October 3, 2011

Smile when you’re happy. Cry when you are sad.

Kaspa writes: A friend of ours recently loaned us a copy of  Barbara Enrenriech’s Smile or Die: How positive thinking fooled America and the world. Enrenriech’s point is that there is real misery in the world, and sometimes sadness and grief are appropriate reactions.

A while back photographer and blogger Susannah Conway wrote a blog post, Can we just be honest? Susannah is bemoaning the PR version of themselves that some bloggers project, filtering out the shit, to “to share their bestest most shiniest selves on line”.

In The Crooked Cucumber David Chadwick recounts the story of a time when Suzuki Roshi became very angry with his students….

Dan Gurley asked Suzuki Roshi why we shouldn’t move when our legs hurt and why do we have to be so austere and not be comfortable and Suzuki Roshi answered him and started getting more intense and said, “You don’t want a bitter pill. All you want is a sweet pill,” and then he started saying, “You’re spineless” and he jumped off his cushion and started whacking him over all his sweaters which was futile and he might have hit others and he said that thing about how if he told us the truth he’d be left sitting there by himself listening to the sound of our cars driving up the road. And the next day he apologized for getting angry and he was so sweet saying, “Oh, last night I got very angry. I was too angry. I shouldn’t get so angry.” and the like.

The quote is from David Chadwick’s website, from an interview with Peter and Jane Schneider. In the book David goes on to stress that while Suzuki Roshi apologised for his anger, he didn’t apologise for the content.

We all want the sweet pill. But life isn’t sweet all the time.

For a long time I used to resist feeling deep loss or grief. So much so that I think the feelings I repressed almost disconnected from any specific loss. When I eventually began to feel some of those feelings, when I was able to cry and to grieve, it took much less time than I imagined to get to the bottom of that well of feeling. I expressed my feelings, and then I was able to move on. I was ready to feel something else.

Based on those experiences, and on the experiences of others I’ve spoken to, I have a sense of how often we don’t allow ourselves these uncomfortable, and unfashionable, reactions. These feelings might be in response to hurt that someone has caused us, or they might be in response to seeing that we have hurt others.

Life is hard. We are living in difficult times, and yet we refuse to swallow the bitter pill. We are avoiding reality. When we can live with reality, when we can allow natural responses to loss and hurt, then we are able to feel much more alive.

It can be hard to feel these things. We’re told to just “Let them go”. In my experience we can only let them go after having fully felt them, after having fully owned our hurt and loss, and capacity to hurt.

Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Be sad when you are hurt, be contrite when you hurt others. And then start again. Be honest about how you feel about the next thing. Celebrate when you are happy, mourn when you are sad.

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