. Concentration brings insight. Insight liberates you from your ignorance, your anger, your craving. When you are free from your afflictions, happiness becomes possible. How can you be happy when you are overloaded with anger, ignorance, and craving? That is why the insight that can liberate you from these afflictions is the key to happiness. There are many conditions of happiness that are present, but people don’t recognize them because they are not mindful.

When body and mind are together, you are fully present. You are fully alive and you can touch the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. So you practice not only with your mind but with your body. Body and mind should be experienced as one thing, not two. On that ground, you see that everything you are looking for is already there. Whether it is enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, Buddha, dharma, sangha, or happiness, it is right there. In fact, that is the only place, the only moment, where you can find these things.

Conversely, when mind and body are separate, when we’re lost in thought and are not in the present, we lead what you’ve described as a kind of corpselike existence.

Maybe intellectually people know that they should live in the present moment, but the habit energy that has been there for a long time is always pushing them to rush around, so they have lost their capacity to be in the present moment in order to lead their life deeply. That is why the practice is important, and talking is not enough. You have to practice enough to really stop your running around so that you can establish yourself in the present moment. That is the very beginning of the practice: stopping. Stopping, looking deeply, and finding happiness and liberation—that is the Buddhist path.

You emphasize taking joy and pleasure in the practice—the joy of walking on this Earth, the pleasure of taking an in-breath mindfully. Maybe it’s our puritanical background, but I think it’s easy for us to look on Buddhist practice as something that’s supposed to be strict and joyless. It can almost feel wrong to associate religion with pleasure and celebration.

I think when people listen to the teachings of the four noble truths, they hear the words ill-being and suffering, and they think that Buddhism is only about suffering. But they don’t know that the third noble truth is about happiness, the opposite of suffering. There is suffering, and there’s a path leading to suffering. But there is also the cessation of suffering, which means happiness, and there is a path leading to happiness. Maybe it would be good to put the second two noble truths first. The first truth would be happiness, and the second truth would be the path leading to happiness. Then the third truth would be suffering, and the fourth would be the causes of suffering.

When we are mindful we discover joy, but we also discover the pain and wounds within us, which is a difficult experience. What do you teach people about how to relate to that suffering when it arises?

Suffering and happiness inter-are. We can recognize happiness only against the background of suffering. It’s like when you recognize the white against the background of the black. Only if you have been hungry can you experience the joy of having something to eat. If you experience the suffering of war, you can recognize the value of peace. Otherwise, you don’t appreciate peace, and you want to make war. So your experience of the suffering of war serves as the background for your happiness about peace. Therefore, to have some suffering is very important. You learn from suffering, and against that background, you can recognize happiness.


Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 24, 2010