Week Thirty-One Summary and Practice
Sunday, August 1—Friday, August 6, 2021
Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. —Rev. Jacqui Lewis
We must go through the stages of feeling, not only the last death but all the earlier little (and not-so-little) deaths. If we bypass these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way.
The great wisdom traditions are trying to teach us that grief isn’t something to run from. It’s a liminal space, a time of transformation.
By leaning into the horror and yielding to the sorrow, by standing in the fire of emptiness and saying yes to the mystery, I was honoring my child and expressing my ongoing love for her. —Mirabai Starr
Grief is our common bond. Opening to sorrow connects us with everyone, everywhere. —Francis Weller
If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.
Feeling Our Pain
We all have preferred styles of attention and ways that we perceive what is happening to us. It takes lifelong practice of what I call “mirror-wiping” to see things as they are, instead of as we are! “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. Similarly, grief work begins with cleansing the lens of my perception, and simply being “here” to what is. Buddhist teacher Cuong Lu is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and here he describes a practical way to be present to our pain.
Do you want to put an end to the dark thoughts racing through your mind, the pressures you feel every day, the many ways you don’t feel seen or heard? What do you really want? What do you really want to end? Your thoughts bombarding you 24/7? Your loneliness? Your despair? What do you think happens when life ends? Do you think you won’t feel anything, that you won’t suffer anymore? . . .
Instead of acting on these impulses—stop, wait, and study the details of your life: the skin on your hands, the despair in your throat, the searing currents running through your veins. Study these things as if your life depended on it. When you stay fully present with your feelings, your sensations, and the world around you, even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin.
The way to free yourself from pain is to feel it, not to run away, as difficult as that may be. Be a mountain and be porous at the same time. Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .
Pain and suffering make life beautiful. This might be hard to believe while you’re suffering, but the lessons you can learn from hardships are jewels to cherish. If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.
The world needs your suffering, your courage, and your strength. Don’t try to kill your pain. Share it with another, communicate it. If the first person you talk to isn’t the right one, find someone else. Somebody somewhere wants to listen to your pain, to connect with you and understand you. When you find them, when you lighten your burden and discover the jewels and joy that are alive beneath the pain, later you’ll be present for others who are suffering.
Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.
Cuong Lu, Wait: A Love Letter to Those in Despair (Shambhala: 2021), 12–13, 15–16.