Follow your Suffering
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.”Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Over the past few months I have been following several blogs offering information about ‘living one’s passion’. I’m always curious to learn something new from fellow seekers and their experience. Here’s what I learned in a nutshell:
There is no quick or easy way from living a disenchanted life to making your dreams come true. Even Cinderella has to endure a lot of suffering before she gets her prince and lives happily ever after.
Having said that, it doesn’t have to be all bad, painful, and hard. Making the experience of life easier for ourselves is always within reach.
The funny thing is that passion and suffering are very close relatives. In contemporary blogging language we associate passion with excitement, fulfilment, romantic love, a perfect life etc.
The Urban Dictionary defines passion as “when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialized into action to put as much heart, mind, body and soul into something as is possible.”
Occasionally we read about ‘crimes of passion’ in the papers, when someone killed a lover out of jealousy. Or we say someone ‘flew into a passion’ when they got very angry. Here the implication is that passion can cause suffering. It shows the destructive side of passion.
Originally the word passion comes from Latin and means suffering. In Christian theology Passion still means the suffering of Christ, a saint or a martyr.
Passion and suffering are like twin souls. Their inseparable intimate relationship goes back a long way, and somehow we feel that when we don’t manage to ‘live our passion’ we can’t fully live at all.
Follow your Suffering
“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”Marcel Proust
In the Buddhist worldview human life is inseparably connected with suffering. The suffering is within us. We are born with it, it’s in our culture, in our collective Consciousness.
However, this doesn’t mean we are stuck with it forever. The Buddhist ‘science of the mind’ has demonstrated for centuries that there is a viable way out.
To the Western mind the story at the cradle of Buddhism reads like a fairy tale in reverse.
Siddharta Gautama was a prince who had everything he could possibly wish for. He was born into the happily ever after world – or at least an illusion of it – sheltered, pampered and shielded from all hardships of ‘real life’. But one day he slipped out of the golden cage. That’s when he encountered all the pain and suffering of fellow humans on the other side of the palace walls.
This experience kindled a fire in him. The young prince followed his passion to relieve human suffering. In the process of his journey Siddharta was transformed into the Buddha, while passion and suffering were transformed into compassion and wisdom.
If Siddharta lived now, he might write a blog about “How to Follow your Suffering” and reach fulfilment, wisdom, and serenity.
These might be some vital 8 steps in the right direction.
1. “Attachment is the root of suffering.” – The Buddha — You want to experience less suffering? Start by identifying the root of your suffering. If you can’t identify the root of your suffering find out what you are attached to. If you’re not sure what you’re attached to, become aware of whatever makes you suffer.
2. “Ardently do today what must be done.” – The Buddha — Even though your goal may be high and seem out of reach, remember that all you need to do is what you can do today. Doing your best each day is good enough.
3. “Meditate… do not delay, lest you later regret it.” – The Buddha — Start practicing some form of mediation. There are many ways to meditate, and it doesn’t really matter what kind it is. It helps you connect more deeply with yourself. Once you get the hang of it and experience the benefits, you’ll be asking yourself ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’
4. “A disciplined mind brings happiness.” – The Buddha — Cultivate some form of mental discipline. Witnessing your thoughts and feelings is a good place to start. A lot of suffering is associated with the feeling of not being in control of your life. If you want to experience more control over yourself and your life, start by witnessing what’s going on inside yourself.
5. “You yourself must strive, the Buddhas only point the way.” – The Buddha — Don’t expect any teacher or path to do the work for you. They can only point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you.
6. “Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let them resolutely pursue a solitary course.” – The Buddha — If there is nobody to support or accompany you, don’t let that stop you. The journey through and out of suffering is always a solitary one. But the world is full of fellow travellers on this journey. You’ll meet them when the time is right.
7. “We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by loving kindness.” – The Buddha — Freedom from suffering can only be reached by developing and cultivating loving kindness. This includes a kind and loving attitude towards yourself and your own suffering. Keep practicing loving kindness. The more you practice the better you get at it.
8. “Drop by drop the water pot is filled.” – The Buddha — Don’t expect quick results. Be patient. This ‘journey’ is really a process of growth and transformation. Give yourself all the time, space, and attention you need.
“Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him.”Simone Weil
The positive thinking movement over the past 100 + years has nurtured the impression that it is dangerous to give attention to anything negative. Suffering is painful, nobody in their right mind chooses to suffer, and it is mostly experienced as negative. The last thing we want to do is increase our suffering by thinking about it.
Yet various pioneering thinkers – among them the German author Jean Gebser, French philosopher Jacques Ellul, American physicist and psychologist Arnold Mindell, American Buddhist teacher Tsultrim Allione, American philosopher Ken Wilber – have discovered that if you give the right kind of attention to your own suffering, then the experience of pain and hardship can spontaneously dissolve.
The principle is really quite simple. Take for example a small child who has hurt himself. What are you going to do with that child?
Do you tell him not to be such a wimp, to pull himself together, that ‘men don’t cry’?
Or do you take this little one into your arms, listen to his pain, and embrace him in his suffering with love and compassion?
Listen to your Instinct, put yourself into the skin of the child, and you will instantly know which response you would prefer.
Compassion and loving kindness soothes human suffering and spontaneously transforms it. Resistance and rejection hardens our suffering. It adds insult to injury, makes the pain worse, and increases shame and fear.
In past generations parents believed that it was important to ‘toughen’ their children and not respond to their suffering with loving kindness. Now most parents know that being kind and understanding towards their children’s suffering makes them internally much stronger and resilient. It teaches them to handle their own suffering better themselves later in life.
Even though we understand this principle with regards to our children, we haven’t quite registered yet that exactly the same principle applies to our own suffering.
Rejecting our own suffering – i.e. our negative experiences and all the components it consists of – is completely illogical, counterintuitive, counterproductive, and it has a bad track record. It is most likely the result of our conditioning and the actions of our well-meaning ancestors who thought they’d be doing us a favour by making us ‘tough and resilient’ so that we could cope with the ‘harsh world out there’.
Every rejection of our own suffering reinforces our negative experience of life.
Every experience of human suffering is essentially the same as a child in pain. The American dancer Isadora Duncan once said “so long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world.”
In the Buddhist mind this applies to all humans and all living beings. As long as any humans and any living creatures are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in the world.
It can also be applied to ourselves and our own microcosm. As long as you don’t meet your own suffering with loving kindness and compassion there is no true love in your inner world.
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