A study of suffering, and a call to love it.

Something I’ve gleaned from reading Buddhist texts is that the way to move past suffering is to study it. Don’t avoid it. Go to the source of it and really dig down. Ask yourself “Why do I feel this way? Where does this feeling come from?” Find the source and root it out. This is opposite how the Western world thinks. We are more into the idea of not talking about it and it will go away. Sometimes we think we’ll be better off if we deal with it another day – and we think that every day. In that way you never make time to work on the problem so it just keeps getting bigger.

The idea of reincarnation that is offered to us in Hinduism tells us that if you don’t fix it you will live it again. Every new lifetime is the sum of all the past lifetimes. If you live selfishly you will not have a very good rebirth. Another way of thinking that they offer us is an aspect of the Divine called Ganesh. He has the head of an elephant. He is known as the remover of obstacles. He doesn’t walk around the problem – he goes right through it. By going right through it, he makes it possible to have a better rebirth. We are to follow his example and not avoid problems.

What if your next life is really tomorrow? What if instead of focusing on an afterlife, we use these ideas to work on the current one we have? Heaven isn’t a proven thing. But this life is – so it seems useful to try to make the best of it here. We are told that those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it. Why not study your own history to see if there are any trends that keep popping up that aren’t helpful?

This is totally not the Western way. It also seems counterintuitive to turn into our own pain and our own problems. It seems like human nature to turn away from pain and seek pleasure. But what if the turning away ends up creating even more pain in the future? Scientists have shown that all the foods we crave when we are depressed actually make us more depressed. To get out of that rut we have to fight against part of our hard-wiring. Instead of reaching for potatoes and macaroni and cheese when we are down, we are better off if we go for a walk and eat an apple.

Jesus said to love your enemies. What if that also meant to love what is dark about yourself? Look at what you turn away from. Study it. Go into this with the knowledge that you are loved and forgiven – you are not alone. Whatever you find there in those dark spots may be scary at first, but if you stay with that feeling and really study what you find there you’ll find it isn’t as bad as you thought. Ignorance isn’t bliss. The more you do this the easier it gets. It creates its own energy. It is like cleaning house, but for your soul.

One great way to study these dark places is to journal. Julia Cameron talked about the idea of “morning pages” in her book “The Artist’s Way.” She says that you should write three pages every morning, without fail. Write about anything. Write about how much you hate to write. Write about what you see jumbled around you in your bedroom. Write about what you hope the day will be like. But just write, and write three pages. This exercise really shakes things loose and gets things started.

Writing a few pages every day is one of the most helpful ways to really dig into things. It is also a great way to see trends. If you are constantly writing that it is time to start that project, then you will notice that you need to put a little more energy into it. If you are constantly writing that your friend is always lying and stealing from you then it is time to find a new friend. Journaling is a good way to unwind and a great way to plan ahead. It is good for stress reduction and stress prevention.

Another way to work on problems is to doodle. “Praying in Color” by Sybil MacBeth introduces the idea that you can pray while drawing. Praying is a way of connecting with Truth. Praying is a way of understanding things in a deeper way. It is a way of getting outside of your own head and connecting with something a lot bigger. Praying is about digging deeper.

MacBeth says that you don’t have to be an artist at all to do this. You can take colored pencils or markers and just start making marks on the paper. There doesn’t have to be a plan for it. In fact, it is better if there is no plan. This isn’t about what you draw, but about what goes on in your head while you draw. The lines are not a map so much as the vehicle itself. Just think about the issue. Hold it in your head. And start drawing. Doodle around. Let the lines go where they will. Pick up another color if feel like it. See where the lines and your thoughts go. If you notice that you are going off from the subject, gently draw yourself back. One helpful thing is to write the intention in the center of the page and doodle around it. Something will come to you that will help you.

Walking is helpful too. I’ve learned that often things sort themselves out while I’m walking. This has to be walking that has no other distractions. Listening to an iPod is a distraction. I’m starting to think that reading fiction or watching movies all the time is also a distraction. It feels like they are ways to avoid dealing with what is here right now.

Nothing solves itself instantly. There are very few sudden insights to be found where the problem is instantly solved. But this is more like water working on a stone. The problem has grown over the years due to inattention. It will take a while to dislodge. But the more you work on it, gently, consistently, the more it will get smaller and more manageable. It is worth the effort.