“When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions” – Hamlet, Act IV Shakespeare
“There is suffering in life. This is the First Noble Truth,” according to Buddhist practices. This truth makes a good point! Suffering comes. Sometimes we cause our suffering. Sometimes we do not. We don’t always have to ask “Am I doing life wrong?” when we are suffering.
But life is not just about suffering. There is pleasure and pain, praise and blame, joy and sorrow. There is also the opposite of suffering: beauty. Beauty comes too. That beauty exists at all is a mystery. It’s the focus of a great deal of work by artist Makoto Fujimura, pediatric palliative care doctor Ray Barfield and the late Irish poet John O’Donohue. Both suffering and beauty are mysteries. They both do their work in their own seasons.
If you are in a season of suffering, I hope the words of the poets can touch a bit of your pain. May they give you space for your head and heart to clear a bit.
- The River of Suffering, Juan de la Cruz
- Penelope, Dorothy Parker (link goes to Genius.com)
- Ode to a Nightengale, John Keats, read by Benedict Cumberbatch (links to video)
- Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy by Richard M. Berlin, M.D.
- Excerpts from For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
- Take my Hand, Precious Lord by Thomas Dorsey, written at the death of his wife and child. Notes here.
- A Villequier, Victor Hugo’s raw lament at the accidental drowning of his daughter.
- Everybody Hurts by R.E.M. sung by Father Ray Kelly on Britain’s Got Talent
- Deep beauty in the broken earth, Allegra Jordan
- Seasons of Suffering, Allegra Jordan
- Getting Cheddared, Allegra Jordan
- Black Turtles, Allegra Jordan
- Greedy Blowhards, Allegra Jordan
- I see the assassins have failed, Allegra Jordan
- Writing the apology I will never get, Allegra Jordan
- Old prescription bottles, Allegra Jordan
All humans face overwhelming situations at times. And all suffer. Suffering can transform us: it may make us more bitter. It may refine us and help us eventually become lighter and more joy-filled.
Some grief is sticky. If you return to the grief time and time again, consider something deeper may be happening in your life. You may wish to shift your relationship to that pain. Time does not heal all wounds, in fact, some wounds are like splinters in our souls – if they remain there they get infected and start causing our entire body to become infected.
In life we need a tool kit for “overwhelming experiences.” Some of these tools will work every time. Some will just work one time. Some may work for you but not for me. (That’s why we need a kit!) Here are some of my favorite tools:
- An apology from the universe, even if you have to write it yourself.
- If you are a military caregiver, check out the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s resources.
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. This is the most well-respected exploration of the causes and cures of overwhelming situation where “love has gone wrong.”
- EMDR, a no-drug, non-invasive way to convert painful memories to “something that happened a long time ago but that no longer get in my way.”
- The Posttraumatic Stress Growth Inventory
- Growth after Trauma
- Posttraumatic Stress Growth Workbook
- Dancing Well: The Soldier Project
- Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hansen
- The works of Brene Brown
- The works of Jack Kornfield
- Born of Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa by Emmanuel Katongole
- Reconciliation Poetry, curated by Allegra Jordan