Happiness, the End of Suffering, and Recovery
Forty-six. That’s not so old – young in fact. He and I are both 46, with young children, and in a long term relationship. We both got sober very young and then maintained that sobriety for many years. Mr. Hoffman made it 23-years, and I’m about to reach my 25th year. This is where the story diverges into disbelief, tragedy, and sadness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead from a drug overdose in his own house and a needle in his arm.
How does this happen? Why am I still here and he’s dead? These are the questions on my mind today.
What is clear to me is that success, fame, and fortune do not equal happiness and recovery. Further, many men and women in their forties die everyday. Many probably die from alcohol or drugs. We can’t really blame the heroin, though it is gnarly and deadly, because we know that the drug is just a symptom of a deeper suffering, a deeper sadness, and an inability to cope with reality.
Here’s what I know about happiness, the end of suffering, and recovery.
First, it’s an inside job whereby we need to know ourselves. This takes many years of effort by talking, writing, and looking very deeply inside at who we are as people. It also involves a great deal of love and forgiveness towards ourselves and others. It may involve seeing our parents and ancestors as part of who we are today. This isn’t easy work and I’m sure that Mr. Hoffman did some this work over the years.
Second, it takes daily effort and training my mind to touch the seeds of joy and happiness that exist within me and around me. For those involved in a 12-step program, they call this “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our “ spiritual” condition.” In my Buddhist practice it means that I can be fully present each moment of daily life. This can be accomplished with meditation, awareness of our breathing, stopping and seeing there are many conditions of happiness. Again, this isn’t necessarily easy work but the alternatives are pretty bleak.
My practice today is about being present for myself and for others. In doing so I can stay alive and see my happiness and face my suffering. This means I have to be willing to stop and observe my feelings as they come and as they go; both the positive ones and the negative ones.
I feel joy that I am alive, sober, and present for my family.
I feel deep sadness for the partner and children of Mr. Hoffman.
I feel anger that this continues to happen to people.
I feel frustration that so many don’t understand the deep suffering of an addict.
All these feelings co-exist within me and will eventually disappear. This is my practice?—?observing and taking care of the feelings. In fact, suffering is part of happiness and happiness is part of suffering. They are the mud and the lotus. The trick is to not let the suffering overwhelm us and bring us to despair.
Third, walking through our suffering doesn’t need to be done alone. Having others in our life to support and guide us are key; teachers and mentors who can guide and support us. For those in a 12-step program, there are meetings and sponsors. In the Buddhist community it is called a sangha, a place of refuge that can offer joy and happiness to our practice and our journey on the path.
We all have suffering. These three things – knowing ourselves, daily practice of cultivating joy, and being in community – can be applied to anyones life regardless of addiction/non-addiction, wealth/poverty, success/failure or fame/obscurity. No doubt Mr. Hoffman was able to practice some of these things but in the end we have his untimely death as he let despair win.
Today I am taking a few moments to be grateful and to also send my energy of healing to the children of Mr. Hoffman. May the end of his suffering and his healing awaken within them.