We all have problems. Don’t identify with your problem.
You aren’t an addict. You aren’t an abuse survivor. You aren’t a cancer patient.
With the new guidelines for talking about children with disabilities, we are supposed to talk about the child first, and the disability second. He isn’t an autistic child. He is a child with autism. He is a person first. He isn’t defined by his diagnosis.
Apply the same rules to yourself. You are a person first. The diagnosis is second. It isn’t you. It isn’t who you are. It affects you, certainly. But you are so much more.
When you define yourself by your diagnosis, you are giving it power, and you are diminishing your own.
Now, you also aren’t going to win any friends if you are constantly talking about your terrible childhood or your abusive husband or your sciatica or how you have to take care of your Mom with Alzheimer’s.
We all have problems. We all have something we have struggled with. Sometimes we have overcome it. Sometimes not. Sometimes it seems we can’t ever catch a break. But if you only talk about this, you are going to be lonely. The only companion you will have will be your problems.
Buddhism has a story that speaks to this. A lady’s child had died, and she was unable to accept it. She carried her dead child around the village, going to every house asking for medicine. They were all horrified. One kind person suggested she go to the teacher and sent her to Buddha. Buddha told her to go to each house and ask if they had experienced a death in the family. If nobody had died in that family, she was to get a mustard seed from them. She was to collect all the mustard seeds and bring them back to Buddha, who would then make a medicine for her.
She went all over the village and wasn’t able to find a single family that had not experienced death. She came to realize that her experience wasn’t unique or special. She came to realize that death was part of life, and to hold onto it and identify with it was causing her more problems than the death itself.
Simply going to each person’s house, she created her own medicine. Buddha taught her to look outside of herself, and to not identify herself with her suffering.
How often do we hold on to our pains and sufferings, just like that lady carried around her dead child? How often do we think we are alone in our suffering, that we have it worse than anybody else?
We all suffer. That is just part of life. Holding onto it makes it worse. Accept your loss and your pain, but don’t identify with it. Accept it, because to not accept it means to not process it.
Pain, like a big steak, needs to be chewed thoroughly to be digested. Choke it down and you’ll get sick. Spit it out and you’ll miss the lessons it has to teach you.
Pain teaches us about holding on and letting go. It teaches us about what we think we have to have in our lives and what we really need. It teaches us to accept, and live in the now, rather than in the past or the future.
The past never was as awesome as we think it was. Even in the past we were looking back to “the good old days” and thinking about how great things will be “if only I get…if only I can have…when I finish…” In the future we will do the same thing.
The only island is now. When we aren’t on that island, we are drowning in the sea, stuck away from the solid stability of that island. The past isn’t real. The future isn’t real. The more we live there, the more we are missing out on the only real thing that is, and that is now.
How to get back to now? Start looking at it. Start being thankful for it. Make a gratitude list. Notice what you have, right now, and be thankful.
Pain teaches us about ourselves.
Once we are through chewing on it, we need to swallow it, and then digest it. Then it does its work and then we have to let it go. Holding into pain is just like holding onto poop. We get sick if we can’t eliminate our toxins. But it still has to go through us, all the way. Resist it, fight against it, and you’ll only hurt yourself. Just like a tree in a strong wind, if you don’t bend, you’ll break.