Q: After a lifetime of losing or having taken from me all that I consider important, how do I conquer the constant depression; how do I turn off the thoughts that constantly remind me of those things I will never have. I speak not of material objects but of the love and devotion of a partner and the attainment of one’s life goals. — pah, Michigan
A: i appreciate very much your question. it is such an important one. it is easy to count your blessings when you have them, easy to be spiritual when you enjoy a certain bottom line of health, well being, and happiness. but how can we be grateful when it seems we have nothing to be grateful for? when our lives have been full of loss and unfulfilled dreams and our minds and hearts are not at ease?
according to the buddhist teaching, the spiritual path begins with suffering – with the recognition that suffering is inevitably at the core of human life. the suffering of loss and grief, of being close to what you want to be far away from or far away from what you want to be close to. of not getting what you want, or getting exactly what you don’t want.
when we look deeply and completely at our suffering we see that the suffering is not just my suffering; it is not a mistake, not a deprivation, not a special tragedy. suffering is profound. it is built into the nature of our human life. for everything passes. nothing can be held onto. we always lose what we have. we never really get what we want. this is how it really is. it is not just our own sorrow. it is the sorrow of being itself.
but this recognition of the thoroughness of suffering, though difficult, isn’t something terrible. in fact, it’s the beginning of our healing. for recognizing the truth of suffering is recognizing that our suffering is not our fault – it is the opportunity of our humanness. with our suffering we feel joined to everything. when we see the noble truth of suffering as it is we feel joined with everything, which suffers just as we do. buddhist lore speaks of heaven and humanity- heaven (seeming to get all that we need) may look desirable but it’s not. it lulls us into sleep. humanity is the best condition because it includes the suffering we need in order to find a true spiritual liberation.
based on this recognition of the truth of suffering, seen to its depth, there can be an end to suffering.
How? once embraced, suffering comes to an end through our engagement with a spiritual path – prayer, meditation, acts of kindness, textual study, working with spiritual guides. (if we have been deeply damaged by the suffering of our lives working with a therapist or other professional can also be part of our spiritual work.) through the effort of our spiritual practice we begin to see that we can take the energy of the very suffering and turn it into energy for the path. little by little we can do this.
[quote text=”we gradually come to see that even though, from one point of view, we have not gotten what we wanted in this life, from another point of view, we have. we have a body, a mind, a heart. we can see, hear, feel.”]
when we do, we gradually become grateful. we gradually come to see that even though, from one point of view, we have not gotten what we wanted in this life, from another point of view, we have. we have a body, a mind, a heart. we can see, hear, feel. our experiences have been heart-felt. wisdom can arise. just being alive – and really experiencing it- this is enough, no matter what happens.
and, in the end, we can even be grateful for the very suffering of our lives, that has, through its bitter pain, brought us finally to this point of spiritual fulfillment.
Zoketsu Norman Fischer