Is Suffering Optional?

I’ve been asking myself this question. It came up strongly after a guest on my radio show suggested that one reason I’ve continued to suffer after my husband’s death is that I am in love with someone dead! When she said this, all the breath left my body and I felt paralyzed. She was right. Not only have I been in love with Tom, who transitioned two years ago in August, but I have wanted him back; I have been angry at every man that talks to me because he isn’t Tom; I’ve been crying almost daily, talking out loud to Tom, connecting with his energy, and in every way trying to have him back here.

This experience with my radio guest propelled me to go to Insight Meditation, a Buddhist center here in Santa Cruz. The very first time I attended, the speaker talked about non-attachment as the key to reducing suffering. I had just written in my journal that I am attached to something I can’t have, attached to having Tom here with me, and my attachment to something impossible has been causing me great suffering. In twelve step work, the literature speaks of acceptance as the answer to all our problems, being able to trust that whatever is happening is not an accident, that a higher force is in charge and to have faith. I also wrote a list of what I can control and what I can’t, and all I can control is myself: my thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Period. All the rest is out of my control, including my husband’s six years of cancer, his choice to use western medicine, and most of all, his death. In trying to control what I can’t do anything about, I suffer.

Buddhist and Taoist teachings focus on being in the present moment, being in the flow of life and revering nature. These teachings have helped me feel more balanced because I can still feel my sadness at times, release my feelings authentically, then return to my day and the moments of my life that are positive and precious. What has helped is taking time each day to meditate and pray, feel my feelings and write in my journal. This has become my spiritual practice and I don’t get out of bed until I have connected with Source and with my own inner voice.

We all feel joy and sorrow, and loss is a part of everyday life. On the other hand, I don’t believe we need to suffer in such a prolonged way, mired in our grief, reliving the past and stuck in what we cannot change. The only given is change, and after a great loss, we are changed forever. I am not the same woman now. My life is forever altered, and most of the time now I can rejoice in what is and what will be rather than living in what was. For each of us the grieving process takes time, a different amount for each person. I am grateful for my radio guest who said what I needed to hear, that I was ready to hear. Now I believe that prolonged suffering is optional, and I have tools to help me stay present and take in the good each day.

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