We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours."
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans, 8:18
“And God said, ‘I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born.’” Isaiah 66:9
Carl Jung: “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
Mother Teresa: “Remember: pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”
Pema Chödrön: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation will that which is indestructible within us be found.”
Kahlil Gibran: “And God said, ‘Love your enemy.’ And I obeyed him and loved myself.”
Nayirrah Waheed: “Feel it. That thing you don’t want to feel. Feel it. And be free.”
Elizabeth Gilbert: “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question getting tired of their own bullshit.”
Brené Brown: “Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.”
Rumi: “The cure for the pain is in the pain.”
There is a place within you that knows that each of these statements is true. Even if you’re sure you haven’t, it’s almost like you’ve heard some of them before. There is a wisdom that resonates deep inside of you when you encounter ideas like this. And most of all, you somehow can't seem to avoid it. They.Keep.Saying. It.
They all seem to be saying the same thing: pain and suffering can be our teachers. Don’t run from what’s difficult, it can transform you. By moving into fear and aversion instead of away, we can change them into self-knowledge and joy.
The medicine is in the poison, and you already know it.
This idea permeates both our consciousness and our cultures. But I have found that, despite its ubiquity, the dialogue about transforming our suffering into medicine remains hidden, obscured, almost faux pas. It’s buried in the hurried whispers of strangers who claim they’ve just visited some elusive spiritual teacher. It’s exiled to the “Self-Help” or “New Age” sections of our bookstores. It’s relegated to social media memes and quick-fix quotes, half-heartedly passed around as easy armchair wisdom.
But I’m not interested in secrets or self-help or quick-fix wisdom. Aren’t you sick of being told that each new remedy will be your cure at last, only to find that the elixir was sold to you by yet another charlatan? Aren’t you tired of bandaging your wound in shiny new wraps each night, only to wake and find that the’ve fallen off, leaving it unhealed, exposed, and seeping?
I suppose in our own lives, and in our own ways, we find our medicines if we go looking. As for me, well, I found lojong.
The practice of lojong (mind-training) is a particular framework of Buddhist doctrine. Its fifty-nine pithy teaching slogans, when studied and incorporated into practice over time, reveal themselves to quite literally comprise the entire philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, the largest sect of Buddhism in the world. I encountered lojong in my early twenties as a tangible way to relate to compassion. I had a lot of anger and resentment that I’d buried deep since childhood, and the framework’s focus on tonglen meditation - a tangible, on-the-cushion compassion practice - was incredible medicine for me. Over time, though, there was much more yet to unfold for me. The medicines were just beginning to materialize.
Since that time, for well over a decade now, lojong has become the central practice of my spiritual life. I would be remiss if I did not mention the teachings of Pema Chödrön here, as her work - and the work of her teacher, the great meditation master Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche - has been instrumental in my growth and learning on this path. This journey has been so profound and so transformative - so pivotal in the opening of my heart - that there was no other choice than to incorporate it into my art. I’ve known for many years now that a book would be born from my path with lojong. As I wrote in the introduction to the book, “Some part of me seemed to know that there was a poem hidden inside each lojong slogan, that there was yet-deeper work for me to do with these teachings. I had to discover for myself what gems lay waiting at the end of this journey, and poetry was my walking stick, my boots, and the compass pointing me home.”
I could go on for much longer about the gifts that lojong has brought into my life, but if you’d like to hear more about lojong or potentially begin your own journey into Mahayana Buddhism, there are many places that you might get started. Besides, I’ve said more than enough about it in “The Medicine is in the Poison.”
Tonight is the eve of the book’s launch. Tomorrow, it begins its journey into the world. It’s a small book, unassuming. It’s not a teaching, just a companion. It’s not a guidebook, just the place I’ve left tales of my own journey in hopes that others might find it and take heart. It’s not even my “flagship” piece of art, the work that I’d show someone if I had a single opportunity to tell my story as a poet.
“The Medicine is in the Poison” is the book that I had to write. It is my song to the precious Mahayana path and the ways in which it has helped me to become a softer, kinder, gentler, more loving human being. It was born the moment I first began learning about lojong. At its heart-center, lojong is something that the world sorely needs: a practice of compassion. It teaches us to stop running from our suffering and our aversions, to stop rejecting all of the things and circumstances in our lives that we “don’t want.”
It teaches us that whatever we think is poisoning us - no matter the drama or the storyline or the circumstance - is, in fact, our greatest teacher. Lojong practice cuts right to the heart of the matter; it doesn’t let us run from ourselves or our experience. And it reminds us, over and over and over again, of what we already know: that the medicine is in the poison.
I’ve found a lot of breadcrumbs on the journey towards bringing this work into the world. I’ve discovered that Buddhist doctrine is not the only voice in this chorus by far. At the opening of this entry, I listed a few of those sacred gems that have found me along the way, but I am sure that there are countless more. Listen closely to your life these next many days. Listen for the messages. They’re all whispering to you that your own medicines - whatever you need to live a more peaceful, compassionate, content life - can all be found in the things that you’ve been running from.
The medicine is in the poison.
Perhaps Rumi says it best:
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
I pray that this work that I offer will do some good. I offer it from my heart: to help end suffering, to work for peace, or even to offer you the tiniest bit of affirmation that there is another way.