Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Transforming Suffering to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

In Buddhism the lotus flower is very symbolic for the path of enlightenment.  It's the lotus flower that grows up out of muddy water and represents a person's journey through suffering in life (i.e., rising up out of that mud to become a beautiful flower).  It's actually the mud itself that makes you strong.  Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book about this called, "No Mud, No Lotus:  The Art of Transforming Suffering."  

Now, this doesn't mean we should go around looking for things to suffer about.  Life offers plenty of suffering just as it is.  What does happen, however, is that we need to be alert to the ways we make great, and even elaborate attempts to avoid suffering and this is what causes our suffering.  In other words, we can't avoid the realities of life.  Sickness and death come, and discomfort is sometimes a part of our daily living.  We can't always have what we'd like or live in the luxury we'd prefer.  And it is the desire for things to be other than what they actually are, that leads to the most suffering.

There are lots of ways we try to avoid suffering:  Drugs and alcohol, shopping, sex, gambling, entertainment, money, workaholism, eating, etc.  If we give these up, we return to experiencing the realities of life.  That is, that sometimes there might not be something to fill your time, or sometimes there are losses, breakups, empty feelings.  Sometimes we are depressed, sad, tearful, lonely, and yet if we try to escape these by filling the time with some of the above bad habits, it only makes life worse.

So learning to suffer through some of this mud in life is key to finding our way to reducing stress and anxiety, or challenging depression and sadness.  Learning to endure the discomforts that life can serve us is important and it's this "mud" that makes us strong enough to grow up out of it, and rise above the waterline in life to bloom as the lotus flowers we are.

The lotus flower grows up and out of the water and stands prominently above it with bright colors of white, red, pink, gold, etc.  These flowers shine in the sun and have multiple pedals which are also symbolic for the beauty of one's enlightenment.  But none of this would happen without the mud (the struggle and suffering) that this great flower is rooted in.

So too with you, that you must learn to endure the difficulties in life and not expect it to be other than what it really is.  Sometimes we have natural and normal anxiety and sometimes we are not always so happy.  The good news is that none of these states is permanent and you can be sure they (and you) will change and transform, just like the lotus flower does.

Thanks to Rajeev K for the great photo