Artwork by Martin B
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.
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