As addicts ourselves and loving friends and family to addicts, it’s natural to feel that we’ve been dealt a heavy hand. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are some spared, and some not? It is easy to let our pain and suffering prevail, taking the passenger seat alongside it.

In the mindful practice of nonattachment, we learn to embrace our suffering, to acknowledge it and then to let it go. In doing so, we discover the freedom and joy that exists, not apart from pain and suffering, but in the midst of it. Buddhist teaching is built on the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the end of suffering, and of the path that leads to the end of suffering. We know that the cause of suffering is grasping, attachment, holding on too tightly. As Jack Kornfield writes, grasping “gives birth to aversion and delusion, and from these three roots arise all the other unhealthy states, such as jealousy, anxiety, hatred, addiction, possessiveness, and shamelessness. These are the causes of individual and global suffering.” When, instead, we practice nonattachment, we are able to move more freely through life, as observers, and never victims, of personal and collective circumstances.

This process of nongrasping is distinctly different from that of detachment. Acutely aware of our personal stories and of those around us, we are not disconnected or wholly removed from life’s intricacies, but rather mindful and discerning in our response to them. We are engaged and awake without letting our wild minds win. When we disconnect and watch our pain, like leaves floating down a river, we assume the driver’s seat with suffering as our idle passenger. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is not.

Which aspects of your personal story are a source of pain in your life today? Which aspects of that pain are causing suffering? How can you challenge the story you’ve created today? How can you acknowledge your pain and suffering, blessing it with the compassion you’d give a child or a dear friend, and then let it go? It is in this process that we find freedom and ultimate joy. Buddhist teaching calls this state nirvana. May you mindfully find it in this and every moment.

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