I Need to Stop Pretending I am not Hurting

I pretend a lot that I am OK when in fact I am not. I’m hurting deeply inside, I suspect like everybody else. There are lots of reasons and methods I use to pretend.

When I’m feeling off and my daughter asks me why I seem sad, I lie and say I’m OK because I can’t explain to her why I’m hurting or what’s wrong. She has enough on her plate right now.

When those close to me hurt me, I pretend I’m OK because I know I “should” not be hurt by what they do. My happiness “shouldn’t” depend upon what others say or think. I intellectually know that one very well. I put on this fake toughness pretending to be OK when in fact I have been hurt by what they have said or done. I don’t want to give them that power to hurt me. I do this one a lot. Because I intellectually know all the right Dharma answers, I somehow think that means I should already be able to work through all of my hurt on my own with my Dharma wisdom. I can work through some of it, for sure, but not all of it. I pretend I do all of it.

I also pretend everything is OK because I have so many responsibilities. So many people depend upon me keeping it all together. If I even wobble slightly, it proves very destabilizing to many around me. So I need to pretend I’m OK so they don’t get knocked off and because, frankly, I have to. Too many responsibilities, no room or scope to be anything other than OK without it creating even more problems.

I sometimes pretend to be OK as a weapon in a fight. You know the trick, the other person is all out of control and upset, and we pretend to be unfazed and perfectly zen. We rationalize it as trying to not escalating, but part of us knows part of our motivation is to show the difference between us – all calm, cool, and reasonable – and our out of control person in front of us. Just look at the difference between us, to misuse Shantideva’s famous line.

I also sometimes pretend to be OK because I’m “Kadampa Ryan.” I’m supposed to be a “good example” showing how the Dharma works and sharing wisdom, etc. I’ve often sub-consciously donned my Kadampa superhero cape. Ridiculous! Lots of resident teachers or senior practitioners do this. They fear if they show just how messed up they still are, people will lose faith in the Dharma or lose faith in their teachers. So the teachers pretend. It never ends well. So many examples of this in our tradition. When I do start posting honestly about what I am going through, I inevitably get these emails about how it’s too dark, too heavy. People want “lift me ups” and inspiring words. They don’t want to hear about the truth of suffering. Nobody does. So we pretend. Or at least I do. I can’t say for sure about others.

I also pretend to be this great bodhisattva always selflessly putting others first. I’m very good at that. But in fact, I’m exaggerating – often to myself – my own capacity. I overcommit, do more than I can handle, get my self stressed out and stretched too thin to get it all done. When people are around me suffering, in I swoop to save the day regardless of whether I have the capacity or bandwidth to do so without falling into the extreme of self-sacrifice or racing down the quick path to burn out. There has always been a near epidemic of this within the Kadampa world. So many people fall into this trap. This also never ends well.

I pretend by intellectualizing. I’ve been through some really heavy stuff in my life. Too much to recount. I’m good though at telling the story in heroic fashion of me using my profound wisdom to sort through all the pain. I recently told my daughter’s therapist everything that has happened to me in my life during our “family therapy session.” She said, “woah, that is a lot. But I noticed as you described all of that, there was no feeling. It was just abstract, like you were talking about somebody else.” Damn, that was true. I probably started doing this very early in my life as my primary defense mechanism to escape the emotional pain I feel. It is no surprise I find it so difficult to get into my heart with my Dharma practice.

So yeah, I pretend. I pretend a lot. The truth is there is almost no happiness in my life – at least the one I normally see. This shouldn’t surprise me. The world I normally see is samsara. I think I remember learning somewhere we can’t find happiness within it. Also that it doesn’t even exist at all. I have a few dear friends who I believe love me. But no one else really. I have always been emotionally alone – since I was about 12. Most of my kids can’t stand me, my family routinely blames me for everything even though I have been doing everything I can to help them and hold things up. I almost never have the karma to go to festivals, and with a few exceptions, I don’t really have any deep sangha friendships either. Sure, I know lots of people. But I don’t really have people I feel I can turn to. I’m always worried what they will think of me. Or I worry that I will turn to them and they won’t actually be there for me. I’ve been betrayed so many times in my life when I have shown vulnerability or turned to people for help. Plus I’ve always resolved things on my own, so if I am honest, I don’t really know how to receive help. I’ve largely forgotten somewhere along the way.

So I just keep pretending I’m OK. It doesn’t work. I still hurt, it is just so buried I sometimes don’t even know it or see it. Pretending is just repressing. I can use the Dharma to work through about 80% of my stuff, but there is always that 20% residual that remains.

I can’t read other’s minds, so I don’t know. But my guess is I’m not the only one pretending. How can we help each other or even advance along the path if we are pretending? We can’t. And this explains a lot.

And no, I don’t need Dharma answers. I already know all the Dharma answers. I just have to work it, as I have always done. Practice is so much different than understanding. I’m trying. I’m doing my best. I also don’t need words of sympathy, encouragement, or whatever. It’s weird, when I receive advice, sympathy, etc., that also causes me to start pretending I’m OK as well. I guess my pride is behind that one.

So why did I bother writing all of this? I’m trying to be honest with myself. Nothing more, well not entirely nothing more. But largely. I do hope that perhaps some others might find this helpful. I shouldn’t pretend I am already Shantideva who writes only to consolidate his own understandings. It may be mostly that, but if I am being honest, I also still have a lot of worldly concerns about my writing.

Hopefully by admitting all of this, I might be able to pretend less. The gig is up. The veil has been pulled back. Hello, it’s me!

19 thoughts on “I Need to Stop Pretending I am not Hurting

  1. I really appreciate your honesty in this article!
    I have had the exact same experiences. My inner narrative was exactly the same after 10 years of dharma practice.
    I could see the same mind patterns in my fellow sangha, hidden behind their up tightness regarding to ritual, practice and the running of the center.
    I percieved it as a level of dishonesty and everyone hiding behind their Dharma mask/ego.It felt so fake.
    This is why I appreciate this article.

    I stopped going to the center and practice for another 10 years. I listened to many different Philosophers and teachers. They generally said the same thing in my mind.
    But one teaching I listened to about emptiness just blew me away! It was so well contemplated and explained that I found it undisputable and an undeniable truth.
    It made realize how the whole inner narrative of my life was only narrative!
    So I thought to my self, what would the ultimate narrative be? That’s when I remember Geshelas Tantric teachings and knew that was the ultimate narrative.
    So I have joined the center again and trying to practice dharma in a more natural and honest way.
    Our biggest problem is not so much the narrative but the degree to which we buy into it. That’s what screws us over and makes us feel at ends with dharma narratives.
    The widom of emptiness is the portal out of the narrative and combined with Dharma narratives it has the power to appearance new and beautiful world.
    Which narrative will produce the most fun?
    But you can’t go there until you truely believe that your current narrative is a bullshit story and appears to be the truth only because you totally believe it.

  2. Dear Friend Reading this is exactly how I feel” Your soo brave i rejoice in your honesty. Allthough iam not good at words be assured I love you

  3. Thank you for this post. It’s refreshing to read this, so straightforward and honest. I feel the same about hiding behind what I ‘should’ already know and not let others see my failings and faults, in case they judge me or be put off by the dharma I’m supposed to already internalise. I like what you said ” Practice is so much different from understanding.”
    Let’s keep practicing.. until the knowledge becomes deep personal experience. 🙂

  4. Dear Ryan,

    Thank you so much for that post , which I’ve just this minute read .

    It was an extraordinary post – breathtaking and real .

    I offer No platitudes from me .

    That’s very refreshing and authentic honesty there.

    Sorry to hear of all that dissatisfaction, sorrow and disappointment.

    Some or most of these things you have written I can definitely relate to – especially about covering up , the Superman Syndrome and yes my own family history – I have family members who seem to hate me too ( for no real reason)

    All very relatable, but very refreshing and your words are so stark and truthful.

    I’ve nothing to offer here – but saying thank you for being so Real and honest.

    BigLove to you .

    Best wishes,

    Trevor Scales

    HYT practioner.

    Brighton UK 🇬🇧

  5. I love this, Ryan! It is quite a switch from your mostly intellectual writings and cut to your beautifully expressed and felt pain and suffering under which as I’m sure you may feel is an unbounded ocean of peace.
    Much love, peace and blessings 🙏

  6. Well that certainly struck a chord with me. Thankyou for sharing. I receive the teachings and it is up to me to put into practice. Who else is going to do it?

  7. 😮 WOW! I love it. Not because you’re suffering but because I rejoice in your honesty. Thank you for this. As a New Kadampa for 20 some years, I feel *exactly this too. After some heavy trauma and grief (shock and PTSD tbh) I learned that running and “pretending” wasn’t going to get me to enlightenment. It’s acknowledging where I am on the path,*truthfully, that allows me to apply correct antidotes. Pretending I’m “holier than thou” – and believing my own lie even -won’t work in the long run. For me, the gig was also up and I had to face my true “demons” so to speak. Throwing Dharma solutions at it like, “it’s all empty” wasn’t working because I’ve not yet realized emptiness directly. Part of this too is applying compassion and love to your own suffering-self. Being honest that you’re still self grasping, angry and still self cherishing…and that’s OK! It’s ok because it’s normal for a human being. It’s ok because you have Buddha’s teachings. But acknowledging those true VALID feelings vs denying them is key. You won’t ever face them if you’re in denial about just how strong, present and DEEP they actually are.
    Thank you so much. I wish you peace of mind.

  8. Merci cher Ryan

    Totalement concernée. Merci pour cette aide précieuse Much love


  9. Thank you. Also, I think life demands that we “hold it together” somewhat just to keep a job, a family, and remain somewhat functional.

    We only need to stop pretending with ourselves, correct? So nothing outwardly needs to change? What would we achieve my being vulnerable with people and opening ourself in ways that have proven not to work for us in the past? Temporarily we may feel better but there’s no real refuge there.

    • Generally, I agree. There is no point opening up to people who will judge, weaponize, and simply not be able to handle what we are sharing. But it is important, I think, to find SOME people who we can open up to entirely. Even if only to just articulate what is going on inside of us. Often just doing that is enough. Putting it on the table out in the open creates the space for us to then work through it.

      • Yes.I have one such confidante.(Trusted long time very normal practitioner,never says a bad word about anyone ever.Naturally a sweet and caring person even if she didnt have Dharma.I always feel better after having spilled what’s going through my mind!) think most of us are like this ,Ryan, to a greater or lesser degree. We need to stop pretending at least to ourselves,I think.I sobbed out my grief recently when a dear old friend died after a long painful illness but not to my Dharma friends and acquaintances.I didnt want them to know my private,heavy grief or it be spoken about.The love I feel for this person was rocket fuel tho’ for my up and down practice and now I value anyone just being honest about how crushed they feel sometimes when the big waves crash down us.Sometimes,all we can do is manage to float.xxx

      • Yes, I agree. Otherwise, there is no refuge in Sangha. It is the toughest of the Three Jewels to practise refuge, in my experience. One, because I don’t want to risk being vulnerable and two, because as you say I need to choose correctly who is able to listen and not be defensive in any way. So yes, this is not everyone but those few we have a close connection to and confidence in.

        I really appreciate your honesty. It reminds me of once at ITTP Gen-la Khyenrab telling us all we need to be real. I think what he was trying to get us to understand is what is expressed in your post. A very necessary post as it is so easy to use Dharma to continue being “strong”, “an achiever” or whatever we grasp at to not be hurt and vulnerable.

  10. Thanks so much for being so brave to share this. I relate to this so much, but so scared to say it.xx

  11. Thanks for writing this post Ryan. It’s interesting hearing about your experiences and relating them to my own.
    Life largely sucks, but I regularly try and ‘fake it before I make it’, with regards to applying Dharma wisdom to oppose the negativity I’m experiencing. Like you, I ‘know’ a lot of Dharma answers. I genuinely feel that pretending I have authentic realisations of them helps me to deal with shit in a more objective way and takes the painful sting out of negative experiences. So I kind of pretend that I’m feeling okay, knowing that ultimately I am okay and I’m working, painfully slowly towards really feeling okay.

    Also, when I read your reliably regular posts, I invariably find a nugget of wisdom there that relates to exactly what I’m currently going through! Whether you are pretending or not, your words of wisdom are incredibly powerful and beneficial; at least for me.

  12. Hi,
    I appreciate your posts in general. Some of them even have changed my mind. Especially the one about not mixing. This post (pretending) is very honest and interesting because it is so true that I have a mask, pretending to be someone ideal, an ego I imagine, an ego I would like to be. I’m very new into the Kadam tradition and when I first read about the 3 types of practitionners, I was thinking “Ok, I’m a very compassionate being so I must certainly be a great scope practitionner”. Then I studied more and I realized that a great scope practitionner is a bodhisattva. Ugh ! I would love to be one but… I’m definitly not. Do I really want to become a buddha ? Certainly. For the sake of all sentient beings ? Not sure anymore. Ok so I was thinking “Ok, I’m not great scope so I must certainly be an intermediate scope practitionner”. And I studied a little bit more and I discovered that an intermediate scope practitionner is practising renunciation. Do I really want to escape from samsara ? For sure when shit happens. Much less when I enjoy. At that point I was really disapointed. I said to myself “Ok, I’m ONLY a small scope practitionner”. Then I studied again and I discovered that I “only” have a certain realization of my precious human life. I do not have a realization of death, I do not have a clear realization of the sufferings of lower realms, I have an intellectual understanding and I believe in karma. I’m not sure that my refuge is qualified. Do I generate fear of samsara ? Do I generate a true faith that the 3 jewels are the ultimate refuge ? Not sure yet. Ok, that is pride and at least it is painful for my imagined ego to realize that I’m not a bodhisattva but this pain enables me to see more precisely my real situation. Humility is coming. Ok, I want to climb the Everest but I’m still having fun in Katmandu. First I need to find a map, Joyful path of good fortune, cool I have it. Then I need to start to walk, practise. First I need to realize that I have to stop wandering in Katmandu. I have to make a strong decision and to keep it. In order to make that strong decision I have to be convinced that it is THE thing to do. Then realizations will come soon and quickly. Thank you for writing these posts, they are useful. Struggling dharmakaya Thomas is saying “see you soon” to struggling dharmakaya Ryan. Is there really any Thomas or Ryan ? When ? Before they were born ? After they will die ?

  13. So much to say about this, to make it short, I’m the same! And I know most Buddhist people are also. We need to be unafraid of being human while we aspire to become a full time Bodhisattva.
    My son died a month and a half ago, my practice has inspired others, even when I dragged my broken heart to a teaching, almost slipped off the seat from exhaustion while wearing my robe upside down! So I pray for others, and it takes away my deep sadness. Then my darling 17 yr old grand daughter was hit in the head, knocked unconscious in a varsity soft ball game, and hospitalized for 5 days!!! Last Sunday after class and a meditation on death, I went to a concert in the park, and sung my heart out with the band. It was the beginning of the emotional release work I knew my body needed.

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