“Both suffering and happiness are of an organic nature, which means they are both transitory; they are always changing. The flower, when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again. Happiness is also organic and impermanent by nature. It can become suffering and suffering can become happiness again.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
When I thought of offering a workshop on Buddhist psychology and dance therapy, little did I know what lay in store for me. I encountered the true nature of suffering and pain, a sudden wisdom tooth pain erupted, leading to a surgery. Mind you, not a simple extraction but a surgery!!!
I had to overcome layers of fears, fear of covid, of things going into my mouth, going to unknown places for an X-ray, and regular dental visits. Each time, my anxious heart feared contracting the disease that has brought the world to a standstill. I sat in the dentist chair, my pulse rate high, stomach palpitating, palms sweaty, dying of fear inside, fear of the unknown and unbearable.
Stephen Porges gives a polyvagal perspective on why we feel scared while visiting a physician. We feel there is something wrong with us, we are being examined and it’s not a shared journey about one’s body, it doesn’t make us feel completely safe.
According to Buddhism, there are eight major sufferings particular to human beings. Having the three root sufferings as the basis, we human beings go through the cycle of our life with eight types of suffering from which no ordinary person can ever escape. They are the four major experiences of suffering of human life: the suffering in the process of taking birth, of old age, of sickness, and of dying and death (Rinpoche 2020).
Cessation of Suffering in Buddhism is the only way to true happiness and peace. Peter Levine says trauma and suffering hold a transformative power in them. When you stay present with this pain, suffering becomes a portal, a gateway to something that opens up and creates more space for this to pain to be held. I think it also depends on how we were held as children when we were in pain. Trauma does not lie in the event itself, but in the way we were held. Even if we weren’t held in our pain as children, our adult self can hold our vulnerable, scared parts and we can provide holding for ourselves to meet this pain with compassion.
In Buddhist teachings, compassion is described as a “quivering of the heart” in response to suffering. I allowed myself to be self–compassionate, even as others mocked me for being so scared. But I couldn’t help feeling scared and I owned up to these feelings. As I did this something eased in my body and created space and acceptance of what cannot be controlled.
Few days after the surgery with my mouth swollen, unable to eat anything, I reflect on my relationship with pain and suffering. We as humans want to experience only pleasure and joy and move towards pleasurable experiences, even as a baby. But what happens when we encounter pain and suffering?
I hold this question in my consciousness as I navigate through pain and yet find joy in little things, like a flower which bloomed recently in my home garden, as I was on this journey of pain the whole month. The words of Thich Nhat Hanh resonate in my ears and I feel streams of joy flowing into my heart once again, as I absorb nature around me during my mindful walk. I once again feel the breeze on my skin, the sweet smell of the flowers and hold both suffering and joy in the present moment. I watch the lotus growing in the mud….