Lotuses grow from the mud and bloom into beautiful flowers. The mud has been plentiful this year. We are living through a global pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world. It has changed the way we live our daily lives. People who are at risk live in fear. Even those of us who are young and healthy are weighing the risk-versus-benefit ratio with every decision we make. Social and racial injustices have been brought to light, forcing our country to recognize that we are falling victim to the notion that history repeats itself. We have learned that we live in a country that is politically and morally divided. Making political progress to improve healthcare, human rights, and environmental care is stunted by polarized opinions. Our world is burning. Australia was on fire for months. Closer to home, the California wildfires were worse than ever and our response has been perpetually reactive, not proactive. And wasn’t there something about killer hornets?
“History repeats itself endlessly for those who are unwilling to learn from the past”
Lotuses look and smell lovely, but the flower cannot exist without clouds and rain. I’ve had quite the rain shower this past year. I’ve been working through a second mental illness diagnosis—panic disorder. I took leave from work, completed a second round of partial hospitalization, and fought to simply breathe many days of the year. I suffered through many “waiting periods” that inevitably come with trying to get pregnant while working through various fertility medications. I had a miscarriage. Like many others, I canceled an international trip I had been planning for a year…and I canceled it twice. To top it all off, The Office is leaving Netflix. Yeah, it’s been a rough year.
We have suffered greatly this year. We fight so hard against our suffering. Some of us stay busy to avoid the pain of suffering. Some of us blame our suffering on others, on our circumstances, on the world. Some of us ruminate and get swallowed up by our suffering. Some of us hate suffering so much, we crave a life void of it. And eventually we end up suffering far more than we have to. What if we accepted, or even embraced physical and emotional pain? With this, we can calm it down, find clarity, and feel relief. With this, we suffer much, much less. A world without suffering is a world without joy. Suffering and happiness cannot survive without each other; suffering and happiness inter-are. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that if we can accept our suffering without constantly trying to run away from it, we learn that although we are feeling pain, we can feel joy at the same time. It does not have to be one or the other, but rather they can co-exist. If we can go even a step further to use suffering to generate understanding and compassion, we can help others to heal and find happiness too.
Let’s enter the new year knowing that there will be suffering. 2021 has not cured a global pandemic. 2021 has not reversed systemic racism. 2021 has not united a divided country. 2021 has not saved our environment. But we can. The human spirit is capable of so much knowledge, compassion, and insight. Let us accept that we will suffer and learn to transform our suffering into happiness. In knowing that we will all inevitably suffer, let us now thrive in our ability to experience much joy. With great suffering comes great happiness. This year, be the lotus flower. Cheers to a new year.
Enter your e-mail address below to get new posts delivered straight to you!
If you want to learn more about the art of transforming suffering, I recommend the book “No Mud No Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh.