Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.

--by Jonathan Franzen (Jun 21, 2011)

When I was in college, and for many years after, I liked the natural world. Didn’t love it, but definitely liked it. It can be very pretty, nature. And since I was looking for things to find wrong with the world, I naturally gravitated to environmentalism, because there were certainly plenty of things wrong with the environment. And the more I looked at what was wrong — an exploding world population, exploding levels of resource consumption, rising global temperatures, the trashing of the oceans, the logging of our last old-growth forests — the angrier I became.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about the environment. There was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to the things I loved. […]

But then a funny thing happened to me. It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.

And so, yes, I kept a meticulous list of the birds I’d seen, and, yes, I went to inordinate lengths to see new species. But, no less important, whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love. […]

And here’s where a curious paradox emerged. My anger and pain and despair about the planet were only increased by my concern for wild birds, and yet, as I began to get involved in bird conservation and learned more about the many threats that birds face, it became easier, not harder, to live with my anger and despair and pain.

How does this happen? I think, for one thing, that my love of birds became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed. Instead of continuing to drift forward through my life as a global citizen, liking and disliking and withholding my commitment for some later date, I was forced to confront a self that I had to either straight-up accept or flat-out reject.

Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

--Jonathan Franzen, in Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.


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Previous Reflections:

On Jun 15, 2011 Conrad wrote:

Thank you Somik for the opportunity to share.

My anger most frequently arises when events do not occur exactly as I desire.  Frequently I am not aware of my desire until after the anger arises.  Reducing or eliminating desire has been helpful.

Portals to the less centered parts of myself are often noticed after anger arises when another demonstrates negative characteristics of mine of which I am unaware. Awareness continues to be the key for me.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Jun 17, 2011 PK wrote:

 Long time ago, I heard a story from Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission about a mother who went camping with her young children. She woke up early in the morning and noticing that kids are still asleep, she went for a quick walk towards the river and was enjoying the early morning beauty. Just then, she noticed a bear near her and started moving away slowly and running once it was out of sight. Then she remembered that the bear is between her and her children in the tent. Suddenly, her fear of the bear got replaced with love and concern for her children. Instead of running away to safety, she begin to think of ways of distracting the bear so that it will come away from the tent even though it might put her life in danger. The message I got from that story was that when love enters, it can replace all the negative emotions in one swoop and create magic in people's lives.

I tested it out again and again in my life. When I am angry, upset, afraid, i think of things that I love and am attracted to. The energy shifts, face and my body relaxes, anxiety disappears and smile shows up on my face. It is just amazing to see it happen instead of thinking about how it happens.

Liking is like thinking about love. Going for what hurts is where one really feels love!

On Jun 18, 2011 Jason Buckley wrote:

Iris Murdoch, "Love is the difficult realization that something other than yourself is real".

On Jun 18, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:


Well, this passage charged me... 
And as I slowly read more - It became a tremendous piece of work and overwhelming at the same time...It’s fantastic, and so TRUE... 
Intelligence sits and Judges while it philosophises about the core and spirit of life,
Then, it labels pretty much everything it comes in contact with – That graffiti tag of life is very hard to wash off. That perceived sided mind-view that most of us tend to have been in at one stage or another in life, has over compensated from the true simplicity of true life and true SELF.
To master intelligence and simplicity as ‘one’ of one’s self-truth, or to open the spirit to that truth, love,
 honesty, growth, individuality, self questioning, worth-value and freedom, is to express a life’s’ journey, a progression and a personal development in each and every one’s ‘own’ life... How we do that is ‘maybe’ being brave enough to break the shackles of others past expectations..  Hmmm.. ?
I now know every-time I get angry, upset or just annoyed at someone or something, those silly little electric currents of self-emotions reminds me; I can just be as childish today, as, when I was a child...  
But in these years, those self-emotions acts like an alarm clock for me, reminding me to stop and look inside me first and really see whom I’m truly angry at or upset with, and I normally I find that 7 out of 10 irritations are actually from ‘me’ Then and only then can I really change the course of my action in this life, by self acknowledging my own actions and not blaming others...
But, But, But...   How do we find the freedom to love and show love in everything?  Is it that we have to find self -love and self-acceptance first, without using any other labels, other than just ‘love’, and from that love, to actually grow more love...   
So thanks for this share, I like knowing that ‘love can evolve love and freedom’...

On Jun 18, 2011 arundebnath wrote:

 I just love the story and the added reflections - you're just a bunch of wonderful people who make ordinary peoople like myself think better, see better and love the world a bit deeper. 

I'm no longer a young college student but still I feel angry and frustrated that I can't stop unfairness in the world and man-made destruction of the planet earth. Then again, when I see flower the bud opens so lovingly to give and get love, I feel a loving world afterall. Love for all of you.


On Jun 18, 2011 Manisha wrote:

Thank you for sharing this rich story. There are so many layers to unpack, but something that initially comes to mind is a recent experience that I had with anger. I was meditating and observed anger that had been building up for a day or two. Instead of reacting to it this time, I objectively watched it. And in doing so, I realized that anger is an extremely powerful emotion. It's very hurtful to both myself and others around me. It makes me feel bad all over. And because it is so disruptive to a state of homeostasis, or balance, there is nothing natural about anger. So I observed, observed, observed...and over the course of that 1 hour, the anger crumbled into pieces, like a brick wall falling to the ground with dust rising into the air. But the energy of anger wasn't lost; rather, it was converted into litle bits of love that seemed to be pulsing through the smallest of veins. Like little packages of goodness being delivered ceaslessly to all parts of the body. I felt balanced again and realized that love is also very powerful, but in a good way. That's how I would like to treat others and myself...with little bits of love that just flows naturally and in rhythm with the greater whole.

On Jun 19, 2011 Ricky wrote:

What I experienced just this past week was a personal twist to this story.  I found that when stressed at work about work or even about impending changes at work with personnel and location, even the slightest perceived miscommunication set me off into a self-destructive internal dialogue.  I actually internalized all actions around me must have been happening just to me.  I closed myself off to others, isolated myself so I could wallow, and avoided coming into contact with any of my support system because I didn't want to be confronted with logic and wisdom!

Finally, I got quiet and still.  The definition of courage by Dr. Brene Brown came to mind.  She states that the original definition of courage from the Latin root cor, heart, was "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart."  During that very intimate quiet reflective time, then, two conversations with dear friends from long ago came to mind.  The first was from my pastor who stated after listening to me express fear in the unknown concerning my career, "Apparently you are under the impression you actually have some sort of control in this matter."  (in other words to me this means let it go)  The second was from my master yoga teacher after I asked her why we suffer so about next steps and by other people who have our futures in their hands. (you see, this is always my practice)  She said, "My goodness, you have fallen into ignorance and believe you are a person."  (reminding me of the impermanence of all this)

I can't say that all is well, but I do know that how I treat other people around me includes using my 'cor', my heart, and again connecting to a deep sense of love for others as well as myself, embracing the journey I am presently on wrapped in this earthsuit.  I feel as though I somehow began following a wellworn path and am now stepping out on my own, allowing breath at a time.  

On Jun 19, 2011 navin sata wrote:

Our individual ego is rootcause of all pain and joy we experience its always tranciant like flowing river when we understand nature and our ego transforms in to natures universal ego due to unconditional love then we enter journey of life with all positive virtus and resault will be harmony eternal happiness

On Jun 21, 2011 Kinjal wrote:

I don't like the title - this I feel after reading the passage. Well, at least part of the title. I feel that the very fact that you even spend your energy thinking about something outside your own self means that some sort of awakening has taken place albeit in the nascent stage.

"Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair" I disagree with this. Maybe remotely related it is because of the fact that that person is still selfish.


Thanks for sharing and reading. :)

On Jun 22, 2011 Charlie wrote:

This is great.  When I was a kid,  I really love to kill animals specially birds by hitting them with stones.  This is because I believe that by doing this I can be proud of myself.  Times rolling until now I realize that this doings should be avoided in fact switching my point of view by personally loving them. 

Animals have life too just like us people.  They should not be killed but loved. They are one of us. Loving animals is like loving people because they are also living creatures createrd by God.

I found happiness by simply loving them and hope everyone can do. 

On Jun 23, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

 Some audio clips from our circle of sharing yesterday ... 

On Jun 25, 2011 smile wrote:

I had a similar realization last week. I was finding pain , issues as I was looking / getting stuck with them.

If a good thing happened , that was forgotten, however when a problem occured, I was thinking about it more often , talking about it and being with it even after it was gone.

I decided to forget such things easily, forgive more and move on bringing smiles as often as possible. This helps me start living a happily back soon, even after the mess / problem has occured.

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