During a recent class at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center we discussed suffering. I “compare” my suffering to others, and always feel like my suffering is never as bad as someone else’s. I look at situations like the war in Syria, widespread rape in the Congo etc.; close to home, I compare myself to friends experiencing great mental, physical and emotional suffering. The outcome: I feel inadequate.
The classic Buddhist response to comparing is we have all experienced everything. Comparing is an act of separation as well as an act of imagination– I imagine what others experience, and I even imagine what I experienced! Comparing separates me from my experience and from understanding what someone else is going through. It’s as if I’m saying, “I already know what your suffering feels like.”
I was a compulsive eater and bulimic in my 20’s, lived with depression from college through my 40’s, developed Type 1 diabetes when I was 36–I was abused as a child and in my marriage. My work is to deeply understand my suffering, not avoid or discount it. It takes persistence and diligent practice to be present to our suffering and the suffering of others.
If we suffered as children, we did not have the capacity to understand our situation, to survive we dis-engage and separate, and whatever coping mechanisms we used then usually follow us into adulthood. Binging, purging and restrictive eating can be the legacy.
I spent many years in therapy. Of course it helped, but in retrospect, the hours, weeks, and years I spent talking about the traumatic events of my life were not as helpful as the years I spent–and continue to spend– understanding and taming my mind. Quieting my mind through mindfulness practice has brought more answers and enabled lasting change. For me, answers come out of silence.