Updated: Feb 5, 2022
A couple of years ago, Hector Marcel, a Buddhist and meditation teacher at Three Jewels said: "suffering is nirvana. Nirvana is suffering," and I haven't stopped thinking about that line.
It continues to confuse me. How can suffering be bliss? How can bliss be suffering? Did he make a mistake? Did I mishear him? In the years since contemplating this, I've determined that...I have absolutely no idea what to make of this. And! Also, there are various ways to interpret this. You'll have to tell me your own reactions to bliss and suffering potentially being one and the same.
Maybe the most beautiful interpretation is realizing that in moments of suffering, moments of contentment, peace, and beauty also exist. Presently, as we experience the collective trauma of COVID, financial stress, grief, fears, worries, we may also be able to experience or connect to presence, stillness, gratitude. For example, as I worry about my loved ones' health, if I slow down a bit and if the treacherous waters of my mind find just a tiny bit of stillness, of calm, I may also have the capacity to notice the sweet bird songs, a squirrel standing still, munching, the bright white snow on the ground, gratitude for my home, gratitude for the warm, zesty hibiscus tea that I'm drinking, gratitude for my ability to have awareness of all of these sounds, sights, sensations, beauty.
There's a both-ness; in every moment, suffering and bliss, or pain and magic, are dancing with each other, flowing, melting into each other, informing each others' next moves, learning from each other, growing together, making space for each other, accepting each other, laughing together...
Or, what about this interpretation? When we perceive ourselves suffering, we can find meaning. We can ask -- is this me suffering, or is this me actually evolving? Have you ever experienced something dreadful and hellish and, as time passes, your feelings about the experience transforms? Moving from anger to gratitude? Moving from post traumatic stress to post traumatic growth, resilience, inspiration, courage? Is this a horrible situation, or is this situation, this pain showing me what I care about (as many ACT practitioners -- Steven Hayes, Russ Harris -- have discussed)? What if suffering is love? A north star? Something that shows us what we should be moving towards.
So often when we're in pain, we avoid, distract, fight or flee, but what happens if we soften. What if we open ourselves up to this enveloping friendship. What if we surrender. What if we allow ourselves to love -- every moment, every perceived pain, every perceived magic. What if we sit with, and be with, and be. Just be. Just breathe.
What will we see. What will we discover and uncover. What will reveal itself to us. What will we give birth to in every moment.
Suffering is nirvana. Nirvana is suffering. Pain is magic. Magic is pain. Is it pain? Is it magic? Is it both? Is it neither? Can we give ourselves some time, some patience, some grace -- to be open, to be curious, to investigate, to potentially see the experience transform right before our eyes?
Maybe the just be is the meaning (for me). Be with it all. Accept it all. Soften. Surrender. Practice letting go of judgments. Practice allowing every feeling, every sensation to move through you, and with you...
If there's willingness and capacity.
I am still very much confused. But, I want to keep meditating on this. Maybe you do too.