Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Suffering Leads to Grace

--by Ram Dass (Sep 22, 2014)

For most people, when you say that suffering is Grace it seems off the wall to them. And we’ve got to deal now with our own suffering and other people’s suffering. That is a distinction that is very real, because we may see our suffering as Grace but it’s quite a different thing to look at somebody else’s suffering and say it’s Grace.

Grace is something that an individual can see about their own suffering and then use it to their advantage. It is not something that can be a rationalization for allowing another human being to suffer. You have to listen to the level at which another person is suffering. When somebody is hungry, you give them food. As my guru used to say, God comes to the hungry person in the form of food. You give them food and then when they’ve had their belly filled then they may be interested in questions about God. To give somebody a dharma lecture when they are hungry is just inappropriate methodology in terms of ending suffering.

So, the hard answer for seeing suffering as Grace, and this is a stinker really, is that you have to have consumed suffering into yourself. There is a tendency in us to find suffering aversive, and so we want to distance ourselves from it. Like if you have a toothache, it becomes that toothache. It’s not us any more. It’s that tooth. And so if there are suffering people, you want to look at them on television or meet them but then keep a distance from them. Because you are afraid you will drown in it. You are afraid you will drown in a pain that will be unbearable. And the fact of the matter is you have to. You finally have to. Because if you close your heart down to anything in the universe, it’s got you. You are then at the mercy of suffering.

To have finally dealt with suffering is to consume it into yourself. Which means you have to, with eyes open, be able to keep your heart open in hell. You have to look at what is, and say Yea, Right. And what it involves is bearing the unbearable. And in a way, who you *think* you are can’t do it. Who you *really* are, can do it. So that who you think you are has to die in the process.

Like, right now, I am counseling a couple who went to a movie and when they came home their house had burned down and their three children had burned to death. Three, five and seven. And she is Mexican Catholic and he is a Caucasian Protestant. And they are responding entirely different to it. She is going in to deep spiritual experiences and talking with the children and he is full of denial and anger and feelings of inadequacy. In a way, that situation is so unbearable and you wouldn’t ever lay that on another human being but there it is. What may happen is she may come out of this a much deeper, spiritual and a more profound, more evolved person. And he, because the way he dealt with it was through denial, may end up contracted and tight because he couldn’t embrace the suffering. He couldn’t go towards it. He pushed it away in order to preserve his sanity.

There is a process of suffering that requires you to die into it or to give up your image of yourself. When you say, "I can’t bear it", who is that? In India, they talk about their saints as being the living dead, because they have died to who they thought they were. And they talk about the saints for whom all people are their children, so that everybody that is dying is their child dying. In that way, suffering leads to Grace.

Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, a prominent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr. Timothy Leary. He continued his psychedelic research until that fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since. Ram Dass’ spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping to free them from their bonds as he works through his own.

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On Sep 18, 2014 Smita wrote:

Reading this passage marks the *3rd time* Ram Dass has shown up in something I've read...just in the last 36 hours! Important message for me, I think. :)

Several nights ago, I started reading the book "Broken Open" by Elizabeth's a beautiful book and I recommend it highly. Just last night I read the chapter she writes on Ram Dass. She knew him before his stroke, and also after it. In the book, she shares her experience of how Ram Dass' soul really shined through after his stroke, and his personality fell into the background; whereas before the stroke, his personality was more in charge (even though the soul was there all along). I think our soul has an opportunity to shine through even more when we embrace our pain with love and kindness, humble ourselves to it, welcome it and invite it in, see it as grace. As I see it, that's certainly what Ram Dass has done in the wake of his stroke.

I want to say a little more about this book I'm reading by Elizabeth Lesser. Not only does she so openly and vulnerably share about the pain she's experienced in her life, she tells many stories of people who allowed themselves to feel pain in a way that brought them closer to their hearts. And how life opens so beautifully when we do this, bringing us closer to our own humanity. She also tells stories of people who have pretended that everything in their life was fine, even when it wasn't, and how they almost (or actually) lost their lives as a result.

Recently, in my own life, I've been experiencing these waves of suffering once again. It caught me by surprise...sort of like, "oh, you're back?" And for a while I've just wanted it to go away. Luckily, I remembered from past experiences that I will contract and suffer even more if I turn away from it. So I've noticed that I have 2 options. I can fall asleep to the pain and numb myself to it. Or, I can stay vibrantly alive and awake to it, turn towards it, allow myself to feel completely, and let it break my heart wide open. I've tried both ways, and I've found that the latter way is much more energizing and life-affirming. Right now, I see this as the most important work I can do.

"And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." ~Anais Nin

On Sep 19, 2014 Denis Khan wrote:
 Mother Theresa endured 50 years of Darkness and Depression. She reportedly asked for exorcism before her death. Yet she lovingly served us till the end.
"Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house...let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile." --Mother Teresa

On Sep 23, 2014 Mohan Mahtani wrote:

 I think there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain, whether physical, mental or emotional is just that. It only becomes suffering when it is judged as being bad. Great people treat pain for what it is and don't make it right or wrong. They take responsibility for it, knowing that they are not victims and, at some level, they have called it to themselves. Such people (Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela, Jesus The Christ) experienced pain without suffering because they simply and knowingly, accepted it. They know that there are no villains in the world but only outcomes of thoughts. They accepted with grace what showed up in their lives and as a result impacted the lives of many millions of people whilst changing the course of human history. When we change our thoughts, we change of lives. It starts with thoughts of being responsible by accepting what shows up because that IS.      

On Sep 23, 2014 Jackie wrote:

 thankyou Smita. this book has come up a few times lately and I am now going to read it. the words you quote from Anais Nin are on my wall, beautfully lit by fairy lights! Today I awoke feeling lost and struggling. I accept those feelings as a call from my heart - stay with this, it is all part of your journey. Unfold..x

On Sep 23, 2014 Mordechaii wrote:

 Now I understand what it means in the Old Testament "don't turn away you eyes from someone who is suffering" !!!

On Sep 23, 2014 Annette wrote:

 Smita...........thank you for the reminder.  I needed that.  It's as if instead of merely experiencing the suffering and 'enjoying' the pity party, simultaneously one can observe oneself outside of her/his self.  Doing this puts things into a different perspective and for me, will also connect me to others that suffer without feeling too self-centered about it all.  Robert Frost said, "the best way out is always through" and I've taken that to  heart so I don't need to find escape by drowning my sorrows in booze/drugs.  And speaking of Anais Nin.......I've had this quote of hers attached to all my emails for years: "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."  Thanks for your words this morning.

On Sep 23, 2014 Rahul Varshney wrote:

Suffering is a byproduct of an adolescence delayed. In other words, pain is a natural part of growth. If we mature naturally, then the suffering is practically nill. We experience the growing pains of being a teen fully. If however, our development was arrested then the lessons of adulthood come later in life. I'm experiencing this now, at age 34. I have gained grace through my suffering, yes. However, I believe our purpose is then to turn around and share our experience with others to lessen their suffering. Premature death is something we can eliminate as a species, but this requires us innovating at our highest level. Put another way, in the garden of eden, was there any suffering? We must return to the Tree of Life.

On Sep 23, 2014 Mish wrote:

 Heavy.  We do the best we are capable of at our stages of evolvement.  When we can do better, we do.  To be the best  me I can be.

On Sep 23, 2014 david doane wrote:

 To suffer means to carry.  Suffer doesn't mean pain, it means our carrying of pain.  Pain is a given.  How we suffer pain is up to us.  I can suffer my pain efficiently or in a way that creates more and unnecessary pain.  I consume pain into myself by accepting it as part of my life and carrying it efficiently, not denying it.  I am to have and consume my pain, and not it have and consume me.  I am bigger than my pain.  The more severe the pain, the more difficult I assume it is to live that way.  I may find out some day -- I haven't yet been put to the extreme test.  Grace is the gift of growing.  When my dear friend died, the grace that loss helped me to find was that I am more than I realized and gave myself credit for.  I die to who I thought I was by being open, listening and seeing, being receptive and accepting, and allowing myself to let go and realize more of who I am.  I appreciate Ram Dass' saying that the people of India speak of their saints as being the living dead because they have died to who they thought they were -- that's profound. 

On Sep 23, 2014 Syd wrote:

 “Suffering Leads to Grace” is such an inspiration to me.  Suffering and pain constantly reacts in my subconscious and when I am not conscious of my suffering it will create this tormented consciousness.  Everything becomes this torment and everything is this unbearable reminder of my alienation from life.  Much of my unfinished work mocks me, my failure to love mocks me, my family mocks me, and this inability to have a purpose mocks me.  It is all because of my cell disease.  Maybe much of self-accusations have a basis in fact, but my self-absorption and self-indulgences makes the anguish even more real.  I know, to a real extent I responsible for bringing on my anguish on myself, which is why the self-accusations cuts so deeply.  The only way out is to do away with this tormented consciousness and I do this by denial of my truth. 

There have been many times innocent remarks will send my mind into schizophrenia.   I feel terrorized, the madman attacks, and then the insane paranoid delusions set in.  My mental connections go haywire, I start rocking back-an-forth, true craziness and my fears become consuming.  The stranger trying to console me becomes the policeman who has come to arrest me.  Fear becomes a life of its own.  My thoughts are uncontrollable, scaring me when I do not want to be scared.  My mind will race wildly and I become terrified of my fears because I cannot escape them since they originate with me.  My anger just burns. 

When I come out of one of these burning attacks, after both my body and my brain have splintered into a thousand pieces, I deteriorate into a state of emptiness.  I become isolated from my environment, from other people, and from my inner life --- from thinking feeling and doing.  My deep struggle between these various pairs of polar opposites: between identification with others and a rejection of them, between feelings and doing, between love and hate, is all this emptiness.  The ambivalence becomes so intense the evil will exclude the good.  Eventually, my suffering becomes this nothingness: nothing to identify with, nothing true, and nothing valuable in which I can believe in.  My fear becomes fulfilled and within this void feels this terrifying attraction to darkness.

There is a part of me that over identifies with my woundedness, with my sense of inner deficiency, and sometimes I make a lifestyle out of suffering.  It gives me something to do in my agitation and restless mind.  Yet other times I have caught myself in my emotional reactions and my belief in my deficiency, letting this raw material filter through my unconsciousness.  The moment becomes this opening, a moment of inspiration, like a catalyst shocking me into awareness.  This suffering compels me to choose to give it a meaning.  Giving a meaning to my suffering and pain, to give meaning to my experience, even my nothingness, creates me.  It feels like suffering is a positive force and I can sustain my awareness of myself here.  This place is to suffer and give meaning to it is a self that who transcends it.  The moment becomes the self and I fall into my faith, feeling my deep void.

I live in this complex and exhausting life.  Sometimes I refuse to make contact with anyone and even God because it is all an intolerable idea.  The horror and uncertainty of my own body is an enormous stumbling block.  Yet if I do not force everything to a conclusion, force my mind to seek order, my realistic faith can let the moment emerge spontaneously.  Faith becomes a “given” and I feel this inner Essence that cannot be lost or harmed.  Truly it is beyond beliefs, beyond doubts, learned procedures and the moment is not lost.  This place requires my soul, rather soul-making, and is this unselfconsciousness the moment just IS.  The act itself transcends the self-consciousness, and becomes this spontaneous quality of inspiration.  Faith itself becomes self-aware.  There is no place to hide, shocking awareness and the richest part of my consciousness life becomes outside of my control.

Faith in nothingness is like walking of the edge of the world.  It feels like suffering and emptiness, paradoxically, becomes the guide.  Divine awareness is discovered in death and becomes this value to which I submit.  My daily deaths creates this tension between conflicting sides, my suffering, and I have certain hostility here, so raw I do not feel it can be healed.  Hopelessness is strong and is a big trap, yet at the same time I have to move beyond my self-awareness and to let go of my trap in self-consciousness.  In this moment, the self is possessed both in suffering and in my physical breakdown of my own body.  There is this unshakable equanimity in the moment.  Suffering can truly be one with where I learn both self-possession and self-transcendence together and sometimes this profound center has mystical overtones.  When all is said and done, I wish we all could suffer together and allow this to be a gift to each other.  It is place transparency allows everything to pass through the consciousness, nothing “sticks” in the consciousness, and Essence is possessed.        

Just a side note, my body is soaking wet from the sweats and I feel deep exhaustion.  It is merely just this moment that is the source of everything and it becomes this inner Essence.  There is deep alienation in this place suffering and the gift is where the flat tire no longer needs to be fixed.  Essence is found in the suffering and becomes more than just an idea but a living experience.   Suffering is accepted and it can catalyze into shocking awareness and the moment is Essence.  There is no significant accomplishment here and the moment just IS, a shinning Void, where hopelessness and hope are held together and the stillness creates Divine awareness.

Your presence is deeply significant, a human being who suffers like me, and yet you are all a source of life, this Inner Essence that lets me touch my experiences and leap into the unknown.  Thank you!!!              

On Sep 23, 2014 Syd wrote:

 What you write is excellent and you are a powerful healing force David. Your faith and freedom is the source of life, where it appears the observer is the observed are One.  Thank you!

On Sep 23, 2014 Syd wrote:

 What you write is excellent and you are a powerful healing force David. Your faith and freedom is the source of life, where it appears the observer is the observed are One.  Thank you!  

This went to the wrong post so will try again.

On Sep 23, 2014 Syd wrote:

 Mish, thank you and will acknowledge you as my post to David went to you.  This place to "be" seems to paradoxically creates us and your best is the precious you.  

On Sep 23, 2014 david doane wrote:

 I am sad that you hurt as you do.  You and all that is and has been is responsible for your anguish -- not just you.  You are suffering anguish for all of us.  You seem to end your statement with some positiveness that has to do with being in the present -- being present is the medicine. 

On Sep 23, 2014 Always wrote:

 Grace is Heaven's automatic immune response to wounds of all varieties.
Thankful for this gift!  

On Sep 23, 2014 Always wrote:

 Syd, YOU are VERY BRAVE!  I admire your courage as you experience/ride this storm.  Satan is playing with you to be sure.  In the end, I want you on God's team.  I want you with me in Heaven one day.  By Grace, keep holding on!  

On Sep 24, 2014 Syd wrote:

Thanks David and I agree with you when you express “being present is the medicine.”  My being able to write helps me to be present to my experiences and seems to be medicine for me also.  Writing seems to make my unconscious impulses objective and helps me to let go of my suffering and even my bitterness.  When I am in union with the present moment it seems to bring the opposites together and it seems to offer this opening.  The opening is what allows me to let go of my tormented consciousness and this seems to be the opening to let go of my bitterness. 
My faith combined with my bitter faith, and at the same time letting go, creates this opening.  It is point I want to feel my bitterness and yet this letting go can draw on a Higher Level of consciousness.  My bitter faith and this place to let it go truly is grace within suffering.  Grace and suffering combined is difficult to describe.  It is just this sharp sense that perhaps grace is enough and is this leap of faith where suffering is raw, creating this opening to let go. 
This is all a strange language, letting go at the point of my suffering and bitterness, which creates this opening where faith draws on my hidden depths.         

On Sep 24, 2014 Syd wrote:

Always, thank you deeply and yes this inner life has big traps in it.  When everything becomes this intolerable idea, even God, I can literally throw out the baby with the bathwater: faith, hope, love, and even kindness.  Sometimes I get attached to my torment and then I get cynical about all my relationships.  So it seems when my faith becomes courage, this courage becomes my support.  Also this ground is touchy because everything is intense and my anger just burns.  I do not like this vulnerable point.  Maybe the gift is I am truly not that different from anyone else nor am I an outsider, as we all struggle with faith within suffering.          

On Sep 24, 2014 Jyoti wrote:

The idea of consuming suffering into oneself is a fresh one. I have never thought of it that way before. Suffering has consumed me for parts of my life. I have always surrendered to it because in my experience, striving against it does not work. The surrender induced state of paralytic catharsis is restorative even it takes it own time. I accept the enforced break from the constant striving of the other times. Stasis leads to a blossoming of creativity. I have liked the idea from an earlier reading here that pain is given but suffering is optional. Pouring suffering into a creativity may be linked to consuming suffering into oneself - maybe.   

On Sep 24, 2014 Amy wrote:

 Syd, tomorrow morning I will offer prayer for you at mass.  (Hope you are a believer, too!). Jesus in me, you, us . . . He is capable of amazing things . . . We simply need to be open.  (An "opening" allows the bad stuff to escape and allows the Good Stuff to enter in!). Amen Syd!

On Sep 24, 2014 Syd wrote:

Yes, Amy, I believe in Christ.  This belief does not seem to resolve my points of physical and mental chaos, and yet my belief or faith does offer these moments when I fall into serenity.   This serenity feels natural and helps me to accept my life as it is.  This serenity is teaching me this opening and it is starting to allow my energy or lack of it to flow.  This opening and serenity is also starting to create this letting go, like transcendence, and faith is becoming letting go.  This letting go, specifically as faith, appears to allow the paradoxes of life become One.  I am just beginning to fall into this new faith and there are points I am not separate from anything, union.  
Thanks for joining me in your prayers in this unfolding process.   

On Sep 27, 2014 Akshay Sadana,NJ (New Jersey) wrote:

 Suffering is always painful, it is well said that the frog under Harrow ( Plow ) only knows the pain. Pain of suffering is hard to define and you get only one thing out of it- that is concentration towards God.
In normal condition while you are praying  the God a small thing will distract your attention but when you  are suffering your prayers will not be disturbed even by big noise or  other irritating factors. So the pain give us the real concentration towards the god.

According to the philosophy of "Bhagwad Geeta"; - What ever we are facing at the moment is the result of our previous "Karma"  so what is happening has to happen, and it will happen, it can not be changed as it is the fruit of our previous Karmas,

Now when you have take the fruit of your old Karmas and your attention is on god and you are praying him with sincere concentration, the time to come will have the effect of this prayer so you are bound to get a better deal for your Karmas from the God, which you could never have been able to get without suffering at present. and praying the god with the concentration you got after having suffered and undergone through the pain.

So it is not with me but every one The suffering gives the grace.

On Sep 30, 2014 Paul wrote:

Hello and thank you for the questions: To have "finally dealt with suffering" is a statement that is so far off for me that I cannot relate to it. I hear many people use terms, and have stories about "their darkest hour" etc. Suffering is suffering and developing a skillful effort around it is a process, a training, a commitment.

A vast majority of us have not had this "finally dealt with". Though perhaps intellectually it sounds nice. Finally, in this case (to me at least) means complete liberation and having transcended the painful reactions associated with conditional suffering.

In terms of consuming into ourselves, this can be very tricky and I would not recommend putting any more on us than is necessary. Suffering is suffering and if you see suffering as grace then you see suffering as grace, but suffering is suffering, it is not grace otherwise the word suffering would instead be defined as grace. I feel when we learn more about this suffering we are not afraid to call it what it is. It is suffering and there is nothing wrong with it. It is a normal part of this human existence and we need not rename it.

Many stories can be shared, but every time suffering arises I go back to my practice of Anapana/Vipassana and come to see the transient nature of this suffering. It is not grace. it is work, and it works. It is skillful effort and the results are bound to come. But I don't know about grace other than to relate it to suffering, It comes and it goes.

When we are able to see the changing nature of things then our mind stops playing these silly games of attachment, aversion, etc. This is a type of death to the habitual tendencies of the mind, the personality. But were we really ever living, having been slave to this? I think not. So we learn how to live, how to become alive.  

On Sep 30, 2014 Rahul Varshney wrote:

 Well said. I believe those of us trapped by our karma, once freed of this karma, can say with faith, "Through God's grace I was saved from my eternal suffering." This is the catharsis we experience after quitting (or even being fired) from an abusive job. Or when an abusive relationship truly comes to an end. For others it might be doing yoga for the first time and feeling a respite from a food addiction. Or it can simply be finding the serenity of the intuitive faculty through mindful meditation for the first time.

All this being said, we should not "encourage" suffering. I find often in spiritual circles the "master" or "guru" believes that since he/she suffered, his/her disciple should too. I am guilty of this as a parent when I refuse to take the time to plan out my son's day. I leave things to chance, and then when he inevitably misbehaves because the environment was incorrect to begin with, I start snapping at him, and somehow I try to say to my inner self, "Well this is building character." No it is not! It is simply a reflection that I have not properly dealt with my anger and letting the power or "rush" one gets with procrastination keep me in ignorance.

Our dharma is to liberate the world from karma. "The Truth shall set us free!"

On Sep 30, 2014 Rahul Varshney wrote:

Also if one reads Ram Dass' book, he actually talks about being beaten by a monk with sticks. Ram Dass was a white male of Jewish ethnicity. He sat himself down at the feet of spiritual brown men only to be beaten by them. This gave me pause as someone who has been in a verbally abusive environment both at work and in the home. I've learned a lot from Ram Dass but collectively we can surely do better.

The main lesson of all these gurus is to live truthfully and actively. Depression, anxiety, stress are rooted in a lack of spirituality. Some days I am more spiritual than others. Here's to a day when spirituality and science can be respected hand in hand. #peace

On Oct 2, 2014 Adolfo wrote:

 suffering has given me that compassion for other human beings that I was maybe lacking! Now I "see" other people suffering and I feel lucky that ALL my suffering is very little "compared" to theirs...In this way I express empathy and HOPE that they feel it

On Oct 2, 2014 a sister wrote:

 Amen, Adolfo!

On Oct 3, 2014 adolfo wrote:

 i am ...finally GRATEFUL ...for what I am going through

On Oct 3, 2014 Thank you! wrote:

Amen, Rahul.  This is truth. 

On Nov 4, 2014 indian wrote:

 How can suffering lead to grace...??? The whole of humanity has been suffering for ages without ant exception, and the grace is totally lost... there is just no grace what so ever. If what Ram dass say is true the world would have been full of grace... the fact is world is devoid of any grace so far as humanbeings are concerned.

On Nov 4, 2014 david doane wrote:

Indian -- Suffering is part of being human -- there is no exception.  Our grace is to be alive and suffer our experience and grow.  We may not see the grace that is, but we live in it, it's all around us, we are one with it.  My seeing grace and appreciating it may be lost, but grace is not lost, it is right here.  "The world" may  be devoid of appreciating grace that is all around us and that we are part of, but the world is not devoid of grace.

On Nov 4, 2014 Always Love wrote:

 God IS Grace.  Grace IS God!  
God IS NOT lost . . . Rather, WE ARE.  
This is why we are to seek Him in people, places, moments, good days, bad days, ill feelings, happy times . . . 
Grace is found where He IS.  Thanks Be!
Stay out of the shadows . . . Suffer, in the Light where He is.
Blessings and Love