Quaker Universalist Conversations

On curing and healing

On what turned out to be the last day of my mother’s life, when Alzheimer’s Syndrome was ending her body’s ability to breathe independently, nursing staff called me early in the morning to say she was not keeping food down.

As I said hello to her, Mom looked up at me with that fierce eagle eye we’d come to know during her last years. The look was challenging yet had a glint of longing in it. She may no longer have known who I was, yet she clearly knew we were bound in a primal loving relationship.

I sat beside her and put my hand against her cheek. She sighed, closed her eyes, and leaned her head against my hand.

Grand crinum lily

In her blog post, “Suffering…End of Suffering,” T. Hamboyan Harrison writes,

Suffering doesn’t come from having emotions; it comes from feeling that the emotion you’re having isn’t right, from judging that emotion and labeling it. Just as one can be in physical pain and not be suffering, so one can be in the throng of despair and also not be suffering.

This statement voices with precision the understanding which my decades of weaving together Christian, Pagan and Buddhist threads have brought me.

Though an intimate Friend of Jesus from early childhood, I never was comfortable with institutional Christianity’s notion that pain, sickness and death were punishments, or that strong enough faith could cure us of these mortal ills. I saw no divine justice—certainly no divine love—in such a regime.

During my “coming-out” decade, calling myself a faggot and a witch was my self-teasing way of naming my embrace of the body and of nature as divine, not fallen. I came to understand that mortality is simply a circumstance of being alive, not an evil intrusion upon it. If there is evil, it lies in what human beings do to themselves and to each other in order to deny or delay mortality.

I wandered into Buddhism as many would-be hippies did, enticed by the Western misconception that this path was about escaping unhappiness and gaining spiritual “powers.” It was decades before I reread Katsuki Sekida’s Zen Training and realized, “Oh, it’s just about sitting.”

I am convinced that Jesus brought us a very simple message, one hinted at by Suzuki Roshi in a story told by Pema Chödrön: This difficulty will be with you for the rest of your life. Therefore, always practice maitri (“unconditional lovingkindness”) toward yourselves and toward all beings.

“Sin” is merely our misguided efforts to dodge mortality—in trivial, more or less harmless ways, as well as in horrific and brutal ones. Yet mortality is merely mortality.

I longed for my mother not to die. Yet her mortality was not something to cure. It was something to heal. She and I and my spouse and siblings and others who loved her led each other gently toward that moment when her body would cease to breathe.

The pain and the loss and the grief are real, and they revisit us on occasion.

The suffering is healed—whenever we allow it—by that touch of divine love, that maitri, which we have been given the grace to share with each other.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael


I have published this post simultaneously on my personal blog, The Empty Path.

Comments

T. Hamboyan Harrison writes,

"Suffering doesn’t come from having emotions; it comes from feeling that the emotion you’re having isn’t right, from judging that emotion and labeling it. Just as one can be in physical pain and not be suffering, so one can be in the throng of despair and also not be suffering."

However, I would state this truth slightly differently as:

"Suffering doesn’t come from having emotions; it comes from feeling that the discerned emotion you’re having isn’t right. Just as one can be in physical pain and not be suffering, so one can be in the throng of despair and also not be suffering."

The two modifications would be to recognize that some emotions are not appropriate to the circumstance and that judging and labeling the emotion is part of the discernment process regarding emotions as well as ideas.

When my anger at a misunderstood slight in the office can be labeled and judged, I can assess and identify a more truthful emotion, which can be affirmed without suffering. Then the remainder of the Harrison insight stands importantly that the emotion or pain is not identified as suffering. The suffering is in the initial emotion that is not truthful to the circumstance, in my experience.

Thanks,
Larry Spears

Friend Larry,

You write: “When my anger at a misunderstood slight in the office can be labeled and judged, I can assess and identify a more truthful emotion, which can be affirmed without suffering…. The suffering is in the initial emotion that is not truthful to the circumstance, in my experience.”

Another way to look at this is to say that the initial emotion is truthful but misdirected. Your anger is real at that moment. Examination of it, however, would reveal that it is anger at a perceived injury, not anger at the other person.

Once I do this sort of examination, I can—if I choose—let go of the emotion.

I am frequently stirred to anger by the actions of other drivers. Sometimes I remember to say, “It’s not about me.”

In other words, that person didn’t abruptly switch lanes in order to do it to me. My anger arises from my placing myself at the enter and seeing everything as done to or for me.

The anger is real. But I don’t need it.

Blessings,
Mike

This weekend was Mother’s birthday although she has been with our Lord since October of 2000.

This morning I was somewhere between sleep and partially awake when I heard the voices of my Mother, brothers and Dad as if they were relating happily with one another before breakfast on one of every year’s Thanksgiving as we were growing up.

Our Mother’s birthday was frequently on Thanksgiving Day.

I awoke to a house empty except for my beloved cat and me. This was a very fond memory and it seemed so real at the time. It was a memory that had been played out in real life so many times. I couldn’t help but smile as I woke up to a day of school and then reaching out to my brothers with this memory of our childhood.

Libbie Poole

What I seem to be continually learning is to listen and allow my emotions, particularly ones of grief and sadness, patiently and without the chattering judgment of my mind. This is not easy, but creates the space to let them flow and heal until I understand better what they are about. That space often gives me a more balanced perspective on them.

In the day-to-day fray I do sometimes bracket emotions to reflect on later and and then let them go. I grew up as a person with strong emotions though often having only a vague idea of what they were about. The same listening and allowing that I try to practice in Meeting for Worship helps me be present with myself and be at peace.

Thanks, Mike, for this contribution, and those who have left such thoughtful comments.