Friday, March 30, 2012

Suffering - Part One

Some days my heart breaks. It simply breaks for all the suffering that exists. Even when I was young and still very mired in a fire and brimstone concept of hell, there was always a part of me that thought -- "Can there really be a hell?" What could be worse than what we have done to each other as humans? We have waged unspeakable horrors against each other. It saddens and breaks me. But the brokenness is like being broken open.

These days the existential questions of suffering, hell, heaven, etc. enter differently still. Who is this “other” that we perpetrate our crimes against? It is not so much -- what could be worse than what we have done to each other as what could be worse than what we do to ourselves? Taking the question in rather than holding at arm’s length makes it so much more tender and raw. It is easier to think that it’s those people over there who commit the crimes or horrors and thus feel better about myself. But who are they? What if we truly lived no separation? That question would at once rend us permanently. It feels like it would cut one wide open. It would break us open. Upon hearing of some horror in the world, (and most nightly newscasts can fulfill this role), one of the first thoughts that enters many people's minds at some level is “how could they” or “that cannot be” Our conditioning immediately tries to push away what is real and painful. We get angry or try to find a way to shut it out and escape. But all of these are ways of clothing the naked and beautiful. Those methods put a layer over reality. Listen carefully and with your whole heart. Find out for yourelf. Frequently those questions begin an argument. At some level there is a movement of “this should not be” or "those people are different than these people or I am different from them". They are all ways of trying to control that which feels beyond us. They are escapes. What if we did not escape? Freedom lies in the ever increasing ability to simply sit with what is.

Stay with the news story that you just heard about a teenage African- American boy fatally shot or the soldier gunned down, or grandmother who has just been beaten up. What if you truly believed you were the one who harmed these people? What happens if you are the one who harmed the "other" person? Who are you? What are you? Do you find yourself moving to justify, blame, deny, distance, excuse? Are you set on proving what I am saying is wrong? Why do you think that is? What would happen if you didn’t? Do you find yourself doling out love and compassion to some parts of the story and some characters but not others; perhaps the boy or the elderly woman, or the situation but not “yourself”/the perpetrator who committed the crime? Do you find yourself a little saddened, angered, or numbed, grieved?

Regardless of whether or not you believe what I am saying is true, about you being the perpetrator is there an inclination to move away? The mind will argue that it's not true. That you did not commit that act. (And of course on a certain relative level that is absolutely true) But what is going on? What is going on when we encounter something and want to move away? Even if from the above example you do not believe it is you, can you can you hold that notion without judging it? When are we inclined to separate? Often we are inclined to separate when "too much" pain is encountered. We often move to create an “us” and “them” We start to blame. It is in part, a way of feeling better about ourselves. It is a way of salving our wounds. But what if we didn’t seek the band aid or traverse the blame path? What would we have to feel if we did not move towards resolving the enormity of that hurt? What if on a cellular and molecular level we understood that "they" are us.

I think we would feel immense heartbreak but it would be a pure and complete heartbreak undistorted by a need to protect. What would we be protecting against? Rather than being a life-sucking heartbreak born of the dream state and yeilding paralysis and depression it might be the kind of heartbreak that is life-affirming and action inspiring. Compassion always opens to alleviate suffering. Pure love, like water, always moves towards the rough spots, the unawakened, the opaque parts. And if action occurs its signature need not be grandiose. Our existence itself is action of a supreme kind and the more we are aware of that the more we realize that that which we bring to action is more important in many ways than the actual action. Ideologies, governments, religions, science, none of these will “save” the world. Indeed it is our obsession that the world needs saving which creates the “problem” in the first place.

It requires a hefty and unbridled arrogance to believe we must be savioiurs. Perhaps this is what is meant when in Christianity the fall of Lucifer is spoken about. In thistory, one of God’s angels, his “top” angel in fact, becomes so prideful that he is banished from heaven. Is that not us? Perhaps in a sense it is pride which keeps us in hell? Pride in a sense says "I am special" which implies that someone else is not and thus creates tension and separation amidst wholeness. It creates that which is special and that which is not. Yet it is a flimsy house of cards, for at any moment, who we think we are can crumble when someone else comes along who is more "special" We cast ourselves out of heaven when we lock into self that is built upon others behavior or even our own behaviour. We set ourselves up for the fall when our self worth is hitched to being more than someone or something else. To do that is to miss who they essentially are and who we essentially are. We do not need anything to be whole. What if the world were perfect in its imperfection as were you?

Does this then mean that we should not be proud of accomplishments or that we become inactive. Does it mean that we avoid the homeless man on the street ? Does it mean that we should not work on solutions to our environmental crisis? Does it mean that we should not give to charities? Does it mean that we stop voting? Does it mean that we do not volunteer at the animal shelter or participate in that walkathon? What do you think? What does your heart say? What is it that would try to avoid the grittiness of life?

It seems to me that only a delusion would try to avoid anything. Love/truth/reality does not need or want to avoid anything so why would it avoid helping people or even having pride.

Interestingly, are we even inclined to call it "pride" in the same way if the accomplishment belongs to all. Similarly is it really “helping” when the hand scratches the itch on the leg or the ears hear something beautiful? If we are truly “helping” ourselves is it really helping in the conventional sense of the word? Perhaps it is just something that happens in that moment. Perhaps that is what surrender looks like. Part of how love can be seen is as that which embraces all and avoids nothing. That is love. Egos and minds believe that somehow an absolutist position such as do not do this or do not do that can contain the possibility of resolution. At a certain level some kinds of dictums do help mitigate the most egregious behaviours temporarily and they may even have been necessary in our past but today it is increasingly possible to be directed by a moment to moment flow that is outside our traditional prescriptions of good/evil, warm/cold, polite/rude. happy /sad dualism. It is the way of the Tao. Lest you think it is simply an eastern philosophy it really has different names in different times and cultures and religions but essentially they all point to the same thing and that "thing" is more close to you than anything you could ever imagine. It is able to hold all the suffering and like a beautifully discordant chord from a Mahler symphony transform it into magical music. In some ways that is the potential transformational power in suffering.

(Sta tuned for more on Suffering)

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