6 Buddhist Antidotes to Suffering

Since evicted from a U.S. monastic order about eight years ago, I have been told many times that I suffer because of my karma, bad karma. Often this sentiment is coming from those I presume to be perpetrating intentional harm. This sentiment also becomes a sort of shaming and humiliation for a formerly accomplished individual in her late 20’s who gave up everything, including her family and the guilt of not being able to care for family, to become a mendicant. I thought that I could overcome my family’s misgivings by making them proud of my spiritual path through diligent practice, but as someone who had nothing in her late 40’s, I apparently only managed to “disgrace” myself and my family. I am obviously a real loser to not be good enough to be someone with nothing.

Obviously I have been dancing with suffering within and without for some time. I have come to know suffering well since becoming homeless from being a supposed non-householder. I can relate to the angst of the marginalized in a world where there is more than enough pain to go around. Sometimes I am better at dealing with difficulties than other times. Now, drawing on those better moments, here are six Buddhist antidotes for adversity

  1. Notice it.

Open your senses to the adverse condition that is happening. What does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like? What does it taste like? What does it feel like? What does it bring up for you in your mind and heart? I often begin with my physical sensations: the sharp, seeming cuttings between my ribs, the dull heaviness in my upper stomach, the tightening of my shoulder blades, etc. After this, it is easier to notice the details, emotions, patterns to the repetitive memories eager for your attention. It is hard to open yourself up to pain, but the results of examining it as if in a science lab (with a tender heart) may surprise you.

  1. Be with it.

Stop running away. As soon you notice that there is suffering, whether within or without, just be. Be still for a moment. Don’t try to respond but breath and lean back, like you’re taking a step back or relaxing, for a second. Be with what arises. All this will happen in a matter of moments though it may feel like a long time. This slight shift will change everything the way we alter the color of the world by the shades of a different hue. Do give it time until you are ready to choose your next step.

  1. Nod to it.

Acknowledge that there is unpleasantness in your body, mind, heart now. Greet rather than reject the conditions around you. Instead of jumping to quick designations or slapstick finger-pointing such as, “They are evil,” “This is hell,” “I hate so-on-so,” give the circumstance some creative space to be, to morph, to emerge. Gently nod at the embedded or buried burden in the heart of everyone that you come across, including yourself.

  1. Sit with it.

If there is enough space — physical or psychological — meditate on the state of your mind, meditate on how things are now, meditate on how it comes and goes. This is most useful if you develop a daily practice, such as before bed, to review all that occurred during the day then contemplate the peace that’s at the heart of or in the spaciousness behind the whirl.

  1. Know it is here and know it is okay.

The pain is here. When you have slowed down enough in those few seconds to know that, it’s likely that you have touched the peace that lets you know: it is okay, you are okay, all will be okay.

  1. Extend a helping hand (whether to self or others).

When compassion occurs to you as you realize that you and those you perceive to be the perpetrators of your predicament have something in common, as you realize that you and those mired in conflict and challenges are deeply connected, you will want to take action. What sometimes happen for me is the sense that, even the person attempting to do harm is like my favorite child, to whom I would offer unconditional love though he or she misbehaves. I don’t have children and if you don’t either, you can imagine the person you have presumptions about to be someone you love dearly or better yet, a real sense of loving-kindness for that individual for what he or she must be undergoing. At that point, you know exactly the action to take, be it toward yourself or others, be it individually or collectively, be it a mobilizing campaign, a simple gesture, or the action about continuing to be.