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Working with Painful Emotions: Despair

September 5, 2022   |   30 Comments

Audio-only version is here.
Meditation practice begins at 24:53

Dear Open Heart Project,

Thank you so much for your interest in this series, “Working with Painful Emotions.” delighted to practice meditation with you. Before we sit, I want to continue our exploration of working with painful emotions and how our meditation practice can help.

Nine weeks ago, we started with anger, moved on to attachment (or grasping), then shame, followed by jealousy, anxietydistrust. Last week, we spoke about hate.

This week, we move on to perhaps the most insidious and all-pervasive painful emotion: despair.

In this talk, I offer some insights from classical Buddhism about the collapse that can come with despair. Please have a listen to this short talk and let me know what you think. It’s always so great to hear from you.

At the end of the talk, I make two suggestions for continuing this exploration of painful emotions. One of them is community. And the other is the enneagram.

The enneagram was the inspiration behind the series. The enneagram posits nine ways of being in the world. I just finished writing my next book (out September 13), The Buddhist Enneagram.

Each way is subject to one particular painful emotion more than the others: Ones, with anger, Twos with attachment and so on. If you want to take a deeper look at how to work with painful emotions (or support others to do so), I hope this book will help. It goes into vastly more detail on each emotion and offers Buddhist teachings meant to support release from this particular kind of suffering. May it be of benefit!

The book is available for pre-order. (I’m not scared! You are!) If you preorder the it, click here to let us know and to reserve your spot in a free, live, webinar on Oct 1 from 12p ET-2p ET.

With love, Susan

Join the Open Heart Project Sangha here. Would be great to see you there!

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  • Posted by:  Michelle

    Hi Susan,
    I have been listening to and loving this series but what to especially say that THIS ONE ROCKS so hard!!! I am working on a class I’m offering soon for therapists–and so much of what you say here supports me in clarifying my own thoughts. That “mind-body misalignment” is at the root of our suffering–I love how you put that.
    I also relate to what you said about lighting up when you encounter (you said “read”) the dharma–yes!! Me too. Clarity is beautiful and so calming even when it is difficult–as least we know what IT for a moment or two. And I could go on with more examples of gems in this talk. SO to answer your question–YES–THIS IS SO VERY HELPFUL!!
    Thanks for being the one who explains things with way you do 🌸
    PS–I was floating in a pool with a bunch of people today (it’s hot here!) and we decided are going to have an Enneagram reading group when your book comes out 🙂 A few of them already know about it–it will be fun!!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So many reasons for joy in your comment. Mostly, so glad you found this talk helpful. So glad it helped you in your own work. So glad you resonate with those moments of delight in discovering the dharma. So glad you and your pals will talk about the enneagram and, of course, so glad you are able to float in a pool! Much love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Andy Shaffer

    Thanks for your works!

    What was the name of the teacher you mentioned?


    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You’re so welcome. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche–a true master.

  • Posted by:  Claudia St. Peter

    Hi Susan. When you refer to reading the Dharma I am wondering what, for example. Books referring specifically to what the Buddha has said and taught only or more of what Buddhist teachers have written in our more current time?

    I really found your talk on despair helpful as this is one of those times in my life when I am feeling despair and helplessness.

    Thank you,

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Claudia, I truly hope your despair will transform in the way that supports you best.

      When it comes to reading the dharma, yes, I mean books, mostly from teachers within my Tibetan Buddhist lineage both past and present. One book I return to over and over is “The Heart of Unconditional Love” by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche.

      Sending love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Anett

    Hello Susan,

    Thank you so much for the clarity & love in this series teaching on ” working with painful emotions”. Especially today listening to your talk feels nourishing and healing.

    What was helpful:
    The reminder to the 6 paramitas, always helpful.

    Shame and Despair are coming together when the body is dealing with fatique, the mind is dealing with despair. Wanting more than your body energy allowing can be frustrating.
    It feels hopeless and as more important to have a sangha & meditation practice .

    Everything resonates what you shared.
    All emotional pain come from mind and body split.
    Synchronisation of Body and mind. Come back to the present moment!
    Being patient with what is.

    Don’t give up on yourselve
    Don’t give up on your world

    Despair feeling powerless and Re – empowered reading the Dharma and reflecting to refresh .

    Stepping Stones Paramitas:
    Attention on Generosity, Patience and Discipline helpful and taking a break from what cause despair is your right. Thank you !

    Good seeing and feeling you and wishing all the best for the start of your new book.

    Will continue with this one for the whole week..
    and maybe as long es it is needed .
    The explanation why it belongs to lazyness is helpful
    you have forgotten – your power , brilliance and goodness
    how meditation practice helps us

    Sometimes it is a question where to start. Something cuts in , wake up, come back.
    ” Don’t think how far you have to go , think how far you have come ..”
    – more energy on the present moment

    Thank you ,
    warmly Anett

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So deeply happy we practice together, Anett! Sending love, S

  • Posted by:  barbara

    .help please i am in deep despair and dont know how to get out of it

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Barbara, I wish I could help but I’m just a fellow traveler. I hope you have friends, family, counselors who can support you. Sending love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Virginia

    Thank you, Susan, for this series. Today was especially helpful, as despair and depression can lead me to an incredibly narrow view of my world. You helped open my gaze again, outward and spacious.
    Have been away from OHP for a while but am now inspired to rejoin.
    Thank you!🙏

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So lovely to reconnect, Virginia! Very glad this was helpful and that our paths continue to cross. Love, Susan

  • Posted by:  regina kelly

    Labor Day
    Dear Susan,
    Thank you for this series.
    Especially today.
    In the working class Irish community I was raised in, behind every dark cloud, there is another dark cloud. But the despair I feel is more like existential dread, Germanic, lonely.
    But not all the time.
    Your words are very helpful, soulful, one who knows.
    Lucky us,

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      “But not all the time.” That is so important. Happy to connect with you behind all the clouds. <3 S

  • Posted by:  MQ

    Thank you for this Wonderful series! May you be reminded how beautiful wise and fearless you are! So grateful for these teachings and for you! We are all so v fortunate to have the knowledge you impart and remind us of to navigate this world. today I wake thankful for the friendship/comraderie of our sangha and most importantly – You as our amazing teacher. What a gift! Have a great day! ❤️

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Oh MQ! Your words mean so much to me. I am very happy we are sangha sisters. May our paths always intertwine. With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Shirah

    Hello Susan – – thank you so very much for this series. I have been meditating every day since you launched it and have learned so much. I want to continue! I also want to thank Alan Anderson for bringing your work to my attention.
    During one of your teachings you mentioned that you would be addressing avoidance… And I don’t think I have seen that meditation? Did I miss it? Thank you very much.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So good to connect, Shirah. Thanks to Al from me, too!

      Actually, this talk started out to be about avoidance (in my mind) but in the end it turned out to be about despair–they seemed so connected to me at the time of this video.

      If you want to learn more about avoidance, please check out my book, “The Buddhist Enneagram.” There is a fair amount in there about avoidance aka ignorance (meaning: ignoring what is present).

      Thanks for asking! <3 S

  • Posted by:  Barbara Born

    You’re so clever. Thank you for offering these insights and a link again to the paramitas! A lot to work with.

    I loved these series on difficult emotions. An emotion you didn’t mention is sadness, probably because it’s the only one, in my view, that’s Not really difficult; and usually whats beneath all the difficult shit.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad it was useful. And you know–I didn’t even think about sadness! I should do that as a bonus episode… Many thanks. And I agree, it’s usually behind them all, at least it is for me. Much love, S

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      PS I just made a video on sadness for this coming Monday. Many thanks for planting the seed. xo S

  • Posted by:  Barbara

    Great! Cant wait to hear it! X

  • Posted by:  Barbara

    Ps. I was able to preorder your new book in NL. Excited to know more about the buddhist view on difficult emotions and how you link them to the enneagram. Such an interesting approach.
    Good luck with the launch!! XO

  • Posted by:  Jitske

    Daar Susan,

    Something in me begins to flow and my tears, feel warmly om my face, are proof – when you say the words ‘look how far you’ve come’. I listen to this talk more than once, because me Covid recovery takes it’s own time. But I learn so much about life! Still embracing the road that actually does go up.

    Much love from Haarlem, the Netherlands, Jitske

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Jitske, I totally know what you mean about the reaction to “look how far you’ve come.” There is something so moving about acknowledging that.

      I hope you will feel completely well soon!

      With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Elizabeth Layton

    Susan, I can’t begin to tell you how perfectly timed this talk has been for me. It’s taken me two weeks to listen, but today was the day. Thank you for your wisdom and sharing that with our OHP Sangha!!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So very happy we are on the path together, Elizabeth. Love always, S

  • Posted by:  Arleen

    This was totally helpful! I tried listening to it before and did not make the connection or listen closely enough and missed that the practice of meditation itself helps counter despair (duh!), so I’m glad I saved it and listened to it again. Thank you!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I’m glad too! Thanks for giving a new listen. With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Gail O

    Susan – I’ve been in the OHP project since (I think?) 2014, and in Sangha since 2017. This talk is among the Top 3 talks I’ve ever experienced you giving. Personally, almost every sentence landed squarely in my heart; my path living in your words.
    It’s about 2 months now after you gave this talk (I had just had surgery in Sept and missed it). Interesting how whatever ‘medicine’ we need is sometimes offered at the just-right time?
    I love you.

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance