Tag Archive for: Suffering


We humans have a tendency to label things as good or bad, wanting more of the former and avoiding the latter at all costs. Yet this labeling is the antithesis of mindfulness. In truth, it is the root cause of much of our suffering and stress.

You don’t need to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Throughout the day, see if you can notice how much of the time you are either liking or disliking almost everything that’s occurring.  dreamstime_11087921 (1)

Perhaps you may want to learn a new language. But you say to yourself, “I’m not good at languages” because in high school you struggled in a Spanish class. Once we label an experience, it colors all future experiences that even resemble it slightly. And yet is it necessarily so? Or is it just more thinking that we are inadvertently believing in any given moment?

These assessments, though occasionally conscious are more often unconscious. They are simply reflex reactions based on past experiences. Our judging mind is showing up in the habitual, predictable way as it has countless times before. This is not about fault finding or trying to control our thinking. The process happens so quickly that we are not even aware that we are unaware. These thoughts have become automatic.

However, we do have a choice. In fact, we have many choices. When we become present to the content of our thoughts, we gain access to our available choices-to respond rather than react to these thoughts. We open up a pause that can generate countless opportunities for new experiences.  dreamstime_12677239 (1)

I often share the story below with my students in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. It illustrates how our interpretations of what is happening is directly linked to the level of stress we may be feeling at any given time. And how our interpretations are never the whole story.

There once was a peasant farmer who lived in a remote village in China. His only means of plowing his fields was an ox. When the ox died, he flew into a panic about how he was going to feed his family. The villagers told him to seek counsel at the home of the old sage who lived on the outskirts of town.

The farmer said to the wise man, “I don’t know what to do. My ox has died and my family may starve. This is the worst thing that could ever have happened to me!”

The sage paused, looking him squarely in the eyes and said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer walked away in disbelief. How could he say such a thing when here he was in such distress. He told his family and neighbors that this was no wise man; he didn’t know what he was talking about.

However, the next morning the farmer discovered a strong young horse grazing in a distant field. He trained the horse and in short order, he was able to plow his fields better and faster than before. Not only that, the horse ate less feed than the ox. The farmer thought to himself, “You know, maybe that old man is wise after all. Finding this horse was a stroke of great luck.”

He decided to go the sage and thank him. “You know”, the farmer explained, “I thought you were crazy for telling me that maybe it wasn’t bad luck that my ox had died. But now I know you were right, I found this horse and he plows even better than the ox. It has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

The sage again looked into his eyes and said, “maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer, incredulously said, “Are you kidding me?” Shaking his head and walking away, he thought “This guy is nuts! I am not coming here again.”

A few days later, his only son was riding the horse while working and was bucked off. He broke his leg and the horse had to be put down. Inconsolable, the farmer recalled that the sage had indeed spoken wisely and decided to go back to seek advice. After sharing these latest events, he said to the wise man, “Now you have to admit, this is absolutely the worst thing that could have possibly happened to me!!”

And the old man, calmly and lovingly replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”cairn over rocks

This infuriated the farmer so much, he stormed back to the village and told anyone who would listen how ridiculous the so-called wise man was.

The very next day, troops arrived in the village to take all the able-bodied young men away to fight in the on-going war. His son was the only one who was saved. His broken leg spared him from almost certain death.

When we can step back and pause with a mind that does not truly know the answer, we can extend our view. We can see potential in all occurrences, gaining a bird’s eye perspective, a wisdom on our own lives.


For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”

be yourselfWhether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.

I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process.  Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of who of “being them” might include: jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, or adventurer.  Some they have tossed out of hand.   Others have become integral pieces of who they are.

And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams.  Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them in miraculous ways to  live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, the most challenging experiences, in fact all experiences, can also be places where we can get stuck. 070711a7017 (1)

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold onto particular stories in our personal history, identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Students come to my classes to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and  illness. There is much relief in discovering there is a common thread of suffering among participants.

Sometimes their first identifier when introducing themselves to the group is  along the lines of, “I am a recovering alcoholic,” “I am a survivor of abuse,” “I am a divorced single mother,” and so on.

It is powerful and healing to share these parts of ourselves as sources of demonstrated strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  Both speaker and listener are inspired and connect deeply with one other. They are living proof that we as humans can go through the worst and come out the other side.

Even more generally, an introductory description may be,  “I am a Mom/Dad/Lawyer/Nurse/ _” (fill in the blank.) There is a natural tendency to identify with our roles at home or in the workplace.

020206_trdp_s6 (1)All of these experiences, the challenging and the fulfilling, are hugely important facts.   These experiences help to shape us. AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than the sum of all our stories.      

Clinging to your personal history as it IS you, is at best incomplete and at worst, leaves you unable to see clearly what is here for you in the present. Self-descriptions are a good deal about what has happened to you, how you dealt with it, the work you do, and the people in your lives.

061006_cr_5659 (1)To widen our perspective, we become aware of what is around us and within us now, in this moment. Embracing your past and your roles from this perspective, you have a spaciousness to see that all your stories are not the final truth.

Honor and accept where you have been and what you “do”, utilizing it in the present where need be. But release the tight attachment to your stories.  They will not disappear if you let go of your over-identification. Nothing gets lost.

“Just doing you”‘ is the quiet call to the present…the modern version of “just be you”. Releasing our stories, if only for a time, allows us to widen the container of our life.

In this container, there is no need to put labels on who we are.  We can live unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are, we see things with fresh eyes.

“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows.  People and animals, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for your enjoyment.

The authentic you arises naturally from this place. Try it.  You may discover a lightness and a rightness about being you in this moment.

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It’s been two months since I’ve entered the blogosphere; and I am so ready to be back. 

Do you know Ecclesiastes 3:3 in the Bible? It is in the Hebrew Bible; what I know as the Old Testament.  The book consists of maxims that reflect upon the meaning of life and the best way to live it.  It tells of the hard times that are a part of life and the need to take your time moving through them.  Actually the whole of chapter 3 is about the rhythm of life.  Life’s timing, the wisdom of knowing and accepting fully how long each “time” takes.  The specific verse 3 says, “There is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up.” 

I am broken, but not dead.  Just healing and building up.   I needed to go into my “cave” and like the mighty lion after a bloody fight, lick my wounds. It hurts and it’s itchy and it’s generally not something we humans go out and look for.  

Yet like all crises, all catastrophes, there is God’s gifts of the silver lining.  We are grateful for small things.  A friend’s call, the morning cup of hot coffee (not to be underestimated), and the sense of connection with others who are currently suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” all register.  They are not disregarded; as they often times are when the world seems our oyster. 

Suffering is, of course, universal, and cuts us down to size, whether we feel we need it or not.  But when it happens often enough, or poignantly enough, we begin to let go any romantic attachment to drama.  Drama as an addiction, as a predilection, becomes not only a luxury we can ill afford.  It takes off its clothes and it exposes itself for what it really is: a childish, immature, and unimaginative way to engage with the moments given to you.    

There are lyrics to a song that has been mantra; it has made so much sense to me, it has given me strength, it’s almost like I wrote it.  I guess you could say that I wish I wrote it.  It’s by the Dixie Chicks.  I know the Dixie Chicks and Ecclesiastes, huh?  I warned you once or twice of my heretical leanings, so if you are still reading, here you go. The name of the song is Truth No. 2:  

You don’t like the sound of the truth, coming from my mouth.   You say that I lack the proof. Well, maybe that might be so.  I might get to the end of my life, find out everyone is lying.  I don’t think that I’m afraid anymore.  You see I’d rather die trying.

This time when he swung the bat and I found myself laying flat, I wondered.  What a way to spend a dime, what a way to use the time.  I looked at my reflection in the window walking past and I saw a stranger.  Just so scared all the time make me one more reason why the world’s dangerous.

Tell my what’s wrong with having a little faith in what you’re feeling in your heart.  Why must we be so afraid and always  so far apart. 

The refrain is: “Sing my something brave from your mouth.”

That’s what I’m looking for right now.  In everyone I meet, encounter, and I’m finding it.  Bravery, to speak the truth and then live it.  Go on.   

By the way, don’t get me wrong, the irony is not lost on me.  My words ring a bit melodramatic, even to me.  But I have been thinking about them, even nuance of thoughts and events.  And you know what?  In this particular instance, they are not. 

I’m not trying to be mysterious, just judicious. 

Got lots of blog ideas in the queue.

Wishing you peace and love and good health.