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So do we all. The Buddha specifically named “being parted from the pleasant” as a cause of suffering. Parted from the pleasant, we feel pain, and until that pain is eased—with time, with comforting support, with meditations or prayers that soothe the mind—we suffer. The elderly mothers of two of my good friends died this past winter, and the mother of a third friend is very ill. My friends are taking the time to feel sad. They tell me that however timely the deaths may have been, they miss their mothers. They need the time to get used to their new world. Another friend of mine is ending her psychotherapy career after nearly forty years. Her health is good, and she has plans for the rest of her life, but still, she struggles. She says that when someone new calls to request an appointment, she hesitates, thinking, “Maybe I can still change my mind.” She says, “After I hang up, I feel wistful.” A cousin of mine calling to say that her daughter had been accepted at Harvard said, “Even though I am thrilled, and even though her leaving is still six months away, I am already lonesome.”
Sad and wistful and lonesome are what human beings feel when they are parted from what they love. They are difficult emotions, but they aren’t problems. They become suffering when we resent them, or resist them, or pretend that they aren’t there. I know that when I struggle with the pain of any loss, the struggle preoccupies my mind and leaves no room for hope. When I recognize the pain I feel as the legitimate result of loss, I am respectful of its presence and kind to myself. My mind always relaxes when it is kind, and around the edges of the truth of whatever has ended, I see displays of what might be beginning. ©
Sylvia Boorstein is a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, and the author of several books including Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake: Practicing the Perfections of the Heart, The Buddhist Practice of Kindness.
Originally published in the July 2004 Shambhala Sun magazine.
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