Along The Path

A collection of writings and research

Spreading Suffering vs. Spreading Well-Being

I'm going to tell you a little story. It's a story of spreading suffering versus spreading well-being. For many years I have been practicing meditation. At some point it went from being a personal practice to part of my professional work. And, along the way I added many other pieces to what I consider my self-care puzzle—all parts of a whole that I felt were necessary for the expression of the full picture. I thought I had pretty much figured things out.

Then my professional and personal life began to grow. I changed my habit of waking up at the same time, very early, to meditate. I began to squeeze it in, usually on waking, but sometimes later in the day. As a practice, I've found some meditation somewhere in my day is OK, and certainly better than no meditation. Though many teachers might say otherwise, my personal experience is that, as long as meditation is a priority in my daily life, varying the time of day of my practice can work for me. The problem was that at a very stressful time in my life, I allowed it to be less of a priority. And there was the slippery slope...

My father became ill, and I became his caregiver. A few months later, as doctors were telling us he was improving, and we were making plans for the future, he passed away suddenly. Then in helping my mother with grief and life-changing transitions of her own, she began to have health issues. Care giving took over my professional life, as I went from full-time work, to part-time work, to time off. I continued to receive support from my own self-care practices and caregivers in my life, and my family and I were offered more support in a variety of ways. I began to think that what I had previously considered to be a self-care puzzle was actually a bank. I thought, "I've made many deposits in my self-care bank." I was busy. So I looked at my daily to-do list and my daily self-care support. I began to think if I had a self-care appointment, such as chiropractic or body work, on my schedule that it was pretty much like meditation. So, I skipped my practice. Yes. Me. Often described as a meditation teacher. I began to skip my daily practice, here and there. I thought my bank was full, and that a variety of other practices could continue to replenish that bank. And that felt true. And I felt more anxiety, although I continued to tap into presence, the present, throughout my day. “There's enough in my bank. I'll be fine.”

What I didn't comprehend was that I began to spread suffering. As my meditation practice became intermittent, and my stress level rose, I began to take it out on those closest to me. Sadly, most of us do that. There were also a couple instances where I took out my stress in very painful ways on those outside my immediate family. A friend of mine said, "You lost your shit?!" Yes. Often in the moment of being upset, I was also apologizing for my outburst, but the damage was already done. The waves of suffering were spread.

For many months I would practice meditation a few days a week, receive self-care the other days, and I saw my world so differently. Each day, I fluctuated between feeling OK and feeling anxious, and also some feelings of well-being. I couldn't imagine what had happened to my life and how it could resolve. And, then, in contemplation I heard, "Go back to the basics." I listened. I listened a little more. And I realized I was hearing a call to return to meditation as my center. So I did: I made daily meditation a priority, again, and immediately things began to shift. I began to have an overall, abiding sense of well-being. Even though my life was still stressful, I approached it differently. The difficulties no longer threw me off my center. My closest relationships improved. And, overall, I went back to where I had been before: to spreading well-being instead of suffering. Do I still have misunderstandings? Do I still sometimes argue with my spouse? Yes, I'm human. But the underlying current is more of ease and flow, of well-being instead of disharmony.

I often tell people I don't believe everyone needs meditation to find the ease and peace and inner happiness that is our nature. It seems there are some who come by it without searching; others who have found different entryways. For me, this is my path. I see that it wasn't a piece of a puzzle; it is the whole.

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