Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.


When The Universe Strips You Bare

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 26, 2015 at 8:00 PM

In the last 2 years I lost my house, 2 cars, my mother-in-law, and my cat - all due to events that were beyond my control. I moved 600 miles away from my friends and family to start a new job in an unfamiliar city. And every time I start to feel like I'm figuring things out, life seems to throw me another curve ball.

Part of me is tired. I'm tired of losing the things that I love. I'm tired of not having a sense of home. I'm tired of self-growth and personal development and continually making decisions that scare me but are for my highest good.

I feel like the universe is stripping me bare.

Right now I'm in the process of moving again. I'm selling most of my furniture, giving away books and clothing, and liquidating a good chunk of my possessions. The question keeps arising, "Who am I without these things?" Who are my husband and I without our cat of 12 years? Who are we without our house? Without our parents?

I'm amazed at the attachment that I have to even the simplest of things. The knick knack on my shelf. The ratty t-shirt that I'm reluctant to throw in the trash. The special candle that I light when I'm trying to make big decisions. Who am I without these things? Do these things represent "home?"

My True Self knows the answer to this question. Home cannot be found in a physical place or in another person. My true home is within me. Within my soul. Inside of the deepest part of me there is always a space that is centered and grounded, regardless of where I'm living or what I'm doing or who I'm with. I know that this is true. But it doesn't make life any easier. At least not right now.

Right now, I want my cat to jump onto my desk and rub her head on my shoulder. I want to stop picturing her final moments, right before we had to unexpectedly euthanize her. I want my mother-in-law to appear in my kitchen to make me some amazing goodies instead of my husband living with the image of her passing in his arms. I want my cute little house to still be mine, before our lousy tenants created $10,000 worth of damage and we had to sell it. I want to drive around in my 1997 Toyota Tercel instead of having to sell it because it was old and wouldn't have made the 600 mile drive to the city. I want my husband to be able to pick me up in his Mazda instead of it getting totaled for no reason. I want to get all of our furniture back instead of selling it on Craigslist.

I was attached to these things. And in this moment, I want them back. I feel raw and open. Stripped of much of what mattered to me.

The day after my cat died, I found myself crumpled on the floor in a pool of tears, gasping for air and aching at the suffering that is life. One of the main tenets of Buddhism is that life is suffering. This is the mystery and the wound that we all carry. We're here, on this earth, doing our best. But inevitably we suffer. The most enlightened and self-actualized masters are able to bear witness to this suffering, hold it, and continue to live with immense compassion for all beings.

I aspire to this.

But sometimes the suffering just feels so heavy, so unbearable. And let's face it - my problems are first world problems. People before and after me have suffered atrocities beyond what I can imagine. And yet we keep going.

This is where I start to feel a glimmer of hope. When I realize, in my darkest times, the common humanity that connects us all. We all suffer. We all experience loss and devastation and grief. But we pick ourselves up and we keep trying. Even when trying is something as simple as brushing our teeth when we barely have enough motivation to get out of bed.

When we turn our suffering into compassion for all beings who also suffer, we experience a miracle.

So here is what I would like my suffering to do for you. Today, when you're on Facebook feeling jealous about someone who looks like they have it all together, or feeling pissed off at someone who's driving too slowly during your morning commute - remember that we all suffer. The person in front of you might be a different race or practice customs that you don't agree with or understand - but I can guarantee you that they have suffered. And that "perfect person" on Facebook is wearing a mask.

Today, give someone a hug. Smile at a stranger. Pay for someone's coffee in line behind you. Because when the universe strips us bare, kindness is what brings us back.

What random act of kindness have you performed lately (or would you like to perform today)? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
12:04 PM on May 6, 2015 
I agree, Chris - there is definitely a sense of renewal that comes from letting go of these things! Thanks for sharing your perspective.
Reply Chris
7:36 PM on May 5, 2015 
I like that you're able to keep your perspective. We shed quite a bit of our stuff (both deliberately and by accident, like my grandfather's cast iron skillet that probably got left on the lawn beside the trailer when we were loading it). Aside from those few mementos, I looked at it as an opportunity for renewal.
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
6:33 PM on May 2, 2015 
Thanks for your kind words, Ann! I'm so glad my blog resonated with you. Your blog is great, too! Keep up your wonderful work.
Reply Ann
2:47 AM on May 2, 2015 
I love your raw honesty Bethany. Your words are so relatable. I love the image of the universe stripping us bare. I often think when something is on the verge of breaking or ending, it's most likely because something new (and often better) wants to take root and be birthed in its place. I, too, often feel the weight of the world and it's too much. I wrote a post exactly about that here: I hope it lifts you and your readers up :)
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
6:55 PM on April 30, 2015 
Thanks so much, Suzanne! I think it's a great idea to cope with loss by trying new things. I'm glad my blog inspired you toward random acts of kindness!
Reply Suzanne Boles
9:46 PM on April 29, 2015 
So inspiring. I love the quote about the main tenant of Buddhism "that life is suffering." It feels like we are both on a similar path in life. For me it's about finding myself again after profound loss. I do this with exercise, trying new things - I'm learning guitar right now - volunteering, of course writing, and just getting out bed each day. I will try more random acts of kindness and to be kinder rather than carrying and trying to bury my hurt and anger.
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
8:50 AM on April 29, 2015 
Thank-you so much for the virtual hug, Rayna! I agree that it would have been nice to get to know each other better while I was at Info-Tech. At least now we can connect virtually :-) And Lisa, it sounds like you are doing amazing acts of kindness for your friends. I think that transforming our suffering into compassion for others is one of the greatest gifts that we can give. Kudos to you!
Reply Lisa
10:19 PM on April 28, 2015 
Yesterday I cooked dinner for friends who have spent the past week moving into and fixing up an old house. The week before their son had an emergency appendectomy. I've been experiencing sadness and loneliness in the wake of a 25 year marriage that has ended. It's true, if we can take our eyes and our focus off of ourselves long enough we can't help but take notice of tremendous suffering going on all around us. Some days it's a struggle but I try to make a concerted effort to express gratitude for the favor God has shown me. We should be careful, mindful and purposeful because one day all that will be is a memory.
Reply Rayna O'Neil
8:27 PM on April 28, 2015 
Your words inspire me. I adore your blog and wish that we could have become better acquainted. You have been a light in my life and have brightened many a dark day. Today, I send you a virtual hug and will keep your sage words in mind.xo