Tag Archives: misery

Dark Days of the Soul

I’m passing through the shadows. It’s really damn dark and lonely in here.

This isn’t how my life was supposed to be. If I’d known, when I decided to throw myself body and soul into mothering five children, that I would fail so often and so profoundly to help them find joy in life, that they would all be so frequently miserable, full of conflict, anger, disgust, resistance to any good thing, would I have carried on?

Nothing else I’ve ever done has even come close to being as rewarding as being a Mama. So if that vocation is such a pit of misery for everyone involved, then nothing else would be worth it either.

The only logical alternative is oblivion.

I open the book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. In it he writes:

Even if we are in pain, if we can see meaning in our life, we will have energy and joy. Energy is not the result of good health alone or the wish to achieve some goal — material or spiritual. It is a result of feeling some meaning to our life.

But what does it all mean?

I’ve always identified too well with the existentialists. I’ve always been able to see much too clearly how none of this has any rhyme or reason. All the explanations of some jealous, angry higher power torturing us into being so afraid that we will do anything to avoid even more torment in hell’s eternity… I’m certainly not going with that brilliant philosophy.

What does it mean?

Does it mean we prove how tough we are to just plod along, even when everyone around us hates everything and wishes we were dead, out loud, several times a day?

Is it worth all the misery for those couple of minutes a day when the kids get along and share a giggle?

Cuz here’s what it seems to boil down to: It sucks being alive. It’s hard, frustrating, at times agonizing, frightening, a constant, relentless struggle with someone or something. Even the richest, most spoiled brats in the world are still heavy with misery over some kind of drama, lacking, addiction, pain, sorrow. None of us escapes it.

What does that mean? What significance could it possibly have for people to carry on, slashing and smashing as best they can through the jungle of every day life?

I feel like if I could just get the point, I could be a better person, and relieve the suffering of those around me just a bit.

But instead of relieving suffering, I have actually created five new people with the infinite capacity to experience horrific misery.

I remember when my first was born, the thought occurred to me, I’ve given birth, and I’ve given death. I’ve just condemned an innocent soul to death. Hopefully not soon, hopefully not painful, hopefully in her sleep after many years of blissful existence. But nevertheless, however it happens, it was because of my choices.

No wonder people want to put off the responsibility on some higher power, who has the “Plan,” and they are just hopeless pawns in “his” game, trying desperately to follow “his” rules in order to escape punishment for the terrible shortcomings that “he” bestowed upon them.

Is that what it means? I have demonstrated my awesome ability to confer life and death, and now what? I’ve tried to be an example of enjoying good food, nature, books, ideas, enjoying the company of loving, creative people, and it works for a little while. But then they get bigger and their attitude becomes, screw you old lady, and the horse you rode in on. Get your lameness and cluelessness the hell away from me!

Ah, good times.

I want to be a beacon of light. My name, “Elena,” is a form of “Helen,” which means “torch.” The whole purpose of a torch is to be a tool to light the way. You don’t lead someone, and I don’t feel like a leader, you just keep burning and allow them to use you to lead themselves, shining your light as best you can.

But in this dark time, when all the air has been sucked out of my atmosphere, my little flame struggles and flickers and gasps for some kind of fuel to consume. Some kind of meaning to allow me to burn on.

Why is the Buddha Smiling?

Why, if there is so much suffering going on, is Buddha smiling?

Sculpture by Jen Brom

And how are we supposed to ever be truly happy and joyful when, as soon as we move beyond our own suffering, we are immediately assaulted with the huge amount of suffering going on in the world all around us?

My Son, Suffering Terribly from a Pitched Fit

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching Thich Nhat Hanh discusses real love, one aspect of which is “karuna,” which means “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows,” and could loosely be translated as “compassion,” but without the meaning of having to actually participate in the other’s feeling.

Hanh then explains how it is possible for the Buddha, and for us, to smile and be happy despite the suffering of others:

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calmness and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

My first impulse is to feel rotten if I happen to be happy when I become aware that others are in pain. It feels wrong, selfish and uncaring to even consider dwelling in joy when others dwell in misery.

But if it’s true that we can only help from a position of strength? And if that strength comes from being tapped into a good place where we understand joy, love and wisdom? Perhaps that is the only chance we have to help pull someone over to the other side. Perhaps our smile of contentment and calm is the thing that can reassure the other person that there is something else in this world besides their suffering, and that as we are sharing our smile with them, the world will also share its joy.

Pure Joy, Freely Shared

What do you think? It is selfish to be happy while others suffer (as long as you are working, as Hanh says, to “transform the situation” with them)? Or is the only way to be helpful to keep one’s head above the ocean of tears so we don’t drown and become useless?