In Pali, sukkha means being in a good space (as opposed to dukkha, a bad space, otherwise known as suffering, from the garden-variety kvetchiness to more malignant forms of unease).
I love that the word jibes with the autumnal holiday of Sukkot when Jews sit in a temporary hut outside called a sukkah (good space!) and give thanks for all the blessings of the current harvest, and life in general.
I haven’t made it into an actual sukkah this year, but I spent a sweet day this weekend with my family, which is a small crew of first cousins (four to be exact), a first cousin’s fabulous daughter (first cousin once removed? second cousin? I just call her my little cousin, though if she was any shorter than me, we’d have to call for an emergency endocrinologist) and two “Flusberg wanna-be’s” (otherwise known as husbands). For years, we had splintered off into our various silos, owing in some part to the messiness of our elders — badly conceived wills, obstinate orphans, adults who hadn’t fully grown up. For years, I thought that I was the cause of the split (being the willful, parentless person in question). Dukkha City. Time has a way of healing perceptions, and over many years, in doing oral history and research and deep reflection on my family, I pieced together that the events surrounding my parents’ deaths were merely the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: there were plenty of other dynamics to blame.
In March, we got together and worked things out. We looked at old photos and videos, some of which didn’t lie about aforementioned dynamics. We listened a lot, shared stories (including the ones we likely could never have told if the elders had been alive and present), got our versions corrected, apologized. I had just spent two incredible weeks in Florida with a dear friend, camping and biking and birdwatching and teaching and, one afternoon on Biscayne Bay, bawling inexplicably as as I journaled for hours. In retrospect, I think I was intuitively laying the groundwork for sukkha.
For years, when asked about my family, I would simply respond that I didn’t have one. When prodded (because people always do: what? no parents? no grandparents? no siblings? no kids, even? what about uncles and aunts?), I would say “oh there’s a few cousins, but we’re not close.” Over time, other people’s relatives began joining mine in death, making me a bit less of a cultural curiosity. (After all, the family is the basic building block of society. Without one, who you gonna blame for not being able to live your dreams or gaining weight in December?)
Saturday, as we dug into Aunt Jean’s World Famous Garlic-Roasted Chicken and Famous-Spare-Ribs-Even-Better-Than-Uncle-Sid’s (though I fully suspect he was arguing that point from the other side), it occurred to me that I hadn’t shared a meal with people I have never not known. And despite the years of not knowing each other, we had very speedily slipped into a deep and even serene space of knowing each other, which in my family apparently includes good-natured ribbing and spicy ribs.
In short, I had a blast. I can’t wait to do it again. Walking up 14th Street later that night, remembering snippets of conversation, I found myself chuckling, and then realized I was catching a bit of a buzz — I swear, my system was being bathed in oxytocin. (I think something similar might happen during Reiki, but don’t ask me to prove it.)
Maybe this meal couldn’t have happened without the silo time. Earlier in the week, I was lucky to take a workshop with Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher who was paralyzed in the same car accident that killed his father and sister when he was just 13. Matthew knows something about trauma, about disassociating from the body as a matter of survival, and getting too comfortable in that out-of-body experience. To wake up, he counseled, we have to learn to move into connection with the parts of us that have been silenced.
Maybe the distance between dukkha and sukkha is poetry or maybe it’s a decade. Maybe it’s in movement or maybe on a massage table.
Life’s not about formulas, but I’m glad to be in a good space at just the right time — when we celebrate the harvest, which somehow seems to come with surprisingly little effort, even if I know it was actually years in the making.