Reverend Mike’s Wayside Pulpit
Changing What We Can and Living Without Despair
As we head into the holidays, I’m aware that many folks have mixed feelings about it all. This is a season of joy for some; but ministry has taught me all too well that that is not the case for all people. For some, the prospect of reuniting with family members with whom we have fraught relationships is not fun. For others, this may be the first Christmas after losing a loved one. We have learned that depression is more prevalent during the holidays. Some things we can change; some we cannot.
A Buddhist teaching that has always had meaning for me is about the concept of dukkha. It is often translated as suffering – although dukkha is more than that, as it also describes that which we find unsatisfactory, as well as possibly painful. The teaching includes the idea that we suffer in life (or are unsatisfied or in pain) because we do not accept things the way they are. We attempt to change reality to conform to our preconceived notions and strong desires, and then suffer as a consequence when we cannot change reality. Conversely, by accepting life as it is and letting go of preconceived notions, we allow ourselves to be happier, healthier people.
Changing what we can, and letting go of our attachments to changing that which we cannot, is the first step; the second step, living without despair, is just as important. We seek to not allow reality – matters in life or current events beyond our personal control – to bring us to a state of despair. It is so easy for us to become attached to a particular outcome, and just as easy to become depressed if the outcome is not what we desired. (As much as I wish for a different outcome to the election a year ago and have had a desire for sanity in Washington in the year since, I’ve had to accept reality, as it is.)
It’s easy to say to ourselves “just accept it” about whatever issue is concerning us. It is harder to actually do so, to experience our life in a state of acceptance. This is why we need others in our lives, to support us in living without despair. We listen to each other as we struggle with accepting realities in our lives or in the world around us. We lift each other’s spirits from the depths of despair, especially when we find it too difficult to accept some harsh reality in the moment. We care for each other. We need each other, especially as we face whatever dukkha is before us now.
May it ever be so and blessed be you all!