Q: After having read Norman Fischer’s The Things We Will Never Have question and answer I felt that it was taken right from my own heart. My life can be summed up in one word. Loss. Sometimes I feel that the only way I can function is like an alcoholic, one day at a time. It’s hard just to get out of bed when you’re afraid that all you have to look forward to is another day. You become hardened to life, and gratefulness becomes rote. I center, and pray and am grateful, but most of the time it feels as if I am going through the motions. It’s gone on all my life, and this Sunday I will be 56 years old. Can I expect the suffering to ever end, will I ever know joy in this life? — Jill, New York

A: The reason you felt that The Things We Will Never Have was taken right from your heart is because it was. That broken-hearted feeling — not dissimilar to unrequited love — is something we all share, whether we can admit it to ourselves or not. As Zoketsu Fischer reminds us, “it is not just our own sorrow. it is the sorrow of being itself.”

Coming to terms with “the sorrow of being itself” can be a great relief. We can stop struggling and dare to let go of well-meaning but misguided notions which compel us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, at any cost. To relieve our suffering we must learn and experience what we have never been taught: that joy and sorrow are not opposites, but inherently interdependent.

Can we begin to drop the feeling that there is something wrong with us if we experience sorrow, loss, or don’t get our heart’s desire? We might feel rotten today, but do we dare ventilate things a little by watching the play of light on the ground, feeling the breezes on our skin, hearing the laugh of a friend, or noticing the antics of an animal? Yes, sorrow and pain will come and go again and again, but they can’t take from us the preciousness of this very moment – unless we let them.

I commend you for your efforts to get up each day and look for a reason to be grateful, even while feeling that your life is full of broken and unfulfilled dreams. I hear your discouragement as you feel yourself aging and see the losses mounting up.

The Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön says, “Only to the degree we’ve gotten to know our personal pain, only to the degree we’ve related with pain at all, will we be fearless enough, brave enough, and enough of a warrior to be willing to feel the pain of others.” With your tender heart and experience of pain and loss, I’m sure you can imagine many other people in the world who are hurting as you do right this moment. They need your compassion and prayers. Reaching out to others around you in your daily life might not mend broken dreams, but it may let in a lovely breath of fresh air! Each morning when you wake up, try forming a heartfelt aspiration for that day. Each night before bed, review your day, vow to do better tomorrow – but always with great respect towards yourself and a sense of humor! The Angels of the Hour feature on this site offers you just this kind of ritual for centering yourself in gratitude throughout your day.

I also suggest any of Pema Chödrön’s books and particularly her audio cassette collection called Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times, which has been immensely helpful to me and numerous others.

The good news is that – because it is inextricably entwined with sorrow – we can also know profound joy in this life. The spiritual journey is the discovery of this truth!

— Linda Fisher (Lodrö Sheltso)

Former staff member of A Network for Grateful Living, Web Designer, Buddhist