How do we learn to live with our pain and suffering as we live our lives?
Many of us carry a chip on our shoulder because we feel we’ve been mistreated by others. Many hold onto resentments as a justification for feeling that we have been victimized by life’s circumstances.
Do we ever wonder what pain the person who just walked past us, or is sitting across from us on the bus or train, has experienced in their lives? And, how many of us relate to ourselves and others with empathy and compassion because of the pain and suffering we have each been exposed to in life?
Whose pain hurts the most?
The little boy whose father beats him weekly in an alcoholic rage…
the little girl whose stepfather sexually molests her while her mother is away working in the evenings?
Does the child who feels inferior because she thinks her brother is her parents’ favourite hurt any less than the little boy who feels fat and ugly, or who hates his freckles or braces or glasses and feels stupid in school because reading is difficult or feels foolish because he’s not good at sports?
Do the Native Americans whose lands were taken away as was their way of life by the United States Government hurt more than the Japanese Americans who were relocated to internment camps during World War II because of their being Japanese…
the Africans who were brought to the colonies, sold into slavery, and whose descendants continue to experience racism into the present.
What about the pain of those, from different cultural heritages, religious beliefs, sexual orientations who have been marginalized by others? What about the pain of being uneducated, unemployed, under employed, homeless, or chronically ill? What about the pain of those veterans who are returning home who have been wounded physically and emotionally, many of whom have been treated as the collateral damage of war?
Pain and suffering are aspects of life that we all share
At some point, we have all attempted to understand our interactions with people and life experiences. In our attempt to make sense out of our experiences, we have created storylines about what we have experienced.
Many of our storylines have led to conclusions about ourselves that are not true and have given voice to our Inner Critic who continually tells us that we are not as we should be, or are not good enough or loveable or worthwhile. Our shame and guilt comes from this negative voice that resides within us.
Adyashanti wrote: “Suffering occurs when we believe in a thought that is at odds with what is, what was or what will be.”
We need to acknowledge that our experiences do not define who we are, regardless of what our Inner Critic might say.
We are not our storylines. We are not our thoughts.
Who we are is the awareness that witnesses and observes our storylines and reactive thoughts. Eckhart Tolle wrote: “You are that awareness disguised as a person.”
Our pain and suffering can make us untrusting in relating with others, always watchful and anticipating the worst. However, pain’s ultimate gift is for us to discover our underlying unmet needs and our capacity for compassion and human kindness.
The mom who was abused as a child, recognizing the fear and pain that she faced as a child, refusing to inflict it on her son or daughter. The man who was not seen for who he was by his parents, knowing the pain of not being acknowledged for who he is, being able to relate with empathy and loving-kindness to others who are being discriminated against due to skin colour, race, sex, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
It doesn’t matter whether we are male or female, young or old. Our skin colour doesn’t matter, neither does our cultural background, sexual orientation or our religious beliefs.
We are all born and we will all someday die.
We all feel guilt and shame.
We all experience fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and loneliness.
We all crave loving, trusting attachment with others.
As Toni Morrison has written: “We all belong to one Human Race.”
We all belong to the one Human Family.
We are all equal in our experience of suffering.
We all have the capacity to express compassion and human kindness. And, more simply, we each have the capacity to give one another a smile and a hug.
by Jim Farwell