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Reader comment on Charlotte Joko Beck's passage ...

Willing to Experience our Suffering


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! 



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