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I learned a valuable lesson about suffering from, of all things, a neighborhood cat.  She lives down the block from us and is an outdoor kitty because she beats up the indoor kitties.  Otherwise she is well taken care of: food, shots, water, etc.  However, she didn’t have a shelter, and a huge cold snap was coming.  I asked my son if she had a warm place to stay and he said no.

So I sent my husband to the store for a plastic bin and some reflective insulation.  The kids grabbed some scissors and packing tape and set about making a nice little house for Dobby, the cat.  An hour later, she had a nice little shelter.  My son and nephew took it to Dobby’s house and she hopped right in.  I felt relief knowing that the sweet, friendly cat would have a place out of the wind and snow to spend the night.

I’ve thought about that simple act of kindness a lot for the last few days.  Sure, it was my idea, but it was my husband and the kids that really did all of the work.  I know I should give myself at least a small pat on the back for noticing the suffering of another living creature and doing something about it, but part of me feels like having any actual pride defeats the intent.  Why should I feel pride about doing something that I felt HAD to be done?  Not out of fear, as so much charity is done, but out of love for this small, furry creature.  Her suffering became my suffering.  Neither I nor my kids could stand the thought of her being in distress.

Suddenly the things that I have learned about Buddhism and suffering made sense.  The Four Noble Truths tell us that life is “suffering”, for lack of a better translation.  “Dissatisfaction” might be a better word.  Our suffering is caused by attachment to other things, other people, to our desires (though I’m not sure if that really applies to a cat: I’ve noticed many of Mother Nature’s creatures are not susceptible to attachment the same way that we are).  In this case, my suffering was caused by my empathy and compassion for another living thing, and I could only alleviate my own suffering by alleviating hers.  Of course, I’m still “attached” to the cat, who wouldn’t be?  Our attachments sometimes prevent us from being blind to their needs.

Then I thought about the broader implications of suffering, and the state of the world we are in now.  Since DT was elected “President” in January of 2017, and even before then, since the election in 2016, I’ve been seething in anger and shock and disbelief.  “This is not my country,” I thought to myself.  We have been in a collective state of suffering ever since Barack Obama left office.  But I was blinded to it by my anger towards DT and people like him.  “How dare they piss on the Constitution and subjugate those they deem inferior, usually in the name of God!”  My Facebook feed was, alternately, either silent for months or filled with post after post preaching to the choir about what a horrible person DT and his friends are and how they are the end of all that is good and just in America.  I think more than a few people unfollowed me, not because they necessarily disagreed with me, but because it’s no fun having the equivalent of a shouting bullhorn on your news feed, even if you agree with what they’re saying.

And I had every right to be angry, and still do.  “Can’t you see the suffering you’re causing the rest of us?”, I ask myself repeatedly.  “Why don’t you get it?”

Then Dobby came along, and I realized, they’re suffering too.  People don’t act that way unless they’re suffering.  Everything we are observing in the world right now is the direct result of suffering.  Yes, some are suffering more than others, but we’re all in the same suffering boat.  DT, he’s suffering, and is in denial of it, and the rest of us are paying the price.  Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the rest of their Republican cronies: they’re suffering, too.  If you grew up with the hateful, vengeful, killer “God” that their brand of Christianity has brainwashed them into believing too, you’d also be suffering.  As a pagan/Wiccan, I’ve seen many a brother and sister struggle out from underneath the cloak of shame and guilt that the Western “God” has laid over them, a cloak that was laid on them by people who themselves were suffering in some form.

Most Westerners don’t know how to “be” with their suffering.  We do everything we can to avoid it and cover it up because it doesn’t feel good.  We may even deny that we’re suffering in order to keep up the facade that everything is a-ok.  But suffering begets suffering, and our unresolved suffering leads to suffering in those around us.  Pretty soon we’re all miserable and blaming each other for why we’re miserable.

I’ve been filled with hatred towards DT and everyone like him in the government and everyone who voted for him.  Yet I see now that it’s not helping.  I am not only contributing to my own suffering, but to those I oppose as well.  And it’s only by acknowledging the suffering of those we oppose will we ever hope to understand them well enough to begin to assuage it.

So here I am, saying, “I see your suffering.”
I see your pain.  I see that it makes you do bad things out of fear and anger and hatred, because that’s what you’ve been taught.  I understand, and I forgive you, at last.  I thought that might never come, because I don’t think you quite realize yet what a horrible thing you’ve done.  I pray we can prevent too much damage from occurring and that which is damaged is easily fixed.

But in this case, your suffering makes you dangerous and toxic because you are either unaware of it or have grown so used to it, like an old leather coat, that you no longer notice it or even find it comfortable.  It is all you know.  Siddartha Gautama, the man who would become the Buddha, was a member of his society’s warrior class.  And in the same way, those of us who live the dharma are also warriors.  And we are here to defend that which we hold dear while at the same time guiding those who live in darkness back into the light.  We may be suffering, but we are strong, and there are more of us than there are of you.

But we are here for you when you’re tired of your suffering.

No Rest


**whine alert**

I was struck this morning with a peculiar weariness that took a moment to identify its source.  I’ve been doing a lot of work in recent months on managing my bipolar disorder.  The frontline defense against it is medication, but the main combat forces behind it that do the real work are a host of behavioral changes that take time and are a real bitch to implement if you’ve been stuck in unhealthy ruts to date.  I feel like I’ve been trying to drive a Jeep out of a muddy ditch.

If I really want to be healthy, I have to get enough sleep and on a regular schedule; exercise regularly and with vigor; eat well and regularly; take particular supplements known to be beneficial to brains like mine; meditate regularly; and a few other things.  Sure, those things are good for everyone, but if I don’t do them, I just sort of scrape through life and my meds aren’t very effective at all.  And that’s no bueno for anyone.  Least of all me.  Everyone around me can get away from me if they really want to, but I can never get away from myself.  Wherever I go, there I am.  If I’m all messed up upstairs, I get stuck in a nasty negative feedback loop that ends up in bad places.

So it’s in my best interest to maintain things as best I can.  Which is where the weariness comes in.  It’s a constant vigil, maintaining a chronic illness properly.  I can give myself a little leeway, but for the most part, I really can’t allow myself to fall out of my patterns.  That means getting up at the same time every day and  meditating after I make my tea.  Remembering to take my meds in the morning, which means heeding the alarm when it goes off or I’ll probably forget, since when bipolar meds are working properly, you feel fine, so you don’t think to take medicine.  Eating something, which is a constant problem because I’m rarely hungry in the morning.  Not ignoring that hunger when it pops up later in the day.  Getting some sort of exercise in the evening on most days (at least I seem to have finally settled on a time of day to get my exercise in).  Taking the evening meds.  Going to bed at a reasonable hour.

I’m still slack in areas, mostly nutrition, as noted.  I still tend to stay up too late, as I’ve been a perennial night owl most of my life.  On days off, I have to make myself go meditate instead of immediately sitting down at the computer.  I have a bad habit of not immediately heeding my med alarms and then forgetting to take them until a couple of hours later.  Which is better than not taking them at all (which I do sometimes), but it’s the sort of thing that’s the most effective if you take them at the same time every day.

And there are still things I should work on if I want to be healthier, like acceptance, which is a big part of Buddhism and a growing part of psychology.  There are things in my life and my world that make me anxious, but that I can’t change, either immediately or sometimes at all.  Worrying about them does me no good and in fact does me harm, since a buildup of anxiety typically leads to a mood imbalance eventually.  I have to learn to stop dwelling on these things if I want to be a happier person, and one that doesn’t wake up with constricted breathing in the middle of the night.

I also have to make sure I’m not inadvertently keeping sources of anxiety in my life that I don’t need, but have gotten used to.  Like things I feel I have to be responsible for, but really don’t anymore, if I ever did.  It’s an unfortunate side effect of being forced to take on responsibilities that you shouldn’t have to when you’re younger that you begin to take on responsibilities that you don’t have to when you’re older.  It took a long time for me to learn that I didn’t have to say “yes” to everything and everyone.

It all adds up to a lot of work that I sometimes (often) wish I didn’t have to do.  It’s a pain in the ass and requires a good deal of discipline that doesn’t come naturally to me and is damned difficult if not impossible to muster in the depths of depression or a fit of mania, which is exactly when it’s needed the most.  I wish I could just let things slide sometimes without everything going to hell.  Of course, when I do let it all slide, I have to give myself a measure of self-forgiveness for failing to meet the criteria I’ve set for myself, or that one of my support team has set for me.  Because perfection is impossible.

Still, no rest for the weary.  No slack for the brain matter.  Because that’s what’s necessary.

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