Acknowledging Our Suffering

“If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill… if you can always find contentment just where you are… you are probably a dog.”

 We all laugh because we know it’s true. 

We get angry, jealous, sad, and anxious. 

We don’t choose it. If someone gave us a menu of things to feel, we wouldn’t say, “I’ll take the envy and a little bit of resentment.” It just comes. It is an inevitable part of being human. The question is, how do we meet it? 

First, we must acknowledge that there is pain and struggle in every human life.

But that is not so easy; we are taught to deny, resist, and turn away. We are continually admonished: Be happy, be loving. We are surrounded by people smiling down on us from billboards, out of TV screens, and in our Facebook feed. Our whole body receives the message that there is something wrong with you if you can’t be happy. The world is telling us to buck up—and if we can’t be upbeat, to shrivel in shame and humiliation.

 Here we are with all this pain that we’re not supposed to have. So, what do we do with it? 

Proliferation – The “Add-Ons”

Most of us make it worse. If we have pain in our body, we start thinking, “It’s going to last forever.” “It’s going to get worse.” “I won’t be able to work.” “I’ll lose my job!”

 Or, if it’s emotional pain, we might anticipate that this looming emotional state will become unbearable; it might come out of nowhere, unexpectedly. Maybe we have anxiety in social situations, so we quit going to parties; then the fear expands, and we quit going to the mall, and then eventually, we quit going out at all.

These are what we call the “add-ons.” It’s not the original pain that is tearing our lives apart; it’s the suffering we are adding to it. This has been called the imperialistic tendency of the mind. Our mind gives us a black and white story: It’s always been this way, it will always be this way, we’ll never… You get the idea.

Are we stuck?

Many wise teachers tell us no, that our salvation doesn’t lie in eliminating the difficult, but by learning to relate to all of our experiences—good, bad, and neutral—in a new way. That the answer is to be with our experience with a quality of awareness that allows us to meet each moment with an open heart and mind, no matter what the circumstance.

This is the gift of Mindfulness. Mindful awareness creates a spacious container where we can meet our pain as it is, without believing that it is all there is. Mindfulness lets us know that in the darkest day, there are still moments of light. 

Mindfulness is a clear and clean connection to what is going on. We’re more balanced; we don’t try to push it away, and we don’t get lost in it. It allows us to see possibilities. 

Or, as the poet Rilke wrote, “…perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

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