Monday, February 13, 2012

Feel the Burn?

"The tendency to run away from suffering is there in every one of us.  We think that by seeking pleasure we'll avoid suffering.  But this doesn't work.  It stunts our growth and our happiness.  Happiness isn't possible without understanding, compassion, and love.  And love is not possible if we don't understand our suffering and the other person's suffering.

Getting in touch with suffering will help us cultivate compassion and love. Without understanding and love, we can't be happy, and we can't make other people happy.  We all have the seeds of compassion, forgiveness, joy, and nonfear in us.  If we're constantly trying to avoid suffering, there is no way for these seeds to grow."

- Thich Nhat Hahn, Your True Home

This sentiment is one that is echoed many times by meditation philosophers and wise learned folks from different faiths.  Feel the pain, don't run away.  Forget the tylenol, just breathe and notice and observe and feel it all.

Eh, I'm not so sure.  For one, pain and suffering are not really fun.  We don't run towards the bad stuff, thinking it will shape our characters, guide the direction of our lives and build character.  We make life decisions based on what will make us happy, keep us (and our families) safe, and most successful.

On some level, I agree with this notion that you cannot truly cultivate compassion for others without an understanding of suffering.  We all suffer in some way, small or large, be it insecurities or abuse or illness, we have choices to make in the ways we process our pain.  Today I'm thinking about the ways I try to avoid it or make the unpleasantness go away.  I distract myself most days, with busywork, concentrating mental energy on something outside of myself.  If I can't sleep at night, I read a book or listen to guided imagery, rather than be left alone with my thoughts.

I'm not a monk.  I do not expect myself to be devoted to thoughts of my own suffering and that of others.  But it is interesting to think that without allowing myself to feel sad, I don't allow myself happiness either.

As a parent, I struggle with this conflict often:  clearly, a child needs to experience difficulties in order to learn how to problem solve, to learn compassion and empathy and to be able to identify and express feelings.  But I don't want him to be hurt or suffer.  I want to protect him from this mean world and all of its unpredictability in a lovely little bubble.

Then there's this other nagging practicality:  pain is often a symptom.  When our bodies feel physical pain, it is a message being sent that there is a problem lurking under the surface that requires attention.  We are supposed to find a way to detect the problem, which will in turn, resolve the pain.  Right?  I'm not sure that just sitting in my armchair, observing my discomfort, is always in our best interests.

What do you think?

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