The weight of hurt

We can carry our hurt gently so we don't impose it on each other. Maybe we realize how it shapes us into loving friends.

Let's agree that everyone we know, ourselves included, will sometimes hurt.

(nod to Michael Stipe.)

This may provide solace. Or it may not.

Let's also agree that the experience of hurting is not a pleasant one. When we hurt, we often feel like we've tumbled into a bad space. Once we're in it, the bad seems to overwhelm us inside and out. We may find ourselves host to a number of emotions that grow wild in that bad space: powerlessness, dislike, envy, anger, fear. We may feel stuck in the bad space. As though the bad space is the only place we'll ever roam again.

Whatever joy or happiness we felt before we hurt may appear lost forever. We may even grieve over the loss - another prickly wound on top of the hurt. The pain compounds.

In Sanskrit, duhkha is the word for suffering. It's an important word. It was the word the Buddha used to describe his first Noble Truth. That is, the experience of duhkha is innate to our existence. The word itself is made up of the prefix 'du' and the root 'kha.' Du means bad. Kha means space. The word originally was used to describe the poor fit of a wheel axle in the wheel's center hole. The journey aboard that vehicle was sure to bring a world of hurting duhkha.

Traveling through the bad space has been a human adventure for as long as there have been humans. Or, more broadly, for as long as existence has cycled through this world, so has this experience of duhkha. Birth, aging, illness, injury, death: we are all jarred along on our life journey by wheels coming off the axles.

In other words, we all suffer. It's an inevitability. The way we carry our suffering, however, is not. The way we carry our hurt is a choice we make. We can improve our bumpy ride.

When we're in the bad space, it isn't always easy to remember how to make a choice to fix our wheels. Still, we are resourceful beings. We can practice our skillful ways even when we aren't burdened by our hurt. We can practice our skillful ways even when we aren't burdened by our hurt so it becomes familiar when the duhkha finds us again.

We have hands that help each other, minds that seek to understand, and voices that can share love. For that reason, I offer three simple exercises to inspire us to exchange the bad space for the good whenever and wherever we come upon hurt.

  • Watch what comes and goes.

Everything changes. During painful periods, we often become impatient with the pain. It feels like an unwanted guest who's decided to move in forever. This practice asks us to remember one of the great truths in our life: everything changes.

Feel your breath. Notice how it comes and goes. And another arrives. Notice also how emotions change. Maybe you were laughing yesterday and you're crying today. Sit at a window and close your eyes for a moment. When you open your eyes again, notice the new scene. Recall your own body, mind, and personality. Notice how you have changed and changed and changed throughout the course of your life. And more change is coming. Suffering is no different.

When we hurt, we can say to ourselves this powerful mantra: all is changing. This reminds us that what we are experiencing is not going to last. (This is also an important reminder when we are in the good space... all is changing so we may not want to pretend otherwise.)

  • Say thank you to the blessings in the duhkha.

One of my favorite things about life is its diversity. When I hurt, I only have to open my eyes to the beautiful sky with its clouds or brilliant blue sailing above me. Maybe I see a tiny lizard doing push-ups at my feet. I can open my ears too and hear my dog groaning in her sleep or the laughter of children down the street at the ice cream store. I may sit quietly and imagine the faces of all the people who let me love them. I immediately enjoy their love filling my heart.

Even if I hurt, these beautiful moments are always happening. My job is to welcome them. When I welcome them, I start to enjoy their sweet presence. They enter the duhkha and the bad space becomes softer. I can say thank you and the space around me becomes as beautiful as they are. Thank you is always the best prayer.

  • Imagine how you are being transformed.

People like to say that lemons make lemonade. I like to think about turning pickles into pudding.

This may not make sense at first but that's the point. Let's remember that the manner of our transformation is rarely comprehensible to us as we're undergoing it. Lemons, with a squeeze and some sugar, go from sour fruit to sweet juice. That's not hard to understand. The trajectory of our suffering isn't always as obvious as all that.

Sometimes our suffering is like a dusty, old jar of pickles. We aren't even sure why we kept it.

When I was a kid, I didn't love pickles because they smelled. But at a dinner with my dad, he encouraged me to try one off his plate. I gave in - a moment of shift. It was a sweet pickle and I was hooked. As a reward, he let me make pudding for dessert. I didn't see that coming but I learned two things: pickles aren't always sour and pudding may follow.

When I review my life, I see that every one of the puzzles and challenges I've overcome has softened me into a more compassionate, patient, forgiving, and loving person. Those pickles were the path to so much surprise pudding. We simply have to be willing to let ourselves transform.

May we all find pudding after the pickles.

As we meander along our journey, let's remember that each and every one of us will have to deal with wonky wheels, injuries, death, and pickles. When we find ourselves in turmoil carrying the weight of our suffering, let's remember that everything changes, and so too will our hurt. Let's remember that there are blessings even in the midst of each challenging moment, if we're willing to look. Let's remember that we are always becoming, and we cannot know precisely what we will become.

If we practice with these ideas, even in the best of times, we'll be more likely to call upon them when the wheels are coming off.

We'll also know how to care for others as they struggle with the weight of their hurt. We don't need to take their suffering. After all, it isn't ours to carry. And just like our friends, in the bad space of hurt, we don't always like to be told what to do. But we can sit with our friends, knowing that their suffering will also change. We can remind them that they are a blessing to us so they may remember that there are blessings around them as well. We can also imagine how they are being transformed, and we can admire their courage as they undergo the process.

This is how we offer our loving hands and voices.

In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra, we are advised 'heyam duhkham anagatam.' This means, let's prevent future suffering. The simple ideas presented here may serve that purpose. What has happened in the past, we cannot change. But we can learn to carry our suffering gently and without the additional weight of additional negative emotions over it. We can acknowledge suffering, without choosing to make it heavier.

We are a community of hearts, wherever we are.

Let's remember to carry our hurt gently and lightly so that we don't impose it on each other. Maybe we realize how it shapes us into loving and understanding friends.
Let's be that for each other.
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