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"Learning To Put My Pain In The Cup" by Jon Katz

I just read this post by Jon Katz on his Bedlam Farm Journal. He is a wisdom figure in his own right though he would probably disclaim the title. That's what wisdom figures do.

"A friend called me the other day, and she was struggling to deal with the pain and anger and conflict and grief of the news. She was getting depressed.

For most of human history, we learned of awful things well after they happened, and read about them once a day if that, or heard about them from neighbors.

One thing I learned in journalism is this: the news is never as bad as they say it is. Life goes on; good people do good things, children are born, people die, creatives create, people get in trouble, people succeed, fall in love, die and heal.

There really is nothing new, it is all part of life, and if I can accept life, I’m fine.

When you take it in all day, you are putting poison into your veins, and seeing the world in a dark and distorted way. There is plenty of bad news – very often in human history much worse than ours  – and there is always good news if you can muster the will and faith to look for it.

There is a vast and ungoverned infrastructure of information that works much like an IV, and pours the pain of other people right into our consciousness, all day and all night long,  weekdays and weekends. To a great extent, this is about money.

Bad news draws many more people than good news because it speaks to fear and grievance and anger. Good news is not as addictive or compelling to people, an oddity of human nature. I am committed to making my news, not taking in all of theirs.

If you look into it a bit, you will find the peddlers of bad and divisive news are much richer than you are.

Imagine the psychological pressure and damage that constant injection of argument and violence and sadness can do to anyone’s sense of peace and well being.

No one taught us how to deal with such an onslaught; we have no idea how to let others in without becoming them.

Where do you go to learn that?

My friend didn’t know how to handle what she was feeling between the Pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, our dreadful and dispiriting politics, and the sudden financial struggles she and her family were facing.

I am always working on my Active Listening. I’m not there to solve the problems of other people or offer solutions. The best I can do – and it is important – is to just listen. We all have to make our own way.

I told her that one of the best things I learned from my excellent therapist was the Idea Of The Cup. When the outside world or your friends or family come to you with their pain and grief and fear, you don’t have to take it in, she said. Listen and put it in the cup.

I came up with a Blue Cup, and I use it almost every day.  It took some thought and practice and experimentation, but it has worked so well for me.

When someone or something brings me pain, I put it in my cup, the therapist was right, I don’t have to take it in. I rinse out the cup from time to time.

I can open myself up to people and listen without becoming them. I don’t give other people my pain; I don’t want theirs. But I can listen. I told my friend about my Blue Cup, and she came up with a cup of her own, a different color.

She called me a few days letter. She said she had been turning into just pain and grief and hoped she hadn’t given it to me. She told me of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition and practice called tong-len that asks us to breathe in the suffering of the world, to hold it in that unbreakable place of compassion, and to breathe back the light.

I thought this practice sounded beautiful. It affirms the idea that there is something timeless and strong within each of us that can heal us and the world if we can just open ourselves up to it without becoming it.

She sounded better and brighter, and we had a good talk. I’ve had a few days to think about it, and I love my Blue Cup.

I carry it around in my heart, and sometimes it is empty, and sometimes it overflows.

I sometimes think that I am becoming water, I let everything rinse the grief and pain inside of me, and wash it away."

- Jon Katz, Bedlam Farm Journal

June 19, 2020

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