By Kellie Schorr
“The Buddha in the Corner”is a six part series based on the six realms of existence in the Buddhist Wheel of Life as they are found in everyday experience. In the Bhavachakra (Wheel of Life) there is a Buddha in the upper right hand corner pointing to the way out of the cycle of suffering.
It’s the slump in your shoulders as you leave the job interview with nothing but an insincere smirk from the patronizing manager, who said he’ll call you if something comes up, while all you can think about is how much you need a job.
It’s the sunny summer picture of your mom taken that last June, before the cancer, before the deep blue thrall of disease turned her from love to bone in front of your eyes, that stabs you in the heart when you see it on the mantle.
It’s the passionate maroon dress that your lover wore on the best date you ever had which still looks good as you peer through the café window watching her smile at someone else. The empty hand where your ring used to be rests by flowers on the table but all you can see is red.
The Hell Realm. I don’t have to explain it. You’ve been there. Betrayal, loss, grief, lies, fear, frustration, regrets, regrets, regrets…. You’ve been there.
In the Wheel of Life the Hell Realm has two things that distinguish it from the hells of other religions. Through the cycle of lives, everyone goes there at some point (not just “sinners” and people who say “irregardless”) and it is impermanent. You will not have to remain eternally. Ancient texts about this realm don’t say how long anyone stays. It could be six minutes or 60,000 years. And, let’s face it—six minutes probably feels like 60,000 years because—hell.
Imaginative and stark, the Hell Realm features an unlimited and individual scope of torments from continuously boiling and peeling skin, to a freezing environment where every day your body solidifies in the harsh cold until your limbs fall off like lotus petals and your organs shatter. This confirms my suspicions every January that hell is surely made of ice.
Besides its interpretive afterlife aspects, the Hell Realm we go through in our lives—times of disaster, feelings of despair—are also unique and incredibly, unthinkably painful. Sure, there’s that Buddha in the corner reminding us they won’t last forever, but how do we survive while we are there?
Don’t Pretend You Aren’t in Hell
The postmodern age has fallen in love with magical thinking and positive projections that are supposed to make everything better. They don’t work very long. The hell we go through when the hurricane hits, or the police are at the door, or it’s the day we take our best furry friend on that last car ride to the vet, is not bettered by pretending it’s “okay,” “for a reason,” or “a lesson the universe designed for us.”
There’s no slogan for those times. The only life raft we have is the truth and the truth is that it hurts like hell.
Let yourself acknowledge your hurt, your disappointment, your helplessness, or your anger. It may not change the situation, but it will give you an authentic feeling to hold on to while the world continues to spin. The anxiety of false positivism just adds more fuel to the consuming fire.
Being honest is not the same as lacking hope. Hell times, after all, are impermanent. Still, whether you are in the 6th minute or 6th year of knowing the pain will end, it is better to be where you are in the moment and take that one step, that one feeling, that one courageous breath and then reach to the next. Hurt doesn’t need a reason. Healing doesn’t require a smile. Just. Keep. Going.
Don’t Fixate on How You Got There
While eschatologists theorize the many systems by which people end up going to or going through hell, when the flames (or cold) surround you: it ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is what you’re going to do now.
Over the door to our personal hells is a sign with only two words: “If only.”
If only I hadn’t trusted him.
If only I took that other job.
If only I waited to get married.
If only I took him to the doctor sooner.
If only I had paid more attention to what she was doing with her friends.
If only I had told someone.
If only they had listened.
If only I could have made them listen.
If only I had said it again, and again, and again.
No matter how you got into the hell time, fixating on what to blame and the imaginary scenario that could have made everything different will only make it worse and waste the precious energy you need to get through the moment.
There may be a time to review, to learn, or to make future decisions based on understanding past events. When you’re stretched to your limit and all you can see in front of you is the very next breath, it is not the time. Give the narrative a rest, and use your strength to see a way to make it through the day.
Don’t Buy a House
What’s worse than the hell we are shocked to find ourselves going through? The hell we are used to. Don’t settle in hell. Don’t settle for hell. Don’t take out a mortgage with “well, this is the best I’m going to get” and pour out your soul as a foundation in a situation that hurts more than fire because you already know how things work there.
Some hells, like some decisions, are designed to last. However, you are an evolving being who is able to change, to grow and to go. You can, in time, transform the reality of that realm.
Other hells require the scariest solution of all—asking someone else for help, showing them your need or pain or vulnerability. Taking that step of trust is like opening a vault of options and it is fueled by your courage.
You may be in hell. You may, as with grief or addiction, escape and revisit hell over and over. You may walk through hell to get to where you’re going. But you never, ever, have to live in hell. Don’t accept anyone or anything that tells you “this is all there is.”
The Buddha in the corner points to change.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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