When I first started my Buddhist study and practice, a friend asked me “why do you follow a path where the first thing the guy taught is that ‘life is suffering’? I replied, “because it’s an accurate description from my experience, and he didn’t stop there–he described a logical, doable method for being deeply happy even with the truth of how very challenging life can be.”
It’s difficult to face suffering. We want to turn away, and there are so many ways to do it. But when we do, we miss much of what is true in our lives. As a therapist, sitting with the personal suffering of clients, I found they often felt tremendous relief in facing and accepting their suffering; from that acceptance, energy could then come to take action.
When I think about the suffering of our beautiful planet, I immediately feel a contraction of fear, grief, anger, helplessness… Ah, helplessness–that’s the cue reminding me to step outside my limited self and connect with others–reading, talking, perhaps coming together in action. A classic prescription from the Buddha (sometimes called the world’s first psychologist) is to explore, understand and overcome difficult mind states through “noble friends and noble conversation.” The diversity of the group I’m connecting with is extraordinary, from climatologists and other scientists to Catholic Bishops and evangelicals to insurance companies and politicians–people who are raising their voices, asking us to look at what’s happening.
Climate change is what I’m talking about. I find myself convinced that it is real, that human activity is driving it, and that there is actually relief and joy that arises when I join my voice with others’ voices to say that we can and need to do something about it, rather than shutting down and hoping it’s not true.