Suffering is intrinsic to life and living
Suffering has been present in my experience of living for the last few weeks. Is there anything special about this? No, to be a human being is to be a being-in-the-world that is indifferent to my existence, his/her existence, your existence: the world does not deliver my existential needs and/or does not fit into the model of the world should be (according to me, to my culture) and wherever either of these two conditions are present, suffering shows up.
Given that suffering is present in my house-of-being what is a useful way to be with it, to handle it, to work it? Do I run from this suffering? Do I embrace it, grasp on to tightly, suffer in silence and thus relate to myself as a martyr and give some meaning to my suffering? Or do I embrace it, make a joke of it, display it to the world in order to get sympathy or admiration? Do I lash out to those who I hold to be responsible for the causes of my suffering? Do I inflict suffering because I am suffering?
Does suffering beget suffering in the ordinary way-of-being in the world?
I found that I was pretending to be OK with suffering when I was not OK with suffering. And standing in that place I was not at peace and not available to any person who came into contact with me. Worse, I was ready to blow up at the slightest annoyance. How do I know this? I became present to this when I blew up with several people including my mother. Did anyone deserve my behaviour? No. These people were doing what they do pretty much always. Usually, I deal with that as their way-of-being in the world and let it go, swim with it.
What did this suffering my mine allow me to get present to? Suffering begets suffering unless one is present to one’s suffering, becomes intimate with it, and thus uses it to allow compassion to flourish. And yet, I really do not wish to be with my suffering. I wish to run from it, minimise it, rationalise it…… And when I do this then I hurt the people who are around me. Is it possible that the people in our lives who show up as least deserving of our kindness, our time/attention, of our generosity are those who occur as being selfish, inconsiderate, aggressive? Yes, it occurs to me that the people who are in most need of our kindness, our generosity, our patience, our benevolence, are the ones that, in the ordinary way of being, we are least likely to be kind towards. And so I, you, we contribute to the endless cycle of suffering.
Can suffering open a doorway to compassion, relationship and a ‘world that works’?
What else did I get present to as I was suffering? It occurred to me that my experience of my suffering was similar to that of Ivan Ilych. I was in a state of suffering and the people around me where busy with their lives. Were they indifferent to my suffering? I don’t know. Did they even know/get my suffering? I don’t know and I am confident that I hid it well. Am I blaming anyone? No. I have done and probably am doing exactly the same: being not present to or simply indifferent to the suffering of those who live.
Can you and I use suffering powerfully – to generate compassion, build relationship and contribute to a ‘world that works’ with none excluded? I came across these words of wisdom from Krishnamurti which helped me get a more useful relationship to suffering (mine, yours, his, hers) and they may do the same for you:
“Why am I or why are you callous to another man’s suffering? Why are we indifferent to the coolie who is carrying a heavy load, to the woman is carrying a baby? Why are we so callous? To understand that, we must understand why suffering makes us dull. Surely, it is suffering that makes us callous; because we don’t understand suffering, we become indifferent to it. If I understand suffering, then I become sensitive to suffering, awake to everything, not only to myself, but to the people about me, to my wife, to my children, to an animal, to a beggar. But we don’t want to understand suffering, and the escape from suffering makes us dull, and therefore callous….. the point is that suffering, when not understood, dulls the mind and heart; from it, through the guru, through a savior, through mantras, through reincarnation, through ideas, through drink and every other kind of addiction – anything to escape what is…..
Now, the understanding of suffering does not lie in finding out what the cause is. Any man can know the cause of suffering; his own thoughtlessness, his stupidity, his narrowness, his brutality, and so on. But if I look at the suffering itself without wanting an answer, then what happens? Then, as I am not escaping, I begin to understand suffering; my mind is watchfully alert, keen, which means I become sensitive, and being sensitive, I am aware of other people’s suffering.”
1. Let’s own our suffering. When you and I own our suffering then we stand in a powerful place to be with our suffering correctly and take the appropriate actions. We move from being helpless / being victims and step into being the authors of our lives. And as authors we are in a position to invent new possibilities that leave our experience of living transformed. Even when we cannot escape our suffering we may be able to transcend our suffering by giving meaning to our suffering that leaves us with self-esteem. Viktor Frankl, who spent two years or so in WWII concentration camps, has much to say on how to be with / transcend circumstances when one cannot escape from them.
2. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering that is all around us. And with these open eyes and hearts lets be compassionate and act with kindness so as to show up as being caring/considerate human beings in the lives of others. It occurs to me that the people that most need our compassion are the ones that show up as the least deserving of our compassion.