Suffering, Beauty, and Bound Feet

It has been a few days since my last entry.  My kidney stones have not passed, my daughter needed to be taken to the Urgent Care Center, and we are still coping with the feelings after our friend’s son took his own life.  Our family is not in a horrible place, but we are having some moments of suffering.

Quing Woman with Bound Feet

Having kidney stones has given me a new insight into suffering.  All day, in my job at the psychiatric hospital, I am with people who are suffering from things both real and imagined.  Some people hurt so bad that they want to die, or at least hurt their bodies.  For others, there is a fear that they may hurt themselves by accident because they do not realize that something is wrong with the way that they are thinking, and others are so angry or fearful that they may hurt someone else.  It is all suffering.  The Buddhists say that all suffering comes from our cravings.  I am not so sure.  I think some suffering is becuase of what we want, but to me, some suffering still happens even after we accept that we can not have what we want.  Having kidney stones is like that.

You see, I am hurting, but not nearly as badly as I was on other occassions when I had kidney stones.  I can still work, and even though my back hurts sometimes and I am very stiff at other times, I can be thankful that I can go to work, do things I enjoy (like art and drumming), and spend time with people I love without being so drugged with painkillers that I fall asleep all the time.  I suffer, but I can also see that I am not suffering as much as I used to.  If this is how I will be living my life from this point forward, than so be it.  I will find out tomorrow when I get another CAT scan if my body is continuing to make kidney stones, or if I am just trying to get rid of the many that I already have lodged in my kidneys.

I can see that there is some good that is in my life in spite of the fact that I am in pain much of the day.  I can honestly say that it could be worse.

In my exploration of Chinese culture, I became quite fascinated by the tiny “lotus shoes” that women wore in China up until the end of the Qing dynasty.  Thanks to the work of Dorothy Ko and others, I was able to learn a great deal about these beautiful shoes.  It saddens me to think of how women, in order to meet the fashion of their day, as well as to be desireable as wives, would undergo the breaking of their foot bones as small girls.  These broken feet were re-formed to fit the 3″ ideal of a lotus bud in order to wear lotus shoes.  This would render these women to be both stylish and crippled.  It would become painful to walk.  It also kept them from being free to travel where they wished, and often resulted in them being more or less confined to their homes where many were one of the several wives of upper-class men.  And while at home, many would busy themselves making their own shoes, stiching onto them the symbols of their wishes and dreams for a more hopeful future.  These women, many of whom we no longer know their names, created these beautiful coverings for their brokenness – a beauty which comes only out of suffering.

In some ways, my own paintings are like this for me.  My work has become over the past few years more and more “beautiful” in an aesthetic sense.  Yet, these paintings are my prayers to God.  Prayers for peace, joy or tranquility – desires which eminate from my desire to have an end to suffering.  We all suffer with something.

It is my hope that my art can bring a moment of quiet reflection to someone who needs a reminder that their own suffering will not last forever.