In addition to my group work, I work with many people on an individual level. Some are coaching clients, some are meditation students, some are people I mentor. Sometimes I correspond with the people I work with and answer their questions. Recently, one of these spiritual friends wrote to me about having a hard time and feeling very down on themself for it.
The older I get and the more I study and meditate, the more I realize that so much of my suffering comes from resisting things as they are, from attaching to my “dislike” thoughts about the nature of existence in the moment.
Meanwhile, there seems to be a certain pattern to many of our existences and realizing that I am in that pattern along with everyone else offers consolation. In fact, that my humanity is shared with others becomes my great joy. When I am down, it is my job to be helped. When I am up, it is my job to help.
Here is my reply to my friend…
Thank you for your wonderfully open and vulnerable email. You said that you feel really depressed and like a burden and useless and pointless. Nothing seems to help.
The older I get the more I see a lot of suffering. I, myself, find myself having to react to changes in my income or living situation in ways I don’t necessarily “like.” I have a friend who had to move and found the experience so stressful that they had a panic attack so bad that they ended up in the hospital.
A lot seems to be changing in the world. It used to be–in our parents generation–that it was quite easy to get a job and accumulate money and do a good job going it on your own. We’ve come to believe that we should be able to do all that too–take care of ourselves without help–as our parents did.
But the world has changed. So many of us are struggling to do things alone, but doing things alone doesn’t work as it once might have. Instead, relying on each other in all sorts of ways–talking, living together, etc etc–seems to be the only way forward for a lot of us. And it can feel humbling and humiliating–at least that has sometimes been the case for me.
But surrender is also so freeing. Some time ago, I was talking to my coach about my fear of crashing financially and he kept asking me what else did I feel and what else and what else. And finally I got to that if I did crash in that way that I would be relieved not to have the responsibilities any more. My coach said “So you can see there might be upside to any situation?” So why not surrender?
That is all the outside stuff. The circumstances and our way of thinking about them.
Meanwhile, all sorts of stuff goes on inside us and, a lot of it, we have in common. For example, being in one’s 40s means mid-life crisis time for so many of us. At that time, each of us might feel as though there is something wrong with us individually.
But mid-life–like so much of the human experience–is a crisis so many of us share. Carl Jung basically went nuts in his middle-age. He wrote the whackiest, craziest shit in his black books (so much so that his family really resisted letting them out). Jung chose to not fight the craziness but to get really close to it. Then he came out, more or less enlightened by it.
The Buddha myth and the Christ myths also tell us about long and repeated periods of darkness and the benefits of not fighting them.
All of this is to say that being human turns out to be a fucking mess sometimes (and also very joyous, sometimes) and being in the mess doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. In fact, the first noble truth of Buddhism is basically that: Being human can be as dissatisfying as shit. But the further truths are that there are paths out of suffering. In and out. In and out.
I hear, by the way, that you don’t like many of the approaches to helping yourself that have been recommended to you and that they feel like gobbledegook. That’s ok. The not liking is just part of the suffering at the moment. These practices are probably still supporting you and helping you not to suffer even more. Keep doing them.
You’ll notice I am not offering a lot of suggestions. That’s because it sounds like you are already doing all the things you need to do. Meanwhile, your house is haunted by some terrible ghosts. We get the choice of fighting the ghosts or of realizing that the ghosts are just ghosts.
I find I reside somewhere in between–sometimes fighting and sometimes accepting. The consolation, I find, is in knowing that it is this way for pretty much everyone. Of course, the tide rises and falls and some people are doing better than me and some worse but that is changing, changing, changing. It turns out we are all in this thing together. We are all taking our turns at being high and low.
Meanwhile, when your tide comes in, you will help people whose tide is out. While your tide is out, it is time to let the people whose tide is in help you. Your tide will come in, just because it has to. Because that is how the universe works.
I hope this is helpful. And of course we can talk by Skype or phone.