I am suffering inside today; I have been for a couple of weeks. Pretty sure it’s not mental illness. I’m still brushing my teeth and singing in the bathtub. I don’t think I would do these two things if I were off my rocker, though some might question if this is the proper criteria for discerning mental illness, especially upon hearing my brilliant rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. My present suffering is the result of a choice I made to step back from a friendship I was doing myself harm in. I hope eventually it will feel like the right choice but as of right now the decision has left me sorrowful and pining for my pre-choice state of mind. Sometimes choices leave holes in your heart that take a while to fill. But, no matter how much it hurts, suffering, I think is an inevitable and crucial part of life. I know that, at least for me, if I am not suffering from time to time, not much is going on in my heart or my head and I am not really connected to or helping the world around me.
Now, while I am an educated semi-literate woman, I do not pretend to understand, explain or intend to trivialize the kind of suffering brought upon us by tragic happenings beyond our control (one awful example: the death of a child) that do not come about from choices we make but instead from what appears (from our unknowing/helpless perspective) to be reckless senselessness. The greatest philosophers and theologists of all time have wrestled with the “why” of this kind of suffering and have come up short, so far be it from me to be trite and state that this kind of suffering is necessary. While this very well may be true, I certainly can’t explain why, for I am a child when it comes to understanding something so complex and I will probably always want to dig my heels in and beg God for this kind of suffering to stop. I don’t give a shit if its necessary.
But when we are children we come to understand big things by first understanding small things: walk before you run; speak before you sing. And so I can at least try and see my simple suffering as a means to understanding the complexities of deeper, more painful suffering that occurs in the world, because while certainly in comparison to a lot of suffering, mine is minimal, it never the less hurts and so therefore must have SOME relevance in the world. It makes me think of the biblical parable used to describe the impact of sinners on the church: when one part of the body is hurt, the rest of the body suffers. Well, I think that while a defective heart certainly has more impact upon the body, a broken toe can cause a pretty good limp, yes?
Buddhists acknowledge that life is suffering. They define suffering as the gap between desire and satisfaction. To reach Nirvana, a state where suffering is eliminated, desire must be eliminated. In a nut shell, Gotama Siddhartha, a.k.a. Buddha (the awakened one) thought and thought and thought under a sacred tree in a very uncomfortable position until he was ‘awakened’ with this knowledge along with the Noble Eightfold Path to reducing desire, which is a life long quest that is rarely (if ever?) attained.
Obviously I am not a Buddhist and I have to say that while this is great in theory: eliminating the cause of suffering by going numb (this sounds nice when you’re in the midst of pain), I am for sure wired for desire. The only time I come even close to being in an awakened state is when I am asleep, where (usually) I am not wishing to exist anywhere else except where I am, have what I can’t obtain, or be who I am not. Perhaps I need a thinking tree…to sleep under. They could call me “Broadyawna” (enlightened sleeping broad). But I digress. The Buddhists do not poo poo suffering and I do not mean to poo poo Buddhists. My wise 17 year old son Dillin advised me (upon me asking him in the middle of writing this blog “what am I trying to understand and say here?”) to dig a little deeper into this religion that is not mine (nor his) and realize that what is important to understand in the Buddhist theology as well as most religions, including Catholicism: suffering is something that is going to happen no matter WHAT we do, so if we are going to suffer, the choices we make that cause the suffering should ideally take us down a path toward “better”, to what I think of as a place of yummy healing LOVE.
I am convinced that Mother Teresa, who was actually quite feisty but very uncomplainy (that’s not a word) felt physical and spiritual pain from the suffering that poured off the people she tended to and fought for. She embraced suffering upon her tiny little shoulders, wrapped it in LOVE and gave it glory, making the world better…and I think to myself “My shoulders are wide and strong (beefy in fact). How is it that I am brought to my knees some days from suffering that seems tawdry in comparison?”
But, here is what I know. While I realize I am no Mother Teresa (I know, gasp) and will most likely (save some crazy divine intervention occurring) never be any kind of saint, prophet or mystic, I know that when I am sobbing while brushing my teeth and singing super sad songs in the bathtub on account of the fact that sometimes The Star Spangled Banner just doesn’t cut it when I am SUFFERING, well, this is the period of time when I have more empathy than usual for others who are suffering, whether its within my own family or in the vacant eyes of the people at Walmart wandering the aisles on Saturday afternoon who are CLEARLY suffering. Being brought to my knees in my simple suffering forces me to look up, first for divine help, and then into the eyes of other sufferers, turning my thoughts away from myself (which is rare for me) to find the strength to cheer for them and in turn promote healing in some crazy ass way: maybe its the knowing we are all limping through this together, with broken toes and broken hearts.