How can we stay open to both the suffering and the joy of life?

You and I are in training to be free. We’re in training to be so present, so spacious, so embracing, we’re in training to not look away, deny or close our hearts when we can’t bear something. The statement, “I can’t bear it,” is what burns you out in social action. When you’re in the presence of suffering and contracting, it’s the contraction that starves you to death.

When you close your heart down to protect yourself from suffering, you also close yourself off from being fed by that same life situation.

If you can stay open to both the suffering and the joys and the stuff of life, all of it, then it’s like a living spirit. It just connects to your living spirit and there’s a tremendous feeding going on.

Once you see all this, what else is there to do but keep working on becoming conscious? You’d be a fool not to. You’re only going to perpetuate your misery and suffering and everybody else’s if you don’t. I’ll give it one year, I’ll settle for two, for you to live on two planes of consciousness simultaneously. The other thing is to do it joyfully! When you meet somebody that’s suffering, what do you have to offer them? You could offer them your empathy. That’s a good thing to offer because they feel somebody else is listening to them. The other thing you can offer them is your joy, your presence, and your ‘not getting caught in it all.’

Having that empathy for another means your heart is breaking, because you understand the intensity of their experience, and at the same moment, you are absolutely, equanimously, present. You are not clinging to anything, just watching the phenomena of the universe change.

It’s then that your acts can be compassionate. That is where the root of compassion is. The root of compassion is not empathy; that’s along the lines of kindness, and that’s good, but it’s not compassion. The ultimate compassion is the act itself, which has the potential to relieve every level of suffering, not just the food in the belly, or the mattress to safely sleep on at night. The suffering that comes from separateness is only relieved when you are present with another person. So the whole game of helping another human being becomes about realizing whether or not you’re busy being the ‘helper,’ and making them the ‘helpee.’ If so, you’ve just created suffering.

Isn’t that bizarre? With the very act of helping someone you have to jump out of it and ask, “Who’s helping who anyway?”

It seems that we string moments together where we feel deeply connected, and then a moment later it’s a new moment, but we only want to cling to the previous experience.

I invite you not to cling. I invite you to open to the next moment and allow it to have its own richness. Nothing will kill the glow faster than clinging.

I was with Aldous Huxley years ago, and I didn’t know him well, but when we were together there were just a few words he kept using: “Extraordinary,” “How curious,” and “How odd.” I realized that everything in life is extraordinary if I just want to look. It’s true there’s nothing new under the sun, and yet it’s all fresh.

-Ram Dass

9 thoughts on “How can we stay open to both the suffering and the joy of life?”

  1. Becoming conscious of helping without cligning to it and not staying in the helper mode to embrace the following moment with the helpee is what I’m understanding from this. Just being aware of my level of awareness or lack of it, is a challenge. This reasonning takes it to another level well worth experiencing.

    • Not sure if it was from this same lecture or another, but he talked about the ideas of “helper” and “helpee” as creating suffering through the separateness. Does your left hand give to the right? They are the same body.

      Embracing the following moment doesn’t seem to fit his entire “Be Here Now” meditation. Its not the following moment to embrace, its this moment.

  2. We ( my partner & I) are struggling to cope / accept…others that “trash, disrespect, destroy, mis-use, abuse” our beautiful planet. We really struggle to “be in the world but not of it !
    We get upset and angry at others for their lack of respect for other humans, animals and the Earth.
    We struggle with the greed and materialism.
    So .. basically.. we struggle daily … we often hide away in our own little world, and limit our interactions. But, then feel we are not helping to make things better ???
    We have tried many methods to cope. But always return to the feelings of sadness and frustration.
    We try to be an example and inspire with how we live ( not preach or belittle or condemn ) but sadly, 90% of humans don’t notice, don’t care & don’t want to live ethically, sustainable or lovingly 🙏🏼 Any advice … love Lisa x

    • Lisa,

      I pick up litter when I go for walks. It’s only a few handfuls a walk, so I’m admittedly not going to solve our global pollution problem, but it’s not nothing (think globally, act locally!). And strangers occasionally smile at me or outright commend my behavior, so I do think that people notice, maybe more so than we realize. More importantly, when I’m walking with friends and they see me picking up litter, some of them then go out of their way to do the same, without any overt prompting by me. Are they also picking up litter when they are walking on their own? Who knows? But I see change happening and it’s encouraging.

      I think you’re right to choose leadership by example. All I can say is: keep it up! You say 90% of humans don’t notice, and if that’s true, you’re affecting 10% of people!! Even if some of those are already eco-friendly, it’s important for us to see others of like mind so that we don’t feel so alone.

      Thanks for sharing and caring, even when you seem to be inviting sadness and frustration! Smile at them, and they won’t come around so often (or so They say…).

      Much love!

    • When I engage / am present, bearing witness to animal abuse, climate change, Afghanistan, whatever it is, my nervous system suffers. It is just too much at this point, isn’t it? It doesn’t look like anyone replied to you, but I hear you!

  3. it’s a skill to be able to see the world as it is, work to improving the world around us and yet not succumb to selfish feelings of anger, frustration and judgement. be the change you wish to see in the world. what some see as greed and materialism, others see as enjoying the fruits of their efforts; perspective is subjective.

    eliminate judgement and end your ‘daily suffering’. 90% of people (they are people, not ‘humans’) go about their daily lives, taking care of their families as they think best – they can learn and improve (perhaps) but they do not gain from your judgement; nor do you.

    translation – get off your high horse, live your life and stop judging others…you’ll be much better off if you focus on yourself. realize that the air, water, earth is cleaner now that it was, all due to the increased focus on sustainability, recycling etc…

  4. What I’ve learned is not to be emotionally engaged in the outcome. Continue doing good and know that it’s best to encourage others by example. Understand that not everyone will pick up on it; we all have our understanding and karma unraveling at different speeds and at different times.

    Although judging others seems to be hardwired into us do-gooders, we can learn how to overcome it by seeing others as being on their own path. This may be a convoluted way of saying disengage from the outcome to be happier. Know that all is not necessarily what it should be, but more that all is what IS.

  5. That’s the pot calling the kettle black
    You state to get off your high horse and stop judging people and yet you are doing exactly the same thing maybe this isn’t the place for you

  6. I read one of these articles often, nearly every morning, and they have shown me lots of wisdom so far. I admire this article specifically because I personally have such a huge problem with shutting off my heart in unkind situations. Thank you for helping me this morning, Ram Dass.


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