A big thanks to all who have commented on these re-posts. I have to admit, rereading them, and your comments, has been a salve on my currently troubled soul. This turned out to be a perfect week to return to these teachings. I will definitely bring Mindful Mondays back into the rotation once this week is over.
I’m also happy to report that I’ve been doing good work on my book. I can’t wait for all of you to see some of what I’ve done at the end of the month!
I am a worrier. Feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life was one of the reasons I started looking into Buddhism. I wanted to find a way to to accept that which seemed unacceptable – the inevitable pain and suffering of life.
I’ve slowly and thoughtfully been reading Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali. I really love the book and I don’t want to speed through, lest I rush past any of the thoughtful lessons that I know apply to me and my anxious, fear driven existence.
The night after I wrote my post about my Acceptance of Suffering I began the chapter in the book about worry. It seemed perfectly timed. Of course worry is a huge part of every parent’s life. We worry about the wellbeing of our children, if they are safe, healthy, happy and fulfilled. We worry that they are eating the right foods, being exposed to developmentally appropriate stimulation, thriving both mentally and physically. We fear they won’t be accepted for who they are or won’t be included by their peers. There are literally countless reasons we can worry for our children. The liberating thing is, while we will inevitably worry, we can choose when, how much and about what. We can also choose how to shoulder the burden of our worry.
As I read the chapter on worry, I came across the most amazing quote. I mentioned it in my 300th blog post as one of my top mantras of the year. This placement in the “Top Three” is telling, as I only came across it in the final days of 2010. But it seemed to speak to me on such a deep, personal level – it was like it was meant just for me. Thank you Mark Twain for saying this.
‘My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes . . . most of which never happened.’
This quote spoke to me because my life has also been filled with terrible misfortunes and the majority of them have been of the not-actually-having-happened variety. Reading this quote I was suddenly, violently, aware of the fact that I could chose whether or not my life was spent lamenting the tragedies that had not yet occurred or appreciating the present moment despite the great uncertainty of the future.
After having my daughter I realized that my twenties had been all but overrun by the tragedies I expected would befall me. I had been so worried about experiencing infertility and pregnancy/infant loss that somewhere, deep inside, I was wounded by those tragedies, even though they had never taken place. The weight of the anxiety surrounding whether or not I would become a mother had become so all consuming, so smothering, that I could hardly accept its fantastical foundation. I had created tragedy in my life where there was none. How tragic is that?
For some reason this quote told me something I already knew in a way that made me actually understand it. If you live your life always fearing future tragedy, it will be as if you’ve lived through the very tragedies you want so desperately to avoid. You are basically condemning yourself to the pain you’re so scared of. Only by accepting the possibility of it and letting it go can you truly be free.
I used to read blogs about loss and feel soul wrenching sorrow for the women whose lives had been devastated by terrible misfortune. I felt such sadness for them as I pondered how horrible it would be if those things happened to me. My compassion wasn’t completely selfish, as I believe we do have to imagine how a person’s loss would affect us if we can ever honestly consider their pain. But the lingering sadness and desolation, that was me reflecting their loss onto my own life. That was me nourishing my worry and fear. That was me creating tragedy where there was none, at least not for me. Then, after feeling that desperate pain, I began to writhe against the unfairness with bitter disgust. I would become so angry at the world for what it could do to some but not to others. I couldn’t stomach the arbitrariness of it all. I couldn’t stand that I’d never know my own fate before it befell me.
Now I feel I can hear about other’s suffering without possessing it. I can (and do) put myself in their place and feel their pain, if only for an instant, but now I do this out of love and compassion, and not out of fear. I read their stories so I can feel empathy towards them and send them loving kindness. I abide their pain so I can honor it.
Buddha taught that the mind is everything; what you think you become. In the same way, tragedies you imagine can all but become a reality, for if we suffer their possibility surely they can hurt us with the same strength as their realization would. There is enough suffering in life, we don’t need to create it unduly. And if we do succumb to the fear of uncertainty, we have no one to blame for our suffering but ourselves.