On Suffering and Hopelessness, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb

After the gastroenterology appointment yesterday I spent most of the rest of the day sleeping. Guess I needed it. Woke up early this morning NOT feeling pain or exhaustion or depression. It’s hard to express how good that feels, so I wont even try right now.

So today I am in a space where I can recommit to my regular practice (Buddhist and otherwise). I feel like the past few days, really the past few weeks, maybe months, have served the purpose of reminding me why I started doing all these regular exercises in the first place. That it’s not about to do lists and pushing myself or upbraiding myself when I can’t, of always being in a hurry to make up for lost time. In this way being very, very depressed has been useful.

Severe depression (which I’ve said in an earlier essay is really a lack of something else rather than a thing in itself) forced me to let go of all these pressures and the anxieties they produce. Until it becomes extreme, depression is all about fear and self-loathing as you lose willpower just when you need it most, just when every little task gets bigger and more difficult because you can’t think right and you’re tired and your heart is not into it. Then things pile up and begin to topple over, making a giant mess of everything. At a certain point it becomes impossible to “clean up the mess” and you reach hopelessness and can let go of all that. This is usually followed by a whole lot of lying in bed because what is the point of doing anything when it holds no meaning, no pleasure and no hope of future rewards. Then eventually you (or I, at least) reach a point where you start doing things for the sake of doing them.

Now I understand what Pema Chodron was talking about when she talks of accepting, even embracing hopelessness. It’s not about overcoming suffering, it’s not about doing everything you can to minimize pain and maximize pleasure; it’s about not struggling to get out of suffering. Because suffering is an unavoidable part of being alive, and trying to get out of it only causes more pain as you twist and turn, trying to free yourself from reality. That isn’t to say pursue suffering (unless that’s what you’re into). I’m just saying that making the avoidance of suffering or the pursuit of pleasure your reason for doing things takes away from your ability to experience the things you are doing; it makes you less alive, and there’s plenty of time for not being alive later.

I don’t know if it’s possible not to fear suffering, but it is possible not to run away.

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