Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Willing to Experience our Suffering

--by Charlotte Joko Beck (Dec 21, 2009)

 A few weeks ago someone gave me an interesting article on suffering, and the first part of it was on the meaning of the word – “suffering”. I’m interested in these meanings; they are teachings in themselves. The writer of this article pointed out that the word “suffering” is used to express many things. The second part “fer”, is from the Latin word “ferre,” meaning “to bear.” And the first part, “suf” is from sub, meaning “under.” So there’s a feeling in the word “to be under,” “to bear under,” “to totally be under” – “to be supporting something from underneath.” [...]

So (remembering the definition of the word “suffer”) until we bow down and bear the suffering of life, not opposing it, but absorbing it and being it – we cannot see what our life is. This by no means implies passivity or non-action, but action from a state of complete acceptance. Even “acceptance” is not quite accurate – it’s simply being the suffering. It isn’t a matter of protecting ourselves, or accepting something else. Complete openness, complete vulnerability is (surprisingly enough) the only satisfactory way of living our life. […]

Our practice throughout our lifetime is just this: At any given time we have a rigid viewpoint or stance about life; it includes some things, it excludes others. We may stick with it for a long time, but if we are sincerely practicing our practice itself will shake up that viewpoint; we can’t maintain it. As we begin to question our viewpoint we may feel struggle, upset, as we try to come to terms with this new insight into our life; and for a long time we may deny it and struggle against it. That’s part of practice. Finally we become willing to experience our suffering instead of fighting it. When we do so our standpoint, our vision of life, abruptly shifts. Then once again, with our new viewpoint, we go along for a while – until the cycle begins anew.

Once again the unease comes up. And we have to struggle, to go through it again. Each time we do this – each time we go into the suffering and let it be – our vision of life enlarges. It’s like climbing a mountain. At each point that we ascend we see more; and that becomes broader with each cycle of climbing, of struggle. And the more we see, the more expansive our vision, the more we know what to do, what action to take.

--Charlotte Joko Beck, from “Everyday Zen: Love and Work

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Previous Reflections:

On Dec 21, 2009 Matthew Oliver Sloan wrote:

A really wonderful thought for this holy-season. With true acceptance of our life, comes true joy. Suffering is only our reaction to circumstances, our thoughts and reactions to them. How wonderful to really be in our suffering. With being comes peace, and release. Oh, how I hope to be in my suffering so it just melts away into the true joy of being.

On Dec 22, 2009 Godi Gutierrez wrote:

The human being is intentionality and its basic intention is to gain a growing happiness. The opposite of happiness is suffering. Therefore, to surpass suffering is to gain happiness - and what this author is saying is the exact opposite of this.

On Dec 22, 2009 linda wrote:

 At first glance,this sounds to me like "Life sucks, then you die...", but on further consideration, I realize that rallying against suffering doesn't end it, it perpetuates it.  Anything you put your mind to becomes bigger and stronger.  If you accept this suffering as a temporary hardship - no wallowing, rallying, screaming - you can see it for what it is.  Suffering is a learning opportunity.

If you can accept your current circumstances and work to maintain your inner balance, you will most likely gain something - compassion if nothing else- from the experience.  The trick to accepting suffering is to avoid the trap of allowing it to become your life story, to keep my original perspective - "Life sucks then you die"- from becoming your truth.  How about "Life is bumpy, then it smoothes out..."?

On Dec 22, 2009 Patsy wrote:

I would like to speak to what Godi said. "Happiness" is dependant upon circumstance. "Joy" is a state that can exist independant of circumstance. "Inner peace" falls into the same category.

Living out a physical existance must always involve some amount of suffering - just ask the mother of an infant with colic. We must all experience pain of our own and on behalf of those we care for. Therefore, there must be good (growth, learning, gain) that can be had from suffering.

On Dec 22, 2009 Teo wrote:

 It is surprising that the excerpt on suffering is from the text called “Everyday Zen”. It sounds more like “Everyday Christianity”, and this is why it evokes reflections from the readers focused on duality: ”suffering as a temporary hardship”, “The opposite of happiness is suffering”, “a physical existence must always involve some amount of suffering”

Zen approach is radically different; suffering is a bliss that doesn’t fit our conception of existence. Suffering doesn’t exist externally to us, like something we have to go in and out and tolerate while we are in. No, it is what we wish to call the experience we choose to go through. The same experience different people or the same person in different periods of his life call differently. Simplifying: One-legged person will recall as happiness the ‘suffering’ of muscle pain in his once existing leg.
There is no suffering; there is only our limitation of comprehension. An experience that i intend to call ‘suffering’ is a pointer to my limitation.  Acknowledging this limitation is what I hope the author of the “Everyday Zen” text called for.

On Dec 22, 2009 Bill Miller wrote:

The thing I found most interesting in this piece was the little exegesis on the word “suffering”. Note that a literal interpretation of the word does not necessarily imply something bad/negative - it  simply points to something to “bear up under”. It could be something good! (Recall the King James translation of Jesus’ request to “suffer the children to come unto me”. I’m sure he wasn’t suggesting they be made to crawl over broken glass.) 

In that light, life itself is something that we bear up under, when we are fully engaged with it. It is noteworthy that in contemporary usage, the word “suffer” has become synonymous with ongoing pain - you know, that grim ethic which portrays life as primarily ongoing struggle and torment.

Yet by our individual and collective choices and actions, we create the world we live in. Why not choose to “bear up” the things that are happy and loving?

On Dec 22, 2009 Rod wrote:

 Today's InnerNet Weekly  contains an article on the meaning and experience of suffering. The text has been extracted from a book by Charlotte Joko Beck. For a wider view of the context of that text, I suggest you also read the sections in the book titled "Relationships Don't Work" and "Relationship Is Not to Each Other." 

The text on suffering focuses on the need to accept our suffering as a part (and only a part) of the vast web of relationships in which we are perpetually embedded. However, by focussing on only our own suffering, we find it difficult to realize others also suffer and we have an obligation to assist in removing their suffering. If we refuse a part of Indra's Web by judging it as 'bad', we are refusing the totality of the Web and our part in it. And, since we are an integral pat of the Web, by refusing to accept the suffering of others, we are refusing to see our essential nature as part of that Web. As a consequence of that rejection, it is also harder to accept OTHERS as part of that Web. Thus, by not accepting others we do not fully accept ourselves. This is the basis for accepting the cruelty and suffering of others and our unwillingness to accept their suffering as also part of ourselves and our obligation to help in removing it from the Web.
How do we help reduce the totality of suffering in the Web? Joko Beck has a suggestion:
"So, relationships don't work........Well, what does work then? The only thing that works (if we really practice) is a desire not to have something for myself but to support all life, including individual relationships.... But nobody really wants to do that. We don't want to support others. To truly support somebody means to give them everything and expect  nothing. You might give them your time, , your work, your money, anything. "If you need that, I'll give it to you." Love expects nothing. Instead of that we have these games: "I'm going to communicate so our relationship will be better," which really means "I'm going to communicate so you'll see what I want." The underlying expectation we bring to those games ensures that relationships won't work. If we really see that, then a few of us will understand the next step, of seeing another way of being. We may get a glimpse of it now and then: "Yes, I can do this for you. I can support your life and I expect nothing, Nothing."
Happy Holidays:):):)

On Dec 24, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I remembered the aphorism, "Pain is a condition. Suffering is a decision." While that might sound a little intellectual, this truth was brought home to me when my grandmother lay dying of lung cancer. The doctors told my parents that she would be in terrible pain and we should get morphine for her. She never once needed morphine, and would always stay cheerful, causing the doctors to tell my parents that she might be lying about her pain. She would sometimes have palpitations, when everyone around her would think she was going to die. Once, after such an episode, she called my parents and told them, "When you see me in this condition, don't make the mistake of thinking that I am suffering. I have separated myself from my body, and I am very happy. Whatever is happening is to my body, and that is natural given my condition." She passed away in this spirit - great pain but no suffering, in what some would call a good death. 

The author makes a startling point. If I truly mean what I say by the sentence, "I am suffering," that would mean I have become the suffering, and where I begins and ends and where suffering begins and ends cannot be clarified. Who is suffering then, and from what? The more accurate sentence for most of us most of the time is, "Suffering was done to me," or "Misery was done to me." In the rare but definitive times that we mean the former, we are in a very different space, one where our equanimity is firm.

I was also reminded of last week's thought, which brought out the truth of duality. Everything we can think of or come in contact with is at once helpful and harmful. The notion of duality itself is helpful and harmful. While the author initially prods us to go toward non-duality by becoming our suffering, she then shows that duality is also valuable, for suffering can be treated as a good teacher. When our ideas are challenged, we get defensive and suffer. If we stay with that suffering and become aware of what is happening, we get a chance to pause and reflect, and in that pause, something shifts. Our ideas are no longer as rigid as they once were, and our frame has expanded.

This really hit home, for I have moved through various ideologies over time. Each time I shift, I can't believe I used to think otherwise earlier. That ought to give me some pause and develop compassion for those who don't agree with me, and to be open to learning.

This week, I gave a research talk to my close buddies to get feedback. Right from the beginning, we started sparring (since we know each other so well), and after a while, I became aware of two voices - one said, "they don't get it," and the other said, "you are defensive!" As soon as I was aware of this, I paused and reflected. It was clear that defending my ideas was not the goal - learning and improving was. Then, the right thing to do was to accept and learn. Over the rest of the session, I accepted all that was given, and continued to contemplate over lunch as to why I had suffered over some parts of the interaction. 

By the end of the lunch hour, I was convinced that it was silly to suffer, and off I went to incorporate all the feedback. And lo and behold, the slides I produced with the new frame my friends had suggested made so much more sense to me and had much higher quality.

I remain in gratitude, and wonder why I forget that all I need is already here, and everyone is here to help me.

As we went around, there were many reflections on suffering as I think this one hit home for others as well. A special mention is for Smita's mother who cooked for everyone today, as CFmom is on a 10-day. 

And did I mention the delicious desserts? Chris had baked one of them! 

On Dec 24, 2009 R K Sinha wrote:

 What is suffering?As per Hindu Mythology the suffering of present life is basically the result of our past karma.The definition of suffering may be some thing different but is the fact that who he suffers can only imagine the exact meaning of PAIN or HARDSHIP.I always ask from me that why one  child is born in the family of a millionaire and another in a family of beggar the only reason is his PAST that is why we always refer our HOLY BOOK GEETA  which says that your KARMA is your Destiny.

On Dec 25, 2009 Viral wrote:

"Well, a number of years ago a very good friend of mine and I were really into this beauty thing: what does it mean? Why did Doestoyevsky talk about beauty? Why did he say you can save the world with beauty? The way I try to explain it now, and it's just a fringe of an explanation, is that being human is having both pathos—you know about death, about suffering, you know all of that, and you can't get away from it—but the other side of being human is joy. You have friends, you can touch things and, in the long run, you're related to the universe. There's a great joy in that, and beauty is somehow the line, the edge between the two, the edge between the shadow and the light, and both of them become richer when they're both there." -- from a Works and Conversations Magazine interview of James Hubbell, by Richard Whittaker

On Dec 27, 2009 noel wrote:

Eventually all pain, even that which comes from emotional and mental energies, can become physical if it's left to continue in a disconnected fashion that we recreate each day. Most of us can feel physical pain in this reality but we all don't need to feel suffering. It's a choice not a requisite progression, some can embrace their pain and it diminishes while others can embrace their suffering and it leads them to further understanding of themselves. Or we can bypass attaching ourselves to pain through emotional and mental constructs and creating suffering. This too can illuminate our path to understanding and accepting ourselves as the creators of our lives.  

On Dec 30, 2013 Speak wrote:

 Thank you for "getting it."