Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Cheerful Thought on Despair

A new friend recently gifted me Sharon Salzberg's Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. It's a short book, but it has taken me a while to read. It's got some wisdom in it, and I have to put it down and think about it every fes pages, since it takes me so long to absorb wisdom. I'm a fool for the wisdom, as you know.

Anyway, I got to this passage, on p. 100, last night. I wish I could transcribe the entire chapter for you here, I think it's so wonderful, but that'd be boring for all of us, and Sharon Salzberg would probably be bummed too, in her lovely Buddhist way.

She writes,

Doubt is usually considered to be the force that opposes faith. However, in my experience, doubt is an intrinsic part of genuine faith. I think the state of mind that is truly the opposite of faith is despair. Faith is the ability to offer our heart to the truth of what is happening, to see our experience as the embodiment of life's mystery, the present expression of possibility, the conduit connecting us to a bigger reality. When we feel torn away from connection and purpose, we can end up so caught in our state of mind that the whole world seems to exist in reference to our pain.

We may despair because someone disappoints us grievously, or annihilates us casually with their assumptions of who we are, and the world seems void of love. We may despair because someone else is treated so brutally that our sense of humanity is ripped apart. Or we ourselves may have behaved so badly that we cannot imagine every being redeemed from self-recrimination and regret.


When we despair, our most visceral torment is that we feel separate from everyone and everything around us, alone and on our own.

Holy shit, right? I mean for me, this was huge. It describes what I went through when my mom started to get sick again a while back: as if the rug had been pulled out from under me, that I was alone, that all of the practices and strategies and habits I had built up didn't matter at all. Faith was a sham.

But then the despair ebbed and flowed. I found its holes, was able to take breaks from its oppressiveness. And eventually it lessened, and my practices returned. I don't know if my faith is stronger now, necessarily, but it was a reminder that the pain wasn't as "monolithic" as it felt, and that it wouldn't take me over forever.

Whether I'll be able to remember that next time I encounter despair is another thing.

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