27 Sep 2012
September 27, 2012

Viewing Suffering as Grace



The fact is, I can’t take away people’s death and suffering when I’m working with their death and suffering. But I can be a presence where they can shift their consciousness in a way so they don’t experience their death and suffering the same way. But I can’t take away all the suffering from people. And the ability to be with somebody when your heart is breaking because they’re suffering and you do not have the power to take away that suffering, and the feeling you have under those conditions has got to be reflected upon. You have to take the time to reflect upon that, so that you can find peace within that situation.

“An Ode to Surya” / artwork by Martin B.

Part of the reason I can do that is because I have cultivated these planes of consciousness – the Soul and Awareness – where the nature of the suffering that exists on the physical plane is part of the mystery of the universe. That is, within the physical plane world, you do not know the answer to why the suffering is happening. Why will a child be born into a life of only suffering? Why will somebody live this long, or that long. Why will somebody have no pain while someone else has a lot of pain? The predicament is that the way suffering in the world is dispersed isn’t reasonable. Maybe it’s karmic, but it isn’t reasonable, which is a very interesting idea because karma and reason aren’t the same thing. So what you’re faced with is just not knowing.

My experiences have been that my own suffering has turned out to be grace and that I often see other people’s suffering as grace even though they don’t see it that way, but I don’t say to them “it’s grace.” Because for them it’s suffering so I do what I can to relieve that suffering, but at the same moment my understanding that they will gain wisdom through the suffering does not in any way make me denigrate the nature of the suffering. Suffering is not an error in the system, and the predicament is that most people respond to the suffering with feelings that they did something wrong, or somebody did something wrong and that’s why it occurs. And that’s the psychological stuff people are afraid of, that’s it.

To have pain in your body is to have pain in your body, but all the psychological stuff that rides along with the pain in your body like, “I deserve it,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m failing, dah dah dah,” “I didn’t eat right”, “I didn’t do the right thing,” That stuff is what’s doing you in. That stuff will do you in.

What my own personal experience has been is that as I have gone from identity with ego to identity with the Soul or the Witness I have found a space and a way in relation to the mystery of the universe that allows me to be with the suffering that lives on this plane, mine and others, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. And I’m not overwhelmed by my impotence to take it all away, and I don’t have to look away from it, and I deal with it as it arises without feeling the need to carry it all with me.

-Ram Dass, October 1995


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  • http://www.asonginthisworld.com Brad Fisher (@shirassmafight)

    From A Father Of A Child Beating The Statistical Mortality Rates Of A Life Threatening Illness. (“There are lies, damn lies and statistics” ~ Mark Twain borrowed from Benjamin Disraeli)
    I’ve been caring for our 7 year old terminally ill daughter for 7 1/2 years 17 to 24 hours a day. She was given 2 years to live but I found interventions, therapies that wouldn’t let the disease take her like doing nothing would “non intervention in life threatening illness is a self fulfilling prophecy.” ~Dr. John Bach
    When the initial diagnoses is given you find yourself reeling with anticipatory grief, melancholy, despair and anger. It wasn’t long after this that we almost lost our daughter and we were in the hospital for 55 days with a serious respiratory infection. It was on day 12 that I took over our daughter’s care while in the hospital. I had a thriving real estate practice at that point so I was fielding calls from the intensive care unit and caring for our daughter at the same time. During all the chaos I had an epiphany, a light went on. I realized I couldn’t let my suffering get in the way I was not the one who is sick. “I had to look past myself” and learn how to effectively resuscitate my child, change out her feeding tube and manage her respiratory care if I wanted her to live a healthy life. A great sense of freedom came over me. It was as if I was released from all of this sorrow and despair. Our daughter’s illness has given me the gift of presence. I read your Book Be Here Now years ago and it engaged me and I tried putting it into practice but it really didn’t have the same meaning for me then as it does now. My little girl is bright and doesn’t suffer any cognitive issues but she is considered totally paralyzed yet she can feel everything. It’s a crazy disease that has given me deep insight into what soul really is, what a person really is. We are not the body that is for sure we are so much more.
    The hardest part of this journey for me has been dealing with people’s intolerance, negative attitudes, indifference. Dr. Jen Bolen states, “The opposite of compassion is indifference.” When people visit the sick I often found myself having to comfort the visitors, make them feel at ease, be compassionate to them and their fear of the unknown. This was another steep learning curve for me. I often found myself wondering why people weren’t doing more for me, for us? Compassionate words didn’t seem to be enough for me. I had always been there for people when they called I stepped up. Why were most people only paying us lip service? I read an talk by the Fourteenth Dali Lama and here’s a little excerpt on his take on compassion, “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act…………….When there is something that needs to be done in the world to rectify wrongs with the motivation of compassion, if one is really concerned with benefitting others, it is not enough simply to be compassionate. There is no direct benefit in that. With compassion, one needs to be engaged, involved.” This quote became my mantra. Never again was I going to stand Idly by when someone else was suffering I was going to act. Never again was I going to use compassionate words without directly benefitting the person I was speaking with even if help was unsolicited I would do something for them.
    Another obstacle is the inherent loneliness of life threatening illness. When you have a broken limb or had a serious bike or skateboard accident people are interested in hearing about the accident. When you face someone with a life threatening situation the majority of people just can’t handle it. It seems to me that there is a correlation between how well your life is going and your ability to reach out. The people experiencing the worst of hardships seem to be able to stand with you on the journey while those with lives devoid of serious hardship (if there is such a thing) are unable to grasp the situation. After our daughter’s diagnoses a friend dying of lung cancer in very rough shape came over and spent an afternoon with us. I was blown away by her love and compassion in her situation. We all had a good cry together knowing it would be the last time we saw each other and she died a few weeks later. My friends will, tenacity, love, compassion sticks with me to this day strengthening my ability to reach out. So many people are unable to “look past themselves” and reach out. Many other’s are fearful of other’s illnesses and ascribe reasons for the illness. “A patient is then weighed down by the same burdens as a rape victim becoming a carrier of the projections of others who ascribe reasons why this illness happened to this person. Blame – the – victim “reasons” are punitive. They are very different from objective causes-and-effect reasons, the seeking of which can lead to solutions, cures, and preventative treatment for medical and social problems. When people are afraid that what has happened to someone else could happen to them they often distance themselves from the victim. If they can blame the victim they feel safer or superior, which is the unconscious motivation. Blame is also a way of shifting guilt onto someone else.” – Jean S. Bolen MD
    Baba your book Be Here Now sits next to my bed with the Bhagavad Gita. There is so much in that book, it is a source of constant inspiration for me while on this and every journey. Thank you for the road map! I love how the book starts with Journey. It speaks to me deeply like the Torah portion Lech Lecha, to go out! When Abraham was told to go to an unknown land. Just when I think I have things under control I find myself in a new land. It’s my faith and beliefs, customs and rituals that carry me through these journeys and your are a big part of that. Thank you.