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Deschene asked her Twitter followers to contribute their thoughts ...
Deschene asked her Twitter followers to contribute their thoughts and perspectives on the difficult questions that influence how we live our everyday lives: thoughts about the meaning of life, pain, happiness, fate, and more.
Tiny Buddha, Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions
is a combination of the amazing responses that she received along with her own insightful essays, and insights from wise teachers around the world and throughout time. Deschene explores how these issues have played out in her own life and offers action-oriented suggestions to help people empower themselves, even in a world with so much uncertainty. The result is a guide that helps listeners discover the endless possibilities for a life lived mindfully in the present and connected to others.
WHY IS THERE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD?
No matter who you are, no matter what you have, no matter what you've achieved, you've hurt at some point in your life. Of the six universal emotions psychologists have identified—happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger—the majority indicate pain.
Most of us know that what our grandmothers said was true: "This too shall pass." But it doesn't always seem that way in the moment. When all those pain-induced hormones flood your body, pushing you into survivor mode, it can feel like some catastrophic turn of events has irreparably damaged your life—like your world has permanently fallen apart. If you don't worry hard enough, things might never change. If you don't get angry enough, you'll be accepting that what happened was okay. If you don't get bitter enough, you're opening yourself up to more of that same disastrous hurt.
No. It doesn't work that way. No matter how justified we feel in our emotions, stewing in them is never the answer to making them go away. Stressing by itself can't create a solution—any solution, let alone a rational one. Anger doesn't punish the people or circumstances that hurt us; it punishes us. And bitterness doesn't protect us from pain down the line; if anything, it invites it.
Emotions are not resolutions—and yet we have to let ourselves feel them. Suppressing emotional pain more often than not just creates more of it. This is where it gets confusing: If we're not supposed to resist our feelings, how do we know when to let them go? How can we both allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel and be sure we don't let the present moment pass us by?
In 2003, I sublet a small, unfurnished studio in New York City for a few weeks to figure out how I'd survive if I moved there to pursue my acting dreams. It was in August, and the Times Square area was like a sauna crammed with people sitting arm-to-arm, on laps, and on laps on top of laps, except no one was actually sitting still—we were all trying to get to different places with that New York sense of urgency.
A couple hours after I got the apartment keys, I headed out to hit up the ATM and pick up groceries and other supplies. While I was on my way to the corner store, Manhattan went dark. I didn't know it at the time, but New York was part of multistate power outage. The traffic lights went black, which gave pedestrians the green light to storm the streets, causing massive traffic jams. People began rushing into convenience stores to get provisions for the hours ahead. It was total chaos, and I felt panicked.
I didn't have any cash—or food or candles or a plan of attack. So I sat on a curb, leaned up against a mailbox, and tried to control my breath. Apparently I was more gasping and panting than inhaling and exhaling because a man squatted down, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Honey, are you okay?" I didn't see that coming—and I also didn't expect he'd listen to me ramble about just arriving, not having any cash, and fearing I might need to sell my body for a sandwich, a flashlight, or both. Without flinching, he gave me $5 and pointed me toward a store. Crammed with panicked, sweating people, the inside reeked, like body odor and cottage cheese after extended time in a beach bag. I was able to grab a bottle of water, but I didn't have enough for food, and the options were getting slim as other people rushed to grab what they could. The woman behind the register gave me a roasted half-duck, and took down my credit card info to charge at a later date. I had food and water; now all I needed was light. Naturally, $5 flashlights were going for over $20 a pop on the street—good old supply and demand. So I ducked into a restaurant, told the bartender my story, and left with seven tea lights.
It was increasingly crowded on the route to my apartment, so I paused in Times Square, which was kind of awesome in its darkness—now that I knew all my basic needs were met. It was like going backstage before a Broadway play, seeing the man-made framework behind the illusion of magic. In fact, it was very similar, since all kinds of people were gathering around musicians putting on impromptu shows. I struck up a conversation with the girl next to me, telling her how surprised I was that New Yorkers were so friendly and willing to lend a hand, even with their own needs to attend to. She said New Yorkers band together during crises, particularly after 9/11. They look out for each other, and they're a lot more compassionate and helpful than the cliché might indicate.
I can't remember her name, but I'll never forget what she told me next: both her father and her boyfriend died in the Twin Towers. In one day, only a couple years before our chance encounter, she lost the two people who mattered most to her in life. They say some deaths are senseless when you imagine they could have been prevented, but death rarely, if ever, makes sense—particularly not when it comes as part of something so deplorably inhumane. I looked at her sitting there, strong, intact, no different looking than I was or anyone else who hasn't known such grief. I wondered how she could go out in the daylight, looking peaceful in the world, knowing firsthand how tragedy can strike so unexpectedly. I looked deeply into her eyes in a potentially invasive way, searching for signs of pervasive inner turmoil. Having endured such a horrific tragedy, she must be a shell of a person, I thought, particularly so soon after her losses.
Then I remembered where I was right before I learned about the 9/11 attacks. I was festering in bed, six prescription bottles on my nightstand, wondering who'd come to my funeral if I died. I'd been in therapy for almost a decade, and yet I still suspected I'd spend the rest of my life feeling alone, miserable, and confined like a prisoner within the deafening cruelty of my mind. I was a chubby, overdeveloped twelve-year-old the first time a boy groped me and called me a whore in the school hallway. After years of hearing "fat slut" from both boys and girls alone and in packs and being grabbed without my consent, I'd begun to believe my consent wasn't necessary. Once, a girl from a neighboring school told me, "I've heard you're thinking of changing schools. Don't bother. Everyone everywhere knows you're a worthless whore." From that point on, I truly believed this was fact—that everyone I met somehow already knew how pathetic and worthless I was. A decade later, at twenty-two, I still felt trapped under layers of shame and regret, like dozens of lead-filled X-ray aprons piled one on top of the other. I'd tried to starve it away, stuff it away, drink it away, and fight it away, but nothing changed that I felt trapped within my offensive, unlovable skin.
I called my aunt to complain about my misery; I had a roster of regular listeners who indulged my desperation. Not a few seconds into my woe-is-me story, she asked me, "Lori, how can you be thinking about yourself? Don't you know what's happening in the world?" I didn't have any idea. I turned on the television and saw the footage. They kept showing the towers going down, like sand castles slowly crumbling, and a part of me felt like it wasn't real. I knew that people were hurting and that I should be outraged. But I'd numbed my own feelings for so long that it felt nearly impossible to feel for people far removed from me and my debilitating apathy. I'd seen therapist after psychiatrist after pharmacist; I was on anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and tranquilizers. My whole life was about making sure I didn't have to feel. But how could I see such tragedy and not feel? And even worse, how could I be seeing it and still be so concerned with what I was doing and feeling? What was wrong with me that I was so absorbed in what was wrong with me?
The truth, as messy as it sounds, is that the only way out is through.
That's the thing about feelings: Sometimes we resist them, and then we sit around feeling more feelings about our feelings, drowning in reactive emotions. We remember what happened and wonder what, if anything, we did to provoke it. We wonder what we could have done to prevent it. We wonder if we deserved it. We think about how unfair things are and how we wish we could go back in time to change them. We think about how we handled things, and if maybe we could have made other choices to change the outcome of what it is. And then after all this resistance, we wonder what's wrong with us for struggling so much in our own self-absorption. After all, there are so many other worse things going on in the world.
The truth, as messy as it sounds, is that the only way out is through. And the only way to let go is to truly believe in the possibility of a different way of being—to know in our head and in our heart that we can live a life that doesn't revolve around having been hurt or fearing future pain. We don't always realize it when we're sitting in our own self-destructed ground zero, but there will be a day when we feel better—if we just let ourselves go through it. Everything gets better with time; how much time is up to us. It's dependent on when we choose to change the stories we tell about our lives; when we decide to spend more time creating the life we want than lamenting the hand we've been dealt; and when we realize that no one's love, forgiveness, or acceptance can be as profoundly healing as our own.
Maybe if I stopped trying to control how I hurt, I'd feel a pain that would teach me what I need to do to love life more and need pain less.
As I looked at my new friend, vulnerable and yet so resilient, I wanted to love and heal her. I couldn't see it, but I knew she must be cracked beneath the surface. I imagined that she cried, screamed, and wailed herself through lonesome, traumatic nights. I visualized her collapsing into the arms of people she loved—other survivors who understood. I wanted to take it all away. I wanted to save her from a suffering that I could only imagine ate away at her soul day and night. I wanted to be her Prozac. I wanted to make her numb to the reality of her losses.
Then I realized that in that moment, she didn't need a hero. In that moment, she was existing independent of her tragic past. She wasn't heaving, having flashbacks, or fighting with the injustices of the world. She was responding to what was in front of her. She was eating a salad, albeit a wilting one; listening to music she seemed to enjoy; and acknowledging me, an absolute stranger sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience within an eerily tame Times Square. She didn't need someone to take the pain away forever, because she was taking forever one minute at a time.
We all choose from moment to moment where we focus our attention and what we tell ourselves. We're always going to want to have more of the good things, less of the bad things, and a greater sense of control over the distribution. While we can't control that life involves hurting, we can control how long we endure it and what we do with it.
To a large degree, it's irrelevant to question why we have to suffer, since that just prolongs acceptance of what is. But it's human nature to want to understand. If we're going to form conclusions, they might as well be empowering ones that help us work through pain and let go. With that in mind, I asked on Twitter, "Why is there suffering in the world?"
PAIN IS A TEACHER
Suffering should be used as a teacher. This teacher will teach you about yourself and the world around you. ~@d1sco_very
There is suffering in the world to make people wiser and stronger. ~@ittybittyfaerie
Without suffering no lessons will be learned; without suffering none will be necessary. ~@andrew2pack
We experience suffering to understand and realize our true strength. Pain leads us to improve our quality of life and open to love. ~@ditzl
Do not seek justification for suffering. There is none. Accept its existence and learn from it. ~@Mark10023
It's a natural human instinct to resist pain and to avoid its causes at all costs. In fact, we experience a biological response to perceived danger that tells us when to run for our lives—or in some cases, when to sit around stressing about our inability to run as quickly as we'd like. Just like an animal senses it might be eaten and receives an increase in adrenaline, enabling escape, early humans also developed a fine-tuned fight-or-flight response to survive in a dangerous world. It originates in the amygdala—the part of the brain that creates fear conditioning.
The only difference between us now and us then is that instead of being attacked by lions, as we may have been centuries ago, we're more likely to get in romantic squabbles or professional confrontations. More often than not, when we start kicking and screaming, there's little if any real threat; there's the just the fear of something potentially uncomfortable. We know intellectually that a disagreement or challenge at work won't kill us—and that stressing won't do anything to change what was or what will be. But we've conditioned ourselves to fight for control over our circumstances; and when that control seems to slip away, we panic. It's an ironic way of avoiding discomfort, but sometimes we make ourselves miserable to be sure that nothing or no one else can. We choose to hurt ourselves through stress and dread just to be sure we're prepared when something else could potentially hurt us.
We can take almost anything that hurts and recycle it into something good once we're ready to learn from it.
On the other end of the spectrum, we've historically romanticized pain. We're always consuming survivor stories, watching movies and online videos about success after extreme adversity, and channeling our inner Nietzsche—telling ourselves that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. To some degree, this is good, because we're reminding ourselves that it is possible to bounce back after a difficult time. But it's almost as if we imagine the greater the pain, the greater the spirit; or the harder the journey, the more rewarding the destination. It's as if we believe the one who hurts the most learns the most and has the most to give the world. Or perhaps we linger in the exhausting act of trying to control the chaos because that allows us to avoid acknowledging the gap between who we are and who we want to be.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle explains that we hold on to problems because they give us a sense of identity. This has been true for me. For years, I focused all my pain into the will to wither away. After weeks of surviving on a small selection of Sweet'N Low—flavored, low-calorie blandness, I'd feel shooting pains in my chest, like my heart was trying to escape its prison. My abdominal muscles would contract and spasm inside the cavern that was my stomach, while my mind spun in a psychedelic hypnotizing swirl. I'd collapse, clammy and wobbly, to the floor just outside the bathtub and pray that my brother or sister would walk by the door and hear me panting shallow requests for help to my bed. I was always waiting for someone to rescue me, while secretly hoping they wouldn't jeopardize my status as someone who always needed to be saved.
Eventually I'd crawl my way to the kitchen where I'd lay with my cheek against the cool tile, nibbling on a saltine, secure in the knowledge I had to feel only one knowable bodily pain. With such extreme physical weakness and the possibility of severe malnourishment, there was just no need to think about anything else that hurt in my life. Nothing else was as dangerous and life-threatening. The weightiness of this problem, juxt aposed against my own spectacular physical lightness, obscured the reality of my deep emotional hurt. Within this persistent suffering, I felt good at avoiding pain. It took years for me to consider that maybe if I stopped trying to control how I hurt, I'd feel a pain that would teach me what I need to do to love life more and need pain less. That maybe if I released the torture that made me feel safe, I'd wade through the discomfort of what was really bothering me so that I could live a life less defined by pain.
When we identify where we're hurting and why, whether it's something physical or emotional, we have the power to understand its cause and do something about it. But that means we have to be willing to let go of all the drama, comfort, and maybe even pride that accompany a sad story to make way for a better one. Before we can learn from our pain to make positive change in our lives, we have to learn how to want pain less. Once we decide to stop clinging, chasing, and controlling pain, then we have immense power to shape our worlds.
We can take almost anything that hurts and recycle it into something good once we're ready to learn from it. If you're hurting over trouble in your relationship, your pain may be teaching you that you need to find the strength to walk away. If you're hurting because people don't seem to like you, your pain may be teaching you that you need to stop depending on approval for your overall well-being. If you're hurting because your thoughts are tormenting you, your pain may be teaching you that you alone are the cause of your deepest suffering, and that in accepting that, you have the power to set yourself free. Of course this all depends on the most important question: are you ready to be free?
Excerpted from TINY BUDDHA by Lori Deschene. Copyright © 2012 Lori Deschene. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Index of Names
Posted December 18, 2011
Tiny Buddha has helped me SO much and continues to help me daily. This book is amazing and well worth every cent. I keep little sticky tabs on the pages I like to refer back to. I absolutely love this book!
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Posted December 15, 2011