Saturday, 1 August 2009

Impermanence and suffering: Our story

Can I share something with you all?

My wife suffers with anxiety. We've been trying for a child for about a year. She is afraid that she'll never be able to have one. She miscarried in January and again in April. Many people have no idea what miscarriage can be like, thinking of it as nothing more than a 'heavy period'. In fact, it can really be a bereavement. Now she's pregnant again, which is great in a sense, but in another means a great deal of stress and worry for her - especially during this early period.

My role, of course, is to give her whatever support I can. And mostly this means listening and being there for her. My own practice has helped me tremendously. As a Zen Buddhist and someone learning to teach MBCT of course I've suggested meditation, but she can't - the silence and doing nothing makes her feel anxious - perhaps she feels too strongly that she has to 'try to relax', I'm not sure. But anyway she's not inclined to keep trying and it's not beneficial for me to pressure her.

She is sympathetic to the 'Buddhist approach' and gets some benefit from listening to the wisdom of Edward Brown (SFZC), Pema Chodron and Ekhart Tolle. Yoga, pilates, the gym and having a dog also help.

After losing her pregnancy symptoms the second time, she had a scan but had to wait for another 12 days for a second scan to confirm it. That period was possibly the most difficult period of her life. Even though she has a great career, and a loving family and plans for the future, she found it so intensely distressing that she was contemplating suicide.

After we confirmed the second miscarriage, she had a breakthough. She realised that she couldn't go on like that and at some level she decided that things had to change. She simplified her life as much as possible and decided just to stop ruminating about the past and future so much and live more in the present. It was borne of sheer necessity but influenced by Buddhist thought, and Ekhart Tolle too.

My brother-in-law also found Eckhart Tolle helpful while he was splitting up with his wife (he now does Soto Zen practice). And he gave her some valuable 'spiritual' support at that time too. One of my Soto Zen teachers cited 'The Power of Now' as one of his favourite Zen books even though it's not technically Zen. I also quite like it myself, although there are parts about the evolution of consciousness that I'm happy to leave.

For me the fundamental principles of Buddhism are universal and different approaches suit different people. Something that occured to me was that perhaps 80%+ of the population would benefits from applying these principles to the way they live and yet 95% of the population are put-off by the trappings of traditional Buddhism. This is why I started to study Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. And hearing face-to-face how MBCT is helping people with chronic depression and other problems - people who would never practice Zen - just reinforces this view.

I'm all for ways to make these principles accessible for people who wouldn't go near a traditional Zen dojo.

Thanks for listening.

_/\_ Justin


  1. What an incrediblly moving post Justin, thank you for that. You are so very right, what ever a Buddhist practice can do to help people suffering and people in need is the most compassionate thing we all can do.

  2. Cheers, Justin. You are right in that we have to focus more on the alleviation of suffering and compassion than on dogma.

    Very moving post.


  3. I understand, having been there. Thank you for this compassionate post, and all my best to you both.

    -- EdaMommy