The Horrible Beauty of Suffering

There are different strategies for coming into intimacy with The One that are appropriate for different people – different strokes for different folks.

Some people can sit and face a wall and empty their mind in Zen practice, and then know the fullness of the moment. Some people can’t do that. Some people are very active, they can’t sit, and Tai Chi is a beautiful form for them, of movement as a meditative practice. For many people, they lead with their emotional heart; the way they live is relational. For those people prayer, or contemplation, becomes a beautiful technique. It’s as if you have a beloved, and you are making love to the beloved, and it becomes more and more centered.

Prayer and meditation become the foreplay that brings you right to the place where orgasm occurs, where the merging occurs. So you use dualism to take you into non-dualism, right to the edge of it. The prayer is a form of dualism which is, in a way, separating yourself from yourself to pray to yourself.

The question then, is, what do you ask for in prayer?

See, I couldn’t ask for anything; I guess I could ask to be more aware or to hear more clearly, but even that isn’t it. How do I know whether I’m supposed to hear more clearly or not? The funny thing is, who I think I am thinks it knows the answer, but it doesn’t.

There is a line from a letter that I wrote to the parents of a young girl who was raped and murdered that I would like to share with you. It said, “Something in you dies when you bear the unbearable. In other words, you go beyond just the horror and pain of it because it takes you beyond it. You can’t bear it and it is only in the dark night of the soul that you’re prepared to see as God sees and to love as God loves.”

It’s the horrible beauty of the Universe and to realize that there is a wisdom inherent in it, and that wisdom includes suffering and that all suffering is not an error. Until you are resting in a place that understands that, it’s quite presumptuous to think you know best. I have watched in the work I do with people that are dying, where they suffer and suffer and suffer and if I could, as a human emotional heart, I would do everything I could to take away their suffering. It breaks my heart that they’re suffering and I watch as the suffering burns its way until they finally give up because the suffering is so great. I’ve watched as they give up, something emerges in their being that is so beautiful and so radiant and so spiritually innocent, that it’s like they meet a part of their being that has been hidden all their lives. It’s like an egg being cracked open.

It happened with my step-mother, Phyllis, as she was dying we went through a period where she was in pain, and willful and tough. Then it cracked, and the moment it cracked, what came forth was somebody so radiantly beautiful that it blew her mind even, and she and I were just together in this incredible grace right to the end. Now, I looked at that with horror and with beauty. I would have taken away all that suffering if I could, because I really loved her. I didn’t want her to suffer from my human part, and at the same moment, when I looked at her from a spiritual point of view, it was that very suffering which had forced that cracking open, which had brought her being through.

Now, am I to say that suffering stunk, or was it good? The horrible beauty is that suffering is grace and suffering stinks. Until you can stand right in the balance point and see both of those, what are you going to pray for? Do you hear the predicament? Do you hear where you are praying from? You are essentially saying, “I want it different, because I can’t stand it the way it is.”

Once you see the way it is and just see it fully, you won’t really wish to change it. You may want to understand it, but you won’t want to change it. It’s just the horrible beauty of suffering.


-Ram Dass


Photo via Flickr

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