Being Happy While Acknowledging Pain

In the first paragraph of Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that for a practitioner, suffering is not enough:

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.

This Thursday evening I have been invited to lead the Still Water Sangha in Silver Spring (just outside Washington DC). After our sitting, we will explore together how we can be happy while acknowledging the pain that is in us and around us.

At the close of the annual teen retreat this week at Deer Park Monastery, I had the opportunity to talk with a 13-year old boy. He asked, “What does it mean to be happy?” He followed up with another question, “How do you be happy when a friend brings up an experience from the past that is difficult and still is painful?”

I was amazed by these simple, yet insightful, questions.

It is the second question from this boy that I want to focus on because it raises the topic of difficult emotions. We all have them in our lives. Working with those emotions can be a challenge. I am a parent of a six-year old girl and ten-year old boy with special needs. My wife and I have been together for twenty years. Difficult emotions have been a common theme for me as I’ve learned to be a parent and partner.

Our most basic practices of breathing and walking have sustained me and helped me to calm the storms. The next phase, transforming the pain and suffering, requires looking more closely at particular emotions, feelings, and habit energies: understanding where they come from and what sustains them. Working with the difficult emotions that have arisen in my family life has pushed me to talk about them with mentors, to enter family therapy, and to focus on them more in my sitting, reflecting, and writing. This has been my path, my practice. The rewards have been immeasurable.

The program begins at 7:00pm at Crossings; I hope you can join us.