Is Suffering a Part of Mindfulness?


Yes, according to revered Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, author, and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh.

In his beautifully clear and direct style he describes mindfulness as a state of awareness in which one is fully alive and fully present to “the wonders of life that can heal you and nourish you.”  He suggests that this healing and nourishing prepares us to become solid and strong enough to also mindfully acknowledge the existence of pain and suffering without trying to run away from, deny, or escape them.  In an interview with Krista Tippett on the American Public Media show, Speaking of Faith, he followed that statement with his belief that “When you are mindful, you can recognize, embrace and handle the pain, the sorrow in you and around you to bring you relief.  And, if you continue with concentration and insight, you’ll be able to transform the suffering inside and help transform the suffering around you.”
This seems like a very radical proposition to me.  In our culture, we are constantly exhorted to think positive, see the glass half full, look on the bright side, manifest riches, and most of all “be happy”.  In my practice, many people come to me with complaints of depression and anxiety due to their inability to follow this cultural prescription.  To address this, I encourage mindfulness and gratitude.  When I suggest a practice of gratitude, I also encourage exploration of the flip side — practicing empathy or compassion for yourself and others.  If mindfulness leads to gratitude for some condition in your life, you may also feel sadness that others may lack this particular condition.  This is reality.  When we are willing to see the fullness of reality, we are practicing mindfulness.  In the best of scenarios, this ‘mindful sadness’ may prompt one to take some action or at least to speak about it in a way to bring attention to the particular lack.  In this one simple way, we can indeed begin to transform our own suffering and that of others.

– LeAnne Pleasant, LCSWOwner of MAT