Opening Our Hearts to Suffering
Photo by 元-某人

Opening Our Hearts to Suffering

Discussion date: Thu, Mar 14, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Over the past year I have become more acutely aware of the immense suffering in our world – the suffering of all creation, all creatures, all people. I am experiencing the reality of our shared suffering in a new, deep, and palpable way. I’m noticing that my awareness of suffering in the world is helping me relate differently to my own pain and to the suffering of those near me. I was raised in a time, a culture, and a family that avoided acknowledging and being with strong emotions. I learned to push them away and cover them up. I can see that many of my ancestors held strong emotions at a distance, as if there were a ten-foot pole between the heart and the pain.

Thanks to the teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy), to my practice, and to the Sangha, I have been able to relax my fear and my armor. I am learning to open my heart to suffering. I find that I’m moving through the world with more awareness and compassion and, at times, a feeling of brokenheartedness. I ask myself: How can I be with this brokenheartedness and find solace, strength, and joy? As is my habit, I turn to Thầy’s words for guidance. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thầy writes:

Our suffering is us, and we need to treat it with kindness and nonviolence. We need to embrace our fear, hatred, anguish, and anger. “My dear suffering, I know you are there. I am here for you, and I will take care of you.” We stop running from our pain. With all our courage and tenderness, we recognize, acknowledge, and identify it. The second turning of the wheel is called “Encouragement.” After recognizing and identifying our pain, we take the time to look deeply into it in order to understand its true nature, which means its causes.

I had a recent experience with this practice that really brought it into focus for me. A close family member asked me to help them with a large financial need. I struggled with my answer. I have a history of helping and fixing things for loved ones in a way that is not always healthy for them or for me. It was very hard to say no, but I knew it was a good answer for both of us. I have learned that my over-fixing is a habit that has relieved my anxiety and may have kept loved ones from finding their own strength.

I sat with my strong pain for hours. I even considered reversing my decision. I held my sadness, doubt, and regrets tenderly, acknowledging them and being with them. When I felt a little shift, I became curious about what was under that pain. What was the generator? I was very surprised by what I found. When I looked underneath I saw my strong and powerful love for this precious family member. I smiled as I felt the warmth of my love, like a glowing fire in me. It is my aspiration to find healthier ways to express my love – ways that nurture growth and healing for all.

As we practice our monthly recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, our emphasis is on the second training, “True Happiness.” This training and the fourth training of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings (“Awareness of Suffering”) have nurtured my ability to open my heart, embrace my own suffering, and feel the pain of others. The Second Mindfulness Training reminds us that “the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering.” The Fourth Mindfulness Training of the fourteen encourages us to “do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. … Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others.”

My mindfulness practice brings me comfort and courage so that I can keep my heart open to the reality of suffering. I bring my awareness to my breath, my body, my emotions, and my thoughts. This is my bedrock. The Sangha is an indispensable support, a safe place where we can share our pain and help each other find ways to alleviate suffering in the world.

I invite you to look deeply at how this training intersects with your own life. On Thursday evening, during Dharma sharing, we’ll have a chance to share our experiences of dealing with suffering and cultivating true happiness. You may want to consider these questions:

  • What is your habit energy with suffering and uncomfortable emotions?
  • How do you care for your own suffering and the suffering of others?
  • What practices bring you solace, strength, and joy?

I appreciate the energy of our Sangha and the insights that are shared. Thank you for your presence in my life and for your practice. I look forward to being with you on Thursday evening.

The second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the fourth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are included below.

With gratitude,
Linda Jackson

The Second Training of the Five Mindfulness Trainings
True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.


The Fourth Training of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings
Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognise, accept, embrace and listen to our own suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Mar 14, 2024


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