Tag Archives: suffering

Why Your Personal Work is So Important

Why Your Personal Work is So Important
Why Your Personal Work is So Important

It’s really easy to get absolutely fed up with “working on your personal issues.”
Some days it’s all you can think about, and you get inspired and you sign up for something, or make a plan, or journal and feel like you’ve reached a very important insight.
But many, many other days, you’re just sick of the same old shit happening… over, and over.
Sometimes, you get disgusted with yourself, not believing how “selfish” or “pathetic” you are for constantly thinking about your own flaws and problems.

But, here’s the thing. There’s a reason your mind keeps bringing you back to your own suffering again and again. It’s because deep down, you’ve always had a sense of what you’re like when you are truly being yourself, and a sense of you-when-you-are-happy. And you’re secretly in love with that, we all are.
It’s actually a great thing: Your best self won’t let you off the hook, won’t let you live a half- or quarter-life when you already know how life could be.

It would be so much worse if people paid less attention to their personal suffering. That means they would go about their days feeling defeated and shitty – and how do people act when they feel that way inside? They may become withdrawn and isolated, they may externalize their pain by “letting it out” on someone else, they may actively or passively cause damage to their surroundings because they just don’t have it in them to give a damn at the moment.

Your personal work is so important because: If everyone truly allowed themselves to focus on and work to heal their own suffering, the resultant peaceful minds and hearts are what we would all be interacting with when we go out into the world.

There’s no heart in this world that doesn’t want relief from suffering, peace. Consider even a drastic example: a suicide bomber wants to eliminate what he believes is displeasing to his God; he believes his God knows what is good. He wants to please his good God because it gives him peace; there’s nothing like believing that God is good and that God loves you, and that therefore all is well and at peace. We all live a version of this when we are tiny children. There’s nothing like knowing that mom and dad are smiling, proud of you, everything safe and happy for the moment: peace.

The thing with the suicide bomber is that something has gone terribly awry when one adopts the delusion that violence can lead to true and lasting peace. It’s the same crisis that unfolds when you believe war can lead to no war, that shame can lead to positive change, that deprivation can lead to a feeling of enough-ness and abundance. These are all terrible substitutes for the mechanisms of change that really work: patience, learning, understanding, lack of instant gratification, tolerance, sustained effort, genuine interest, respect, humor. It all amounts to a lack of loving attention. Out of that lack comes a desperate and forceful attempt at change. We know from both our personal and global experience that those types of attempts do not work.

When you do the hard work and you do find some peace, you cease to have a desire to harm yourself, others, or the surrounding world around you in general. You are naturally gentle, loving, energetic, giving, happy.

So if you find yourself completely sick of working on your eating behaviors, your negative self-talk, your resistance to living a life you love, then firstly, notice that you are actually suffering in this very moment. Then, remember that every bit of healing you create for yourself, takes away a bit of the conflict in the world.

There’s no better work for you to do. Your inner state affects EVERYTHING you do, every interaction you have with any other beings. Work with the suffering you have right now. That is your most important work. You can’t skip over it, you can’t put it on the back burner and expect it to go away because you’re doing other “good and important” things. If you’re not paying attention to your own suffering, then you’re off doing those other good and important things with less energy, happiness, authenticity, and effectiveness than you could be, by far. Your creativity is WAY held back. Others don’t feel how much you love them as much as they could, no matter what words you say or even what acts you do. It’s the feel of you.

It’s about how you REALLY feel, NOW. That is what needs attention. Know it will be excruciatingly frustrating at times, but keep going. Remember what the world could be like if everyone did this. We have no idea what difference one person who’s truly on fire can make in this world – cliche or not, you know it’s true. Trust that you are enough, you are important enough to spend your full attention and compassion on. Touch the depths of yourself. Go all the way. You are the only one you can do this with, I don’t care if you’re a therapist, lover, spiritual teacher, mother – you can’t touch anyone with the same intimacy that you can touch your own self with. But the closer you get with yourself, certainly, the more you can offer that depth to others.

You are so important. Pay attention, do the work, do it now! =)


Facing the Fact that We Have Limits

Facing the Fact that We Have Limits
Facing the Fact that We Have Limits

I quit/got-fired-from my job on November 1st in order to go to Geneen Roth’s retreat in California. As of right now, I don’t have the money for rent due on January 6th —- reality check.

I quit in a binge-y sort of way: yes, I’ll go to the retreat! I’ll have free time! I won’t have to wake up early for a while! The retreat will put me in such a different frame of mind for so long! This is it! Yeah, I’ll get what I want! I’ll have it all!!!!

That last bit there – that last little line – is a blaring buzzing neon light signaling binge-mode.

“I’ll have it all.”

It’s the mark of a deprived, out-of-touch mentality. It’s a defense against guilt and loss and anger. Had a fight with a family member? Next thing you know you’re saying Damned right I’m having Chinese takeout WITH the extra egg roll won ton soup duck sauce and Snapple.

Anyway – I went on the retreat in a binge-y way, I was sort of aware of it at the time but considered the expected benefits of the retreat (I had gone once before) to outweigh this fact anyway, so I went. And it WAS brilliant and revitalizing and sweet. But. Now, the rent check is waiting to be written in a few weeks, and I am madly rebelling. I feel like I DESERVE time off and that I want my next job to be perfect for my life before just jumping into another one I will eventually want to leave. Ah – that other blaring signal word – “perfect.”

What I’ve said so far is to provide a backdrop for this main point: Binge or no binge, reality remains.

Whenever you “act out” about something, you’re left with the original conflict that precipitated the acting out, and in addition the consequences of the acting out. Plain english: After you eat all the Chinese food you want, you now still have the fact that you had a fight with a family member, plus the discomfort and self-loathing that results from the compulsive eating.

The only ways to deal with this truth are to try to stay in a stupor as often as possible (eat compulsively all day, drink every day, get high every day, buy something every day), or to face what needs facing.

To be blunt, often, I only stop being self-destructive when something demands that I crawl out of my hole. I may only stop eating when I feel like I’ll get sick if I don’t. I may only get myself to go to my soccer game because if I miss a 3rd one in a row it will look too bad. I may only say I’m sorry to my boyfriend when it becomes explicitly clear that I’ve gone too far and hurt him. I may only pay attention to the fact that I don’t have clothes that fit me when I have 15 minutes to get ready to meet a friend and then rage about it, trying to find something decent enough.

These behaviors are the manifestation of a mentality of avoidance. Essentially, avoidance of reality. Avoidance of psychological and emotional truths, and the truths of being human. This is why the Buddha focused so much on the nature of reality, and declared his central teaching to be that “Life is suffering.” Why would a guy who says shit like that still have so much influence today? ;)

It’s because it IS true – If you find yourself being a human being, it is true so far as anything is true: that you will die, that you will get old and sick and die if you are lucky, or die in some accident if you are not, that you will feel physical pain just by virtue of having a body, that you will feel emotional pain whether it’s because you have love or lack it… As deeply as you believe the sun will rise tomorrow, you may believe that every human being will experience these sufferings in life.

What does this do for us? It can smash the delusions that lead to mental self-torture and lack of compassion for others.

When you dive into the chicken and broccoli and egg roll and rice and scent of the duck sauce and chewing and swallowing and chasing with sweet drink.. When you take the dive into oblivion, no matter how long it takes (a quick swipe of the credit card, a few seconds of obsession in the mind, a 5-hour binge), you are diving into the delusion that you can have it all, and that you can control how you feel.

How many grown people do you see jumping up and down outside, trying to launch into the air and fly?
Because as deeply as they know anything, they know that humans can’t just jump up and fly, so they don’t try.

Self-destructive/addictive behaviors indicate denial of realities that are equally true, such as
– It is impossible for us to always feel happy.
– Suffering is inherent to living.
– You cannot change the past.
– I am angry at a family member.
– I am so tired that I need to go to bed now.
– I hate my job.
– I never figured out what I really wanted.
– We are always getting older, closer to death.

The good news is that working with reality is easier than working with layers and layers of compulsion and denial. Reality is unpredictable, scarier, and more raw, and it means change.. But it is also where you can actually meet yourself and taste this life.

You can’t have it all – but you CAN have what you DO have.
We’ve got limits, but we also have freedoms.
Gotta die? Choose how to spend your life.
Your body only needs 5 bites of food at the moment? Pick which deliciousness you’ll feed it.
You need to work to live? Decide what job will most enable you to be yourself at this time.
Find yourself undeniably tired? Angry? Hopeless? Heartbroken?
Clink an imaginary glass with all of the human souls who’ve ever lived who were brave enough to feel, and know, how they felt. These are the souls who learned compassion for others by facing their own suffering and in so doing faced everyone else’s as well. These are the souls who undoubtedly opened their hearts most to the world, and transformed it. This is what we all seek – offer your exhaustion to this. Offer your anger, hopelessness, and heartbreak to this shared courage and opening. Let screams and tears and laughter and sighs come. Imagine a soul putting her hand on your shoulder, nodding with a slight, knowing smile, communicating with no words, “Ah.. Yes.. That moment of facing aloneness. Mm-mm. Yes, yes..” Just that shared knowing. “Ah, anger with your friend.. Ah, yes.. Ah, that burn.” The humanity of feeling anger. The humanity of feeling the love underneath it. This is so much more precious than what a binge can offer you.

Facing the realities of limits and suffering can be excruciatingly painful, but is also the only way to feel your own heart, to look into your own eyes. If you can do this, you will be most able to be intimate with joy itself when it is time for joy – which it often is.

Offering encouragement for staying with your true way,



Longing is what moves us. Whether it’s the physical longing for food when you are hungry, or the tight-chest shallow-breath longing for the object of your desire to fall for you, longing demands our attention, and can take us over.

And when it does take us over – we may plunge into the depths of the feeling of separation from that which we long for. All of us have felt this, many times in our lives. You may remember a time before you were 5 years old, crying out for your mother when she was not with you. You might recall utter heartbreak as a teenager, after being rejected by someone you dreamed of, loved. You may recall a recent missed opportunity that left you bitter – the gap between what you wished for, and reality: longing.

I believe longing is one of the forces that has the most power over our souls… Nature itself is designed with the longing for survival, the longing for the continuation of life.  So… For something so strong, and so necessary – why does it have to hurt so much??

Well… suffering can move us towards truth when it motivates us to try to end the suffering, or at least to understand it.
I won’t forget a recent session when my therapist said something like, “Maybe you act one way during the day, you act one way with your family, you function well in this or that way… But your eating, now THAT won’t be suppressed, that kind of bingeing is like.. HERE I AM, this is rage, this is hopelessness.”

The point was to understand that what I was describing to her: eating 3 slices of pizza, then movie popcorn-candy-soda, then PB&J sandwich, milk, fruit snack, string cheese, all within a few hours.. that this was SAYING SOMETHING – something, truly, important. Something about –  some longing.

Why would you binge like that when you don’t want to? When you even hate yourself for it? When it causes so very much suffering?

You must be believing that what you truly want, or even need, is not possible for you – and rather than live with the ache of longing for something that may not be possible – you try to get hit after hit of temporary release.

But, here’s the thing with trying to deal with longing by numbing out:
Longing’s with you as long as you live.

And so is food – so there’s a choice here: learn to live with longing, or continue to be tormented by food in an attempt to perpetually numb longing out.

My suffering demands my attention. “WHY, WHY, WHY again, why eating with such resignation, eating with such a vengeance. What would I have felt like, thought about, if I did not eat that way right now…? What am I doing?? What’s going on?! With everything I know and understand, how could I continue to do this…….?” My suffering leads directly to these questions – and the answers to these questions lead directly to my longing. Now.. Where does the longing lead?

A poem, if you will:

Love Dogs
by Rumi

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

I share this poem because Rumi is trying to show us what the longing leads to, if you allow it. It leads you to yourself. But don’t just take that as a “sounds-nice-whatever” statement… Think deeply here. You have a longing. Let’s say it is a very, very old longing, that you eventually learned to mute in some way because living with it all the time was too painful, too overwhelming for a child. Let’s say you lived with the pure longing to make your mother happy, until before you knew it, you were bingeing or restricting each time you felt that you had disappointed her. Now let’s say a decade or 2 or several have passed, and you find yourself still bingeing or restricting in this same way – and you cannot get yourself to stop. Why? There is a part of you that still lives within, because at some point it became forbidden to be expressed. It is a truth about yourself – and you know all the sayings about truth by now, right?

A personal illustration of following the suffering to the longing to the truth/myself:
I wanted to binge on dinner very badly.. to the point that I could not imagine moving on with my night without doing so. I explained this to my boyfriend who laid down with me and tried to talk about it. After some time, I became distraught with the idea that no matter what I do, it doesn’t help – what if I can never fix my relationship to food?? What if I can never feel better… And, I started crying, hard.. Soon, my boyfriend noticed that I was trying to stop crying… And he told me to breathe into it. When I did, I cried harder and harder, and soon I couldn’t believe how long I had sustained crying that hard…
At some point, I had a clear feeling/thought of: no matter what I do, it doesn’t help – What if I can never fix Mom…?? What if I can never feel better…

If there’s a desperation that lives in me now, because by 10 or 11 or 12 I couldn’t stand it anymore and stuffed it down… Then my soul, my psyche, my true self, whatever you think of it as.. will make sure that it gets expressed somehow. If it’s not going to be consciously, met with loving awareness, then it’s going to be unconsciously, meaning acted out, meaning – I will feel the exact extent of desperation I am avoiding, because of what I do in the relationship to food.

For some it’s love relationships: To the extent that there’s feelings of deserving punishment that haven’t been acknowledged, your soul will make sure you find someone to be with who will emotionally punish you to that extent. For some it’s entertainment: to the extent that there’s unacknowledged feelings of never getting to be your childhood-self or to be carefree, your soul will make sure you find no true relaxation no matter how many hours you spend in the false reality of TV, video games, internet. For every way of being in which one causes suffering to oneself, there’s an explanation that involves suppressed self-expression, past or present. It’s you bringing your attention back to yourself through suffering, when healthier modes of communication with yourself have been closed down.

For some, it’s food. Geneen Roth calls the suffering in the relationship to food “the unexpected path, the doorway.” What she means is this: If you have an identifiable issue with food (you can see when you binge, you can see when you have the urge to count calories, you can see when you’re drowned in obsession about food or body), then you’ve got a BLARING SIGNAL that there is something longing to be expressed at that very moment. You have a way to identify the moments in which you are calling out to yourself – the human experience is giving you something true about you, something precious to taste, and it is making you scared and inclined to run.

Rumi’s saying that what we long for is ourselves – our own love, to know ourselves, to know the truth of what we are. Feel your longing, and see the truth that you don’t want to eat more pizza, you wanted your mom to be happy so that you could be happy, and it ripped your heart to shreds. The truth that, ah… I loved her. What happened was I loved her.. I loved.. I, love…
You start with pizza and you end with facing yourself as a loving, vulnerable being.

Imagine the possibility of uncovering your longings each day – who would you be?