Anyone who has been through a divorce knows very well that it can invoke the worst parts of the self. Divorce is consistently associated with contention, negativity, bad behavior, and a sense of loss of integrity. This is completely understandable, since the experience of divorce so often invokes feelings of fear, shame, anger, and resentment. When a marriage ends, these dreaded emotional states uncontrollably surface without warning or even awareness. Learning to manage these intolerable states of being is a crucial aspect of transitioning through divorce with integrity and an intact sense of self.
Since divorce generates such an intense state of suffering, it seems logical to turn to the teachings of the Buddha to help turn this painful life transition into an opportunity for learning and growth. Coincidentally, the Buddha’s wisdom and the teachings of Buddhism stem from the young prince Siddhartha’s disillusionment when the reality of the pain and suffering in the world shattered the perfect world image his father had tried to impart on him. Not too different from the illusion we create for ourselves with the ever-after dreams of marriage and the harsh reality that comes with divorce.
“Buddhist teachings are not a religion, they are a science of the mind.” —The Dalai Lama
Here are six Buddhist teachings that can help you remain open, and reduce your suffering, as you manage the transition of divorce:
When divorce strikes, the past, present, and future are all up for grabs. Everything you thought you knew to be true is now in question. In the face of ambiguity and uncertainty, your instinct will be to grasp at what you know and once had, but according to the Buddha these attachments create suffering. Learning to release your attachments to any particular outcomes in the past, present, or future will lead to a more peaceful existence. Trying to control things only invokes feelings of frustration because most of the things you are dealing with are completely out of your control. When you grasp and cling to what you think you “know,” you are creating unnecessary suffering.
The Buddha recognizes that while it might be relatively easy to generate compassion for friends and loved ones, it is extremely difficult to have compassion for someone we dislike or who has mistreated us in some way. While the tendency might be to avoid this person (most likely an ex), the Buddha would see this person as the heart of his spiritual practice, a challenge to develop positive qualities. Compassion is the flip side of anger; it keeps the heart open when it wants to close off with fear. Compassion is fostered by remaining connected, no matter how painful it may be. Maintaining compassion through divorce is a feat, but it will ensure that your loving nature remains intact.
The law of karma is the universal principle of actions and reactions or causes and effects. Everything you do or say in your daily life is the cause of your own suffering or your own happiness. Buddha would advise that you not look for answers outside of yourself, nor should you believe that you are a victim of a random universe. While you may feel like a victim of your divorce, karma is your key to taking responsibility for what comes in and out of your world. The word karma means “action” or “deed”—actions and deeds that impact only you and the space you inhabit on this earth. Once you take responsibility for your actions, you can actively change your karma, and ultimately your present and future circumstances.
“Pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is optional.” —The Buddha
Mindfulness is the capacity to remain in the present moment. It is the ability to pay attention and to become aware of the intention behind what we do. The Buddha would recommend that you utilize the clarity that mindfulness brings to stop clinging to the past and the future, to live presently in the here and now. When we are not mindful, we remain in a state of being that is encumbered with criticism, judgment, and a need to be right. Mindfulness and its nonjudging, respectful awareness can help you to respond and to gain perspective, balance, and freedom. Stepping back and being an observer of events provides the greatest opportunity for acting with complete integrity and honor.
One of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha is that pain is an unavoidable part of the natural world, and suffering is our reaction to the inevitable pain of life. Divorce is one of those unavoidably painful life experiences, but as the Buddha would attest, it doesn’t have to involve suffering. Like touching a hot stove, our first reaction to pain is to move away. Our aversion to the pain creates more suffering and reduces the opportunity to heal. Suffering is directly related to resisting the reality of what you are dealing with. Instead, the Buddha would suggest doing what you can to restore balance, to let things take their course. Complete avoidance will only prolong the pain.
In Buddhism, impermanence is referred to as Anicca— the truth of impermanence. It is the belief that all of our experiences are constantly changing, and that nothing is permanent. One of the greatest causes of pain during divorce is the feeling that things will never be the same, and that what you feel now will last forever. The Buddha would apply the wisdom of Anicca to maintain a sense of calm and perspective through the grief and loss of divorce. Remembering that nothing in life is permanent will help you to not feel bogged down or to lose yourself in what feels like an eternal experience of pain and discomfort.
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