just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Where Do You Meet Suffering

Published on 19/11/16
by randy


It’s of human nature to suffer. No one escapes it, yet we often carry the illusion that others may suffer less. This can lead us to a victim mentality. From here, things go downhill. Our work is to allow the light to enter through the crack in the darkness. When we can let go our attachment to the wound we can grow our healing. It’s why we’re so inspired by those who’ve suffered such deep wounding, only to show us how to live with more vitality.

Today, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter are in Paris, one year after the night club terrorist attack. Their love meets the suffering of this special town. For several years after 9/11, I attended a conference in New York City called “Fearless”. It addressed how we move through such deep wounding and I felt extremely honored and privileged to be with those who had directly experienced such horrific events. I visited New Orleans a couple years after Katrina and was amazed at the power of music in revitalizing a community we all thought would die. I played my horn at Virginia Tech in a healing ceremony one week after the mass shootings. I have a neighbor who witnessed my cracking moment upon learning of a son’s life threatening disease. He met me in silence. Recently, we experienced an election of extreme division. He was on one side and I on the other. We don’t know who really lost, but again, he’s willing to meet my deep suffering. We’ve had friends we’ve hospiced through painful deaths as we met their suffering and inevitable release. And I’ve had friends where it was too much to meet their suffering. Maybe you’re one of them, and I apologize. I work with prisoners to hopefully alleviate some of their suffering. We teach them how to put attention to the gift of the present moment by focusing on breath and stillness. Many return week after week and report on a more successful week with reduced suffering. Many don’t return.

I know my attachment to negative emotions seldom, if ever, helps. And I’ve seen how a small light can fill a room of darkness. Our spiritual mandate seems to be that of joy, of no complaining or blaming. Yet, our mind is restless. When faced with ‘this’, we want ‘that’. One of my greatest life challenges is to say, “I’m here. I want to be here.” Yet, in the face of suffering, there’s a continual thought of “I want to be back there”, “I want it different”, “I’m afraid about what’s coming”, etc. We’ve had human icons who’ve faced suffering with capacity I can’t begin to imagine. These Mother Teresa’s show us what’s possible. Yet, even she knew when the extreme suffering she encountered grew negative emotion it was time for rest. My wife has worked as a hospice volunteer, sitting with imminent death. The desire to fix is no more. There’s simply a desire to ‘be’ with the other, receiving the other’s transition as our own transition. The most eloquent example of holding joy in the face of extreme suffering comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany. One prisoner was puzzled by Bonhoeffer’s ability to hold a smile in the face of such atrocity. Finally he asked him how he could manage to do this. Bonhoeffer pointed to the guard assigned with leading people to the gas chambers and said, “I’m filled with gratitude that I’m not him”. Finding the gift in the given is what gives us strength to move, to hold our center, to meet one another’s suffering beyond the realm of our mind’s division.

The ultimate skill is to deepen our compassion for each other. Can we meet one another’s suffering in full presence? Where do we lose our center? Where do we find refuge in gaining strength to deepen our courage in this work? It’s essentially a question of, “Where do we show up and do our best?”

That's it. What Next?

Please leave your comment so we know what you think about this article. Trackback URL: Where Do You Meet Suffering.