By Michelleanne Bradley

We suffer. We have trauma. We have grief.

The four noble truths offer the path by stating in their beautiful simplicity that life is full of suffering (Dukkha), there is a cause to suffering (Dukkha-samudaya), it is possible to stop suffering (Dukkha-nirodha) and there is a way to extinguish suffering (Dukkha-nirodha-marga).

This is the foundation of the belief system that I follow. I still have all of those pieces in me at all times. I have been looking at trauma lately, because it is timely and like the wheel, it circles around again and again. My path is to change the way that I look at it, the way that I experience it, the way that I hold it and the way that I let it flow away from me.

When I was looking for ways to write this all down in a way that I can share with others, I found a quote from one of my very favorite teachers—a nun from my home monastery—Sister Kinh Nghiem, but we also call her Sister Chicken (not in the scaredy cat way, just for clarification). In an article from the New York Times she said, “It is about bringing the human inside of us. Your suffering is also my suffering, and my suffering is no different than your suffering, if we are openhearted, we are in nirvana.”

Another of my favorite teachers, Mary Stancavage, has found her home practice and teachings living with an undefended heart. In these teachings, there is so much room for exploration and looking at where to put the traumas, and where to put the grief that is the root of suffering.

In Buddhist teachings, there is no end to grief—it turns over and over and over—it is vibrant, and alive.

This is also how we find connection, by recognizing that we go through the same stuff and we have similar, parallel experiences. It is not a competition; no one trauma or grief is greater or lesser than any other.

In a meeting with my company, a colleague’s young daughter wanted her mom to share with us that she had accidentally been locked in the bathroom over the weekend, and she was scared (she is five years old). Other people in the meeting chimed in with their stories of being locked in a room when they were a child as well. This is what builds our community—these shared experiences. It is the same with other traumas.

In my circle of the closest of the close friends, one friend lost her mom the day before Christmas Eve, incredibly sudden and unexpected.

Because several of us in the group have lost at least one parent or a member of our close family, we have all stood by her, and continue to support her in her grief. By sharing our stories, deepening our connections, our community is strengthened.

Consider Indra’s net (Hinduism, not Buddhism, but again, a lot of crossover), where each jewel is not merely itself, but is also reflected in all other facets of all other jewels. We are the web of connections and interdependencies.

As the jewels of the net, we are all of the pieces at once, all of our dukkha, all of our grief, all of our trauma.

Where do we put all of this? Each school of Buddhism takes a different facet for where this all goes and what we do with it and how to address it. In the Plum Village tradition, we have a simple beautiful teaching: No Mud, No Lotus. That’s it.

Because a lotus will not thrive in clear water, it needs the mud in order to bloom.

The mud is dukkha. That is where we put it. Is this a lot of teachings to be throwing at suffering?

Yes, it is.

Because sometimes we go around and around and around with our trauma and our grief and our suffering, before we see the emergence of the beauty that has been held and supported by our community. The freedom of the undefended heart as we change our relationships with what has been holding us back the whole time.

This is where my practice turns to GRACE. I say it in all capital letters because it is that important. GRACE is what we give ourselves as we work our way through the shit.

We can do all of the hard things when we remember to bring some fucking GRACE.

This is the place I currently find myself, working through trauma (a big pile of that shit, often like a hurricane) and grief (another giant mountain) when it really all condenses down to dukkha. Dukkha is suffering, and releasing that to make room for endless beauty.

Some days are better than others. I strive for the undefended heart, I get glimpses every once in a while. I practice recognizing the sufferings of others in my suffering, and my suffering in that of others, reflecting in the jewels of Indra’s net. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I also practice with my therapist and a whole lot of community, and try to pave the way with a whole lot of GRACE.

What does practice look like for you? What does trauma look like for you? What does it take for you to move it through and out of your body? How can we work together to extinguish our dukkha?


Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall


Were you inspired by this post? You may also like:

Grief Emerging (Because You Can’t Keep Your Head in the Sand)

4 Steps to Acknowledging and Moving Through Unresolved Trauma



Michelleanne Bradley