AM I SUFFERING? by Carol P. Christ

carol christIn response to a recent blog on Buddhism and feminism by  Oxana Poberejnaia, I stated that while I would agree that “clinging” to an identity is a cause of suffering, I am not in favor of “giving up” identity altogether.

Oxana replied that “if you are not suffering,” then you do not need Buddhism. I responded that for the most part I am not suffering because years ago I gave up “having to have” certain things in my life. I added that I often wondered if that made me “kind of a Buddhist.”

One of the things that I gave up was the notion that I “had to have” a lover and life partner. The other was the notion that I “had to have” the job teaching graduate students in women and religion–for which I was eminently qualified.

Not having these “things” that I thought I deserved (and why not?) caused my younger self a great deal of suffering.  In fact, it often seemed to me that a life without a partner and lover simply was not worth living. My suffering was so great that I considered suicide—more than once.

As a result of my first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (a story I told in Odyssey with the Goddess), I finally realized that I really could not control all of the conditions of my life–not through hard work, not through desire, not through mental focus, not through magic. This realization led to a major transformation in my life.

Instead of focusing on what I did not have, I began to focus on what I did have.  I realized that though I did not have a life partner, I had many good friends who loved me a great deal. And though I did not have the job I thought I deserved, I had the great good luck to have written books that changed the lives of thousands of women.

I recognized that I had given up exactly the kind of “clinging” to ideas about life that Buddhists say create suffering.

At the same time, I was not drawn to the Buddhist path.  I could never accept the fact that Buddha considered his wife and child an impediment to his spiritual path. Nor was I ever drawn to give up my “ego” or “identity” altogether. Later, I would write in She Who Changes that all paths of spiritual “rebirth” seemed to me to be based upon “matricide” which I defined as the idea that birth through the body of a mother into a life that includes death “just isn’t good enough.”

I consider this life to be a gift.  For me a life that includes death is the only life we have.  Although I too suffer the loss of those I love, I accept this as part of life. I do not expect that “I” should live forever, and in fact I consider the idea that “I” should be immortal or reborn, to be the height of folly.  I do not seek to escape what Buddhists call the “cycle of birth and death” but rather to affirm the cycles of “birth, death, and regeneration.” For me it is enough to know that life will continue: I do not need to imagine that “I” will live forever.

My comment to Oxana that “I am not suffering” was belied in the days after I wrote it.  I have been suffering this week as a result of the thought (and most likely fact) that I have been “cheated” by the man who sold me a new computer and promised to reinstall all of my programs and documents so that the new computer would work exactly like the old one.

This afternoon I was told by the technician who failed to turn up for several appointments that I should not contact the man who sold me the computer again, because he has my money and does not intend to fulfill his part of the contract.  The technician said he would finish the work “for me” even though he would not be paid by the store owner.

I was so angry, my stomach tensed and I feared that I would fall victim to the stress for which I have been under doctor’s care in recent weeks.  I was about to call the man who sold me the computer to read him the riot act,  but instead called a friend to ask what I should do. She said she had also heard stories about the man who sold me the computer. We agreed that we live in the countryside with people who don’t have any idea of how to run a business.

After I hung up the phone, Oxana’s words “if you are not suffering” came into my head.

I realized that I was suffering because of the idea that because I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to.  As soon as that thought came into my mind, I let go of it. I accepted that the young man who sold me the computer – whether out of ignorance or out of cunning – had cheated and lied to me. I still think I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to, but I gave up the idea that therefore, being cheated or lied to would not happen to me. I decided to pay a technician to finish the work, even though this was not the agreement I had made.

My suffering ended.

Carol P. Christ is looking forward to the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institutespace is still available on the spring tour. Carol can be heard in a recent interview on Voices of Women.  Carol is a founding mother in feminism and religion and women’s spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions



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12 replies

  1. Lots of thoughts here – I have just had a similar experience of being let down by someone I should have been able to trust. At one time I would have tried to let go of that without accepting the hurt that I felt. I realised that its much healthier to acknowledge all the hurt and let go anyway. And then ‘adjust’ for the future – as human beings we don’t have to hang onto our old programmes :)

    best wishes


  2. You are so wise, Carol! I needed this today. Thank you!


  3. Carol, honestly I am one of the lives you changed!! I began my website in the mid 1990s, and from there it evolved under a couple of different names and URLs, until it reached its present format, focusing on feminism, spirituality and the arts. But my research in those areas actually began when I first read WOMANSPIRIT RISING — that was my beginning, absolutely the door!! Your book provided exactly the kind of support I needed in order to spend the rest of my journey deepening into a path I’ve grown to love so much. I had always thought of feminism as a challenge to inequality in the work place or sexual abuse, but that it might also focus on spirituality, especially in my case as it is reflected in the arts, was an inspiration that took flight in my heart, and continues to empower me creatively.


  4. Very helpful!


  5. I’ve traveled widely in Asia, and never understood western feminists’ romance with Buddhism; it is just as woman hating and woman excluding a religion as any out there. I think males love to come up with these stupid ideas that we can end suffering or that we can be egoless–how male. The male ego and men are destroying the earth, they are the ones in need of an identify change if ever there was one.

    That said, I think it is a noble thing for women to think about what worked well in our life. I think Carol you have a lot to be proud of. Your books are excellent, you’ve helped women all over the world, and no doubt you had many fine students over the years, and then there is the adventure of living in Greece and being close to Minoan goddess culture. I can’t speak to the partner aspect to your life, because I don’t believe living with men or having sex with them is possible within a feminist context. Men oppress women, they view women as objects, period end of. There is no feminism possible with men, so it’s good to know this.

    I’ve often felt sad for my straight sisters that they can be so feminist, but somehow cannot be lesbians. I have no idea what kind of an existence that would be.

    Focusing on what I did do right or do have or have accomplished or the women I love, all of that brings me a lot of happiness. I also see no reason to avoid deep suffering and saddness. I experience loss from the depths of me, and it goes right along with a kind of eccstatic happiness that is very much a part of my life as well. So Buddhism seems like a sham to me, just another patriarchal waste of time that western women seem to fall into… the way they believe men are worth living with….nope.

    I believe as feminists we have changed the world, I am very happy with what lesbian nation has done even in America. Although I don’t care for marriage, I am proud of lesbian nation taking on the US Supreme Court… Edie Windsor and winning! And while I feel sad that my straight sisters give so much damn support to my enemy — men and everything they stand for, hey, they’re going to do it anyway, they’re going to create new oppressors in sons, they’re going to be het worshipped and be privileged and sell out lesbian nation every damn time. But also, lesbians can be idiots too, raising sons, that they brought into previosuly safe lesbian spaces, which these grown sons are now attacking…. Toby Hill Meyer and Michigan being a current example.

    We can be powerful by honoring our own accomplishments. I feel very proud of lesbian separatist nation and the work of radical lesbian feminists, I feel a part of a great international revolution, and feel my life powerful and meaningful in lesbian communities worldwide. I don’t relate very well to liberal women who still support my enemies, but they are trying. They still think men are ok, and that will prevent a complete transformation of the world, like the Uncle Toms and Tommasinas of African American slavery, they are the house slaves, lesbians continue to be the field hands in patriarchy. I gained this sense of power and self-assurance as a radical lesbian from your books Carol, and all the second wave feminists, Merlin Stone, Mary Daly and the whole world we created where women could live without men.

    Maybe feminist women wanted equal male partners because that idea has been drummed into women, It might be the hardest thing not to have, I’m not sure. Graduate teaching jobs are beyond my pay grade, and I have had the good fortune of teaching and lecturing widely, but not in academentia.

    We are all doing the good work, we don’t have to fear suffering, and certainly we don’t have to drink the Buddha cool aid and Dalai Lama aid that so many hetero feminists seem enchanted with…. that is boring patriarchy. We don’t know what Buddha’s wife and child suffered with once he ran off, at least Jesus didn’t dump a wife and child and was probably gay. My two cents for the day!


  6. This post speaks to my condition, as I expect it does to many people’s. Thanks for sharing this particular wisdom today!


  7. This is something I really needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing this.


  8. Hi Dr. Christ,

    I usually don’t comment on any of the blogs. I am still adjusting to the blogging world. I saw the title of your blog and I was intrigued. I am sure that I was asking the same question of myself: Am I suffering? As a practicing Christian, feminist, womanist, and activist–I am supposed to be eliminating suffering–Right? I think the fact that you were able to reconcile your reality (age, gender, religion, sex, sexuality, life-choices, etc.) and “socially construct” an effective new worldview–might be what all the healers, scholars, revolutionaries, and prophets have been trying to teach us. Maybe that is the abundant living [not prosperity gospel] of Christ.

    Just maybe that is what TRUE LIBERATION feels and looks like…Maybe it is about living in my own concrete reality without having to submit to the ideological trappings designed for me by someone else (universities, family, lovers, churches, religions, nations, etc.).

    Just maybe we are getting closer to nirvana, heaven, grace, mercy, freedom….or all those words we have yet been able to define in a concrete practical way.

    Thanks for your truth and your story of transformation!

    Amen and Ashe’

    Paula L. McGee


  9. Dear Carol, it is such an honour for me to see your post based on my writing. I am enjoying all your posts on FAR and I am lucky to have read your contribution to the anthology “Goddess celebrates”.

    Yes, you have hit the nail on the head. This feeling that life is not entirely satisfactory, ideal, or the way we want it is exactly what Buddhists call “dukkha’ – which has been translated as “suffering”, which caused much confusion among Westerners and even people from the countries where Buddhism is traditional.

    And yes, as I mentioned before, Buddhists are not interested in propagating dogma or increasing their ranks. As long as your own spiritual practice produces the same effect as Buddhist meditation – i.e., exactly what you described – it’s good for all around!

    P.S. I have the same issues by the way: relationships and jobs…. :-)


  10. I love this conversation, Oxana and Carol. I think many Westerners have exaggerated notions about what overcoming dukkha means, and these posts make it much clearer. I think I actually part company with both of you in how I see this issue. I part company with you, Carol, not because I believe I “should” be reborn, but because I believe I WILL be reborn. I’ve had experiences that indicate that I’ve lived multiple lifetimes. I don’t think this folly, because analogous to “conservation of matter and energy” in Physics, I believe there is conservation of energy and spirit in “Metaphysics.” Where I agree with you is that these past life experiences exist in order to help me in THIS life, the one I am living right now. As my daughter said to me when she was a little girl, “What does it matter if you’re reincarnated or not? You don’t remember (your earlier lives).”

    And I believe I part company with you as a Buddhist, Oxana, because I don’t see desire as necessarily a negative thing. If I’m addicted to a particular desire, or clinging to it, then it doesn’t serve me well. But the moment is not a static thing. We each create the moments of our lives (not completely, but at least in part), and my desire for something to happen (say, for instance, to get my book published) will affect how that moment turns out. As Jalaja Bonheim says in _The Hunger for Ecstasy_, the moment is “more like a construction site that awaits our creative input.” Of course, we don’t control the outcome of the moments in our lives, but we can certainly imagine something that does not yet exist and then try to make it real.


  11. I love this title, but even more, I love the conclusion drawn: if I’m IN THIS LIFE, there just may be things that trigger my response of suffering, but that will be the end of it.

    When I read that book, Care of the Soul, I began to exercise more compassion for myself as a person some times prone to clinical depression because of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I would not only suffer the debilitating effects of the cold and dark months, I would also punish myself for not being able to “transcend” it.

    One day, it began to occur to me, that while I might not have complete control over the deep reactions to the seasonal loss of light and warmth, I was doubling the misery by castigating myself for feeling depressed, or anxious, or sad, or even mad. Maybe, that range of emotion is simply a recognition of my fundamental humanity (and my stolen roots in Africa…) and I should at least give myself a break.

    It’s been cold and dreary since I arrived in Switzerland and I am counting down the days until I return to the lovely Spring metamorphosis of California. Because another thing I was better able to do when I transferred the energy I was putting into downing myself for BEING down was to use that energy to get my body-mind and soul to some place that at least did not exacerbate the environmental part of the disorder. It also meant leaving a job for which I was qualified (enough to reach full professor before early retirement). Sometimes I have regrets about that, but if I do, I’ll take myself to some hillside, and watch the sun bouncing off the waters in the Bay while the palm trees sway slightly in the Bay breeze and just BREATHE…

    You don’t have to be Buddhist to just appreciate the awesome peace of accepting your limitations as the very essence of you, equal to your immense treasures.

    As for the computer stuff… THIS TOO WILL PASS. Don’t let the liars and cheaters in life ever get that much of your blessed energy. Use it instead to write, as this one, another great blog…!


  12. Usually I do not read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and
    do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice post.


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