Feeling vulnerable in the world today can often seem as if your skin is burned and you cannot escape the sun. This sense of rawness is compounded if the vulnerability stems from grief, loss and/or significant changes in life.
Over the past few months, I have noticed a large portion of my practice and personal life focusing on coping with loss and fluctuations in life’s stability; emotional, financial, professional, social, spiritual or otherwise. Whether this change is brought on by the passing of a loved one, realizations that life as we know it is unsatisfactory, relationship struggles or unmanageable mountains of stress, the vulnerability experienced has a familiar tone no matter the individual experiencing it. Most people have heard the phrase, “Nothing is constant but change,” but it hardly helps when faced with uncertainty if we do not know the basis for this message.
In Buddhist psychology, change and suffering are two things we can rely on as constant companions to the human condition. The first time I heard this idea I thought, “How depressing!” But the more I study the Buddha’s thoughts and attempt to change my life’s lens, the more I realize he meant to impart a sense of comfort through sharing this idea with the world. Humans crave stability on an evolutionary and psychological level. Society attempts to create it, parents instill it in their children; relationships assume it will always be so. In doing this, we create individuals and scenarios that soothe the burning sensation of vulnerability with temporary salve. It helps but in the long run does not deal with the scarring that remains if we never learn or discuss the idea that everything we put our faith in as constant will one day cease to be as we see it now. How is this helpful you ask?
It creates a sense of gratitude and appreciation for each moment experienced that is wonderful and each moment that cracks the heart a little. Humans are blessed with a full range of emotion and we often seek to tamper this gift with the illusion of stability in order to escape feeling vulnerable. It is ok to feel. As a matter of fact, it is amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking, life changing, a blessing and a curse to feel. Statues and representations of the Buddha consistently show him with a slight smile. This is not because he is “happy” or without pain. It is the literal explanation of how to alleviate our own suffering. If we can turn a gentle head to that which makes us vulnerable, acknowledge it, gently smile at it and walk on, we take control back from seemingly unmanageable situations. With each moment of power, that which makes us burn in the sun is less damaging to our spirit.
With the passing of a most beloved grandfather last month, I finally understood what it meant to truly grieve at the soul level. I collapsed in a heap on the floor upon knowing of his death and struggled to get through the next few days without crying at every solitary turn. The moments when I realized my grief did not have to continue in this manner occurred once during his gathering and once during his funeral mass. His gathering had few tears but mostly laughter, ridiculous stories, some difficult realizations and nothing but love. At his funeral, I looked around at a full church and my heart felt blessed. Blessed to have known such a person, blessed to be sad, as so many do not have family, and blessed to be able to show grief without punishment or ridicule. This is the meaning of taking power back from vulnerability. Yes, life has suffering. Yes, it stinks. But, yes, we have the ability to gaze at our lives with a gentle smile and take each dark moment as a chance to listen to the lessons life is trying to teach. My lesson…grief is a gift because it shows you have the capacity to love. And love is always a gift.