This chapter on Suffering was another HUGE chapter where I feel like every single page had something underlined and was dog-eared.   And again, it was very appropriate for what is going on in my life, and maybe even in your life.

In Western Civilization, we tend to push suffering aside.  We put it in nice neat little boxes that we can go visit when we have to, but other than that, “out of sight is out of mind.”  We put our elders in retirement homes or nursing homes.  We put our homeless in the downtown areas or “bad parts of town” away from our pretty little suburbs.

The thing is, our natural compassion jumps into action when we see suffering.  Like with Haiti.  Millions of people were affected by this earth quake.  The pictures we see are horrific.  And instantly, the world jumps into action.  Some people jump into action with the “gotta do” mentality.  It’s an instinct, a gut response.  But is this a reaction because we honestly want to help those hurting, or is it because we, ourselves, are hurting from watching this pain on TV and to  make ourselves feel better, we “gotta do” something to make it better (which helps US feel better).  I think sometimes this “gotta do” response is not really well thought and/or planned out well (like with Laura Silsby and her group who went to Haiti to rescue orphans).  I believe their heart was in the right place.  They wanted to help.  But is it possible they saw the pain and felt the pain themselves and went into “gotta do” mode and in turn made things worse or caused more harm?

My old teacher/mentor (James Arthur Ray) is in jail on 3 counts of manslaughter.  To many of us, who love/d this man, it was quite painful to see him do the “perp walk” and see his mug shot.  It’s our natural compassion at work.  No one wants to see someone they care for in pain (even if they might have done something to deserve it)….like a child who did something wrong, and you know they have to suffer the consequences.  It hurts to watch them learn their lessons, but you know they have to do it.  Well, with James and his students, it’s the same way.  I am not defending him in the slightest, yet for his students/fans/followers (even the ones who are completely against him now) there was a twinge of pain seeing him like this.  But SOME of his still avid fans and followers are talking about raising money for his bail.  Why?  James is in jail because the authorities believe they have enough evidence of wrong doing.  This is James’ process to go through.  He needs to be there to learn his lessons, at least for now.  Wanting to raise bail isn’t about freeing him, my guess is that it is about helping his followers feel better about the situation…so they wouldn’t be faced with the pain.

Then I think about being a mom.  My daughter is 10 years old, in 4th grade, and being bullied.  She has been bullied for most of her years in elementary school.  It is so painful to watch.  This year, however, it has just gotten to be entirely too much.  She doesn’t have any friends she believes she can count on (in school).  She comes home from school crying most days.  She begs me to change schools.  As a mom, seeing her suffering, it would be easy to whisk her away to another school.  Would that be the most beneficial for her?  No, but it would stop the suffering at least short term.  It would stop the pain *I* feel.  It HURTS seeing her hurting.  Yet, I know from my childhood bullying experience, that she needs to learn to stand up for herself.  And that is what I have encouraged her to do.  Today, she is working with the counselor to face her bullies in a positive, safe way.  I am scared for my daughter.  She is scared.  Yet, I know this is a lesson she needs to learn, and as a mom (as a helper), it is my job to support that (regardless of how much I want to put a band-aid on it and move her away from this.)

The thing I believe about suffering is that we are all here on this planet to learn and grow.  I believe that we agreed to certain lessons before we ever took our first breaths for this life time.  I believe that if we don’t learn these lessons, we will keep going through this suffering until we do.  And it is our job as helpers/parents/friend/community service members/health care workers to gently support those we are  helping get through these lessons of life.

It can be hard for us to sit with another human being in their time of need.  Our natural compassion kicks in, and right behind it…fear.  Our fear kicks in and wants us to walk away, or choose a certain amount of time to work AT making something better, or we start labeling the suffering as a means of separating us from the person who is doing the suffering.  Yet, if we could just allow the compassion to flow and sit with that person who is suffering and listen to them and be open to them, we will learn what they truly need and how we can make the most difference in their life during that moment in time.

For a homeless person, it may not be just handing them money.  For them, it may be looking them in the eye and asking what their name is and listening to their story..helping them to feel visible and real.  To the people in Haiti, it may not be taking their children away, but rather getting dirty and helping them clean up a disaster and build them a new home to live in (is this easy?  Is this a short time table? takes alot more of YOU than you may be willing to give, but it may be exactly what they NEED.)  For James Arthur Ray, it may be letting him sit it out in Jail until his court date (I don’t know this, but its possible.)  For my daughter, it’s about getting in touch with my pain from childhood bullying or when I was abused or raped; it’s about remembering that and what helped ME through that and what I learned.  By doing this, it opens me up and allows me to feel her pain and understand where she is coming from, and only then can I be the loving support that she needs.

By connecting with our own pain and fears, we are able to to truly be of service to the people we want to help.  That is where we need to be.  If we can’t feel our own pain and just start moving to help those who we see hurting, we are not really coming from a place of service, rather we are operating from a place that is truly about US not them.

I will leave you with a couple of quotes from this chapter:

“So I sought to be able to enter into the world of the sick, and to live with the mystery of suffering.  I saw that I had to enter into my experience of pain, and to face up to it, and to allow myself to be changed by it.”

“We discovered that the more we opened to the pain of others, the more we found ourselves in their service.”

The next time we feel that natural compassion to help someone, let’s remember to let go of our fear, sit back and feel our own pain allowing us to open up and feel theirs…this is the space from which we can make the most difference.