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Choosing Suffering over Safety

--by Bonnie Rose (Aug 17, 2015)


“Can you walk, sweetheart?” I say these words to our dog Stella who is dying. It’s time for breakfast and if she walks from our bed to the kitchen, maybe that will be a sign. Maybe she will be alright. So I ask her again, “Can you walk?”

As I ask, I remember eleven years of sleeping twisted like a pretzel so the dog could get a good night’s sleep. I remember mornings, how she rose at dawn and stomped her Pointer’s feet on the mattress to get me up, to flush me out of the brush of sleep as she would a wild quail. Now it’s nine a.m. and she sighs at the foot of the bed, eyes alert and breathing rapidly.

When my mother was dying, I didn’t ask that question. I didn’t ask any question. I didn’t want to know the answer because the answer would change everything. We didn’t talk about the cancer – how it was devouring my mother’s bones and internal organs, how it was planning to steal my favorite person. We didn’t talk about love and loss, or her longing to see me find a life that would blossom. We didn’t mention how death would assassinate that joy for her or how death would rob me of the pleasure of coming home from college for Thanksgiving break and seeing her face at the kitchen window, eager to hear every detail of my life. Death would kill that. So we didn’t talk about it.

I was immobilized. Together in our once safe home in Briarcliff that last morning my mother couldn’t speak. She wanted something from me. She wanted my help. I was seventeen and I didn’t know what to do. Something bad was in the room. I was too scared to show my fear. I wanted to fix it. I didn’t know what to do.

So I held her hand, tears without sobs pouring down my cheeks, bewildered in the face of unspeakable death. She looked at me and said “Thank you.” Thirty-six hours later, she died. Those were the last words she ever said to me.

Somehow, through the years of living, ministry, dying loved ones, lost pets and lost loves, I’m learning to ask “Can you walk?” I’m learning to ask the other hard questions and be still and present with the answers. I am learning how to suffer.

I took my first cautious steps toward suffering in Shadowlands, the Broadway production where by fluke and connections, I was cast as an understudy for eight weeks. The play is about C.S. Lewis’s transition from intellect to experience. When Lewis was a child, his mother died. He never cried, never allowed himself to feel the loss. Late in life, when Lewis was a crusty bachelor professor, he met his true love Joy Gresham. Shortly after they met and married she got cancer and died. When Joy died, he allowed the devastation to overtake him.

He said, “The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering.”

Eight shows a week, sitting backstage listening to the monitors, I hear those words: The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering.

And now, every day, I make the choice between safety and suffering. Will I have the courage to face what happens and keep my heart in the room?

Because I don’t know if I can walk. I don’t know if I can stand. There are days I stagger about this stage called earth, confronted with the sorrows of being human – the loss, the death, the indignity of perpetual change.

But sometimes suffering is not suffering.

Those last days with Stella, I would gladly suffer again. It was an honor to hold her as she let go. It was a joy to put her needs first. It was a joy to ask, “Can you walk?” and be in love with whatever was true. It was joy to cherish her, to understand that love is love and it doesn’t matter if she’s just a dog, and that death can never kill a love like that. Suffering is not suffering. Suffering is the new joy.

Bonnie Rose is a minister with Ventura's Center for Spiritual Living. Above reading was excerpted from her blog.

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14 Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 2, 2015 Barb wrote:

 What to choose; to be in our experience, or out of it.  It is tempting to run and hide, to seek a safe haven that avoids the pain, the sorrow, the fear, the loss.  How will we survive?  I don't know.   I just know that living is being in the moment; whether joyous or dreadful.  So easy to say, so hard to do.  I will continue to struggle.........



On Aug 24, 2015 Bradley Stoll wrote:

The more I ponder this, the more confused I get. If Gratitude and Suffering cannot coexist, does that mean when we choose Suffering over Safety we are not choosing Gratitude? Then I think, are Suffering and Safety mutually exclusive? Maybe choosing Safety IS choosing Suffering on some level. Think of the person in a job that he hates and isn't aligned with...yet the pay is good and the job is "safe", so he can help provide for his family. So, he stays at the job, choosing Safety. Yet, he is Suffering the whole time. 



On Aug 20, 2015 d-marie wrote:

 A parent continues to share and teach throughout his courageous journey with a terminal illness. Words of wisdom from friends, be a daughter first, not the healthcare professional or caretaker, be blessed to have a long
good bye vs an unexpected death.  True suffering, observing the pain of a loved one through their eyes.  The slow deterioration of a strong-willed, independent, life-loving man. How I wonder can the body be so ravaged and with the will to live so strong.  I suffered alongside my dad.  I pray for for peace, I pray for gods will and the prayer I thought never possible. Please Dad be at peace so we will meet again. I chose to remember by dad teaching me how to dance. His words 'be brave' for me now.  Four  months now, I pray for courage and to be brave without my dad at my side.



On Aug 19, 2015 Ebie wrote:

For me, suffering "well" is something of a cumulative experience.  When you are faced for the first time with a place of deep suffering, it provokes for most of us panic and fear; it is not possible for most of us to be fully present for it.  When you have moved through it and discover that you can survive it, then over time when you are faced again with suffering, it becomes possible to be present and aware of its nuances and textures, like a not unfamiliar companion.  Over time, you accumulate an experiential understanding that suffering takes different forms and that also it will pass, so that the companion of suffering becomes more interesting in its own subtle ways, and who you are through it becomes a source of stillness and self-awareness that you could not otherwise ever know.  For each place of suffering we may face in a lifetime, there are so many different nuances and textures with many gifts, including often those we do not perceive until much  See full.

For me, suffering "well" is something of a cumulative experience.  When you are faced for the first time with a place of deep suffering, it provokes for most of us panic and fear; it is not possible for most of us to be fully present for it.  When you have moved through it and discover that you can survive it, then over time when you are faced again with suffering, it becomes possible to be present and aware of its nuances and textures, like a not unfamiliar companion.  Over time, you accumulate an experiential understanding that suffering takes different forms and that also it will pass, so that the companion of suffering becomes more interesting in its own subtle ways, and who you are through it becomes a source of stillness and self-awareness that you could not otherwise ever know.  For each place of suffering we may face in a lifetime, there are so many different nuances and textures with many gifts, including often those we do not perceive until much later.  But facing it, holding through it, seeing it to its end, can be very, very hard. 

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On Aug 19, 2015 Cynthia wrote:

At present, I relate very deeply to this choice.  A practice that helps me see the joy within the suffering is coming to this page and joining this circle, bringing only the sincere intention to be open to the wisdom within the reading and  within the personal reflections of those who share here.  I thank each and every one of you. Namaste.



On Aug 18, 2015 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 I am learning to accept what is and not to resist or to deny the presence of what is. The first suffering I experienced was the passing away of my dad. I did not want him to leave me. What helped me  to accept his passing away was the way he embraced  his breath leaving his body. He used to recite the verses from the Bhagvat Geeta shedding light on how to live with equanimity, how to remain centered and balanced in the midst of the rising and falling waves of life. He lived that way and died that way. He used to teach me how to live by the way he lived his life. He was walking his walk.He planted the seeds of the art of living and leaving.Breathing in and breathing out are the wings of the bird of living fully. Three years ago, my beloved wife passed away.  She had very aggressive breast cancer. Six months before she passed away, she asked me looking into my eyes, "Jagdish! Do you think I will survive? I trust you. You will tell me the truth." This  was  See full.

 I am learning to accept what is and not to resist or to deny the presence of what is. The first suffering I experienced was the passing away of my dad. I did not want him to leave me. What helped me  to accept his passing away was the way he embraced  his breath leaving his body. He used to recite the verses from the Bhagvat Geeta shedding light on how to live with equanimity, how to remain centered and balanced in the midst of the rising and falling waves of life. He lived that way and died that way. He used to teach me how to live by the way he lived his life. He was walking his walk.He planted the seeds of the art of living and leaving.Breathing in and breathing out are the wings of the bird of living fully.

Three years ago, my beloved wife passed away.  She had very aggressive breast cancer. Six months before she passed away, she asked me looking into my eyes, "Jagdish! Do you think I will survive? I trust you. You will tell me the truth." This  was the most difficult question for me to answer. I was holding her hand in my hand and this answer emerged from my heart: " Everyone  is going to pass away sooner or later." That answer was enough for her. Without any hesitation, she accepted the truth. There was a glow of acceptance on her face. And that's the way she lived her life.She was ready to go when the time would arrive. Before she passed away, she asked all of us- me, our grown up children and grand children- to face her face. She touched everybody's hand, looked at all of us and said, " Is everyone OK?" She lived that way caring for all and left  the same way showing her caring for all. These were her last words and these words deeply resonate with me when she comes to my mind and heart. Like my dad, my wife taught me a lesson of how to live and how to die.

Suffering is an integral part of living fully. The evening is  born in the womb of the morning sun. There is no morning without evening and there is no evening without morning.The river of life flows in between the banks of joy and suffering. They are intertwined. They are the wings of the bird, the tide and ebb of living.

May we cultivate this art of living and dying to live fully and die fully.

Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave

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On Aug 18, 2015 WIlliam Kuenning wrote:

Bonnie: Thank you for the piece -wonderful, important, insightful, kindly put.   Opinion: Certainly most harbor the safer world of ignoring the potential loss of those we hold dear. Most avoid the inevitable fact of the loss of a loved one right up to the end because the recognition of inevitable loss diminishes or ruins the moments we experience when that loss is not imminent.  To live recognizing we will lose the ones we love is a debilitating understanding of reality, and for we humans, this state of ordained death awareness is no way to live.  This state is almost impossible to deny and ignore after a bad diagnosis or on the march to the end. To exist at all times in such awareness would be a constant, protracted suffering-pain at a low burn level, distracting, at least, and robbing us of many pure moments of joy.  The loving caretaker substitutes selfless care and compassion for the feelings of helplessness and inevitability of loss and has a chance of gi  See full.

Bonnie:
Thank you for the piece -wonderful, important, insightful, kindly put.  

Opinion:

Certainly most harbor the safer world of ignoring the potential loss of those we hold dear. Most avoid the inevitable fact of the loss of a loved one right up to the end because the recognition of inevitable loss diminishes or ruins the moments we experience when that loss is not imminent. 
To live recognizing we will lose the ones we love is a debilitating understanding of reality, and for we humans, this state of ordained death awareness is no way to live.  This state is almost impossible to deny and ignore after a bad diagnosis or on the march to the end. To exist at all times in such awareness would be a constant, protracted suffering-pain at a low burn level, distracting, at least, and robbing us of many pure moments of joy.  The loving caretaker substitutes selfless care and compassion for the feelings of helplessness and inevitability of loss and has a chance of giving the dying individual a better chance of feeling life and love right up through the end.

In general, we naturally revel in the “immortality of youth”, the young person or pet, and even if later we pine for the days when, for instance, the pet romped or played, or ran with us, we still extract the joy of their presence at any age and diminishment.  Holding that dying cat or dog, that dear member of your life, as they slip away is the clear proof that the exuberance of youth and movement has nothing to do with the real bond of care and selflessness on both sides of the heart fence.  

Yes, the understanding that there will be unfathomable loss, causes the fear of, and the pangs of, pain. We call that “suffering”, before and after a loss. In truth, the pain must surely be many things coalescing in one clear moment, death.  If one can think it at the end, it can cause pain, and perhaps because we hold onto such hope of just another moment and helpless denial of the end right up to the end, our pain is accumulated, over years, to be released at once, when the rubicon is breached in passing.

When we die, we collide with the understanding that the everyday is no longer relevant or an option -breath is unnecessary, time is meaningless and our actions are no longer needed or effective –all clearly so, like no other time. Finality has its lessons for our being, and those lessons can be very painful, indeed.

We put a loved one first, and now they do not need us. We feel helpless, as they go. Rationalizing they are in a great place after death is wonderful but the pure pain of knowing all just changed forever for a loved one, is singularly stunning.  In stead of looking at that severest of human experiences as suffering only, it may be that suffering is only one symptom of the larger and more beautiful gift of finally, if only for one transitional, transformational moment, feeling all the worry of loss, from the day you met your loved one, and which accumulated unrecognized in our souls, released, never to be used again for this dear part of our lives. Loss is a terrible thing but loss of the worry of loss is a beautiful thing, and perhaps is such a unique and precious gift that the loved one’s passing gives to us.  

For the average human, it is probably never a choice between “safe and suffering”.  Our evolved minds have developed to simply ignore the vulnerabilities in life; so, we can have a chance to function with the possibility of joy in life at all.  Even so, most people do not often experience the joy of any part of life for long, or at all.  The loss of a deeply loved person or pet is clearly one of those joyous moments being celebrated in reverse. Euphoria is replaced by throbbing pain and the compression of time. Yet, the intensity and the heart involved is perhaps the purest form of joy there is. It is of course a reflected joy, masked by the suffering pain, and if we are lucky, recognizable later as the true illustration that the loved individual gave us great, indefinable joy right up through passing.

What we deny can catch up to us, and usually does in death. The wonder of it all is that extraordinary bonds, whose vulnerabilities are denied all our lives so we do not drive ourselves crazy, revisit us in a rush at a loved one’s passing. What we traditionally fear and observe as the resultant suffering, is really the strength of those bonds, not their loss, as we feel them intensely being bound together forever. It is real pain but built on the real joy received for the privilege and luck to have found each other in life and passing –both we tragically feel in the end. There is perhaps no greater joy than this intensity at the end of a loved one’s life but also, ironically, no more misunderstood part of our hearts and souls, as they struggle to with having no control over the next step in the relationship. 

In passing, I am personally as certain that the dying loved one feels the comfort of persistent love as much as they silently acknowledge the thankfulness that caring never stops with condition and that in the end they were never worried about being abandoned.  Love and joy are incomprehensible in the end. We feel pain but the intensity is still love and joy. That is the wonder and the kicker of the death of a loved one.  

–as if any of it is comprehensible anyway.

 
Military Family Voices  

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On Aug 18, 2015 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Suffering equals being 100% present to whatever the situation is, both for self and if there is another involved, for them as well. I chose suffering when I helped my mother heal after she broke her kneecap 2 years ago. She is a very anxious person and extremely afraid of nearly everything. I allowed myself to be with her 24/7 as her caretaker and helped guide her through her own pain; physical, mental, emotional. I sat with her, read to her, and did my best to meet all her needs while letting go of many of my own; choosing to be present rather than in safety. At the same time, I also chose to keep a commitment to a once in a lifetime performance trip to Kenya for a storytelling festival for which I had auditioned 1.5 years earlier. It was 2 months after her injury, she was doing well with physical therapy and seeing a therapist. I made arrangements with her sisters (who both lived 10 minutes away) and with the neighbor right next door to check on her daily. I went and performed  See full.

 Suffering equals being 100% present to whatever the situation is, both for self and if there is another involved, for them as well. I chose suffering when I helped my mother heal after she broke her kneecap 2 years ago. She is a very anxious person and extremely afraid of nearly everything. I allowed myself to be with her 24/7 as her caretaker and helped guide her through her own pain; physical, mental, emotional. I sat with her, read to her, and did my best to meet all her needs while letting go of many of my own; choosing to be present rather than in safety. At the same time, I also chose to keep a commitment to a once in a lifetime performance trip to Kenya for a storytelling festival for which I had auditioned 1.5 years earlier. It was 2 months after her injury, she was doing well with physical therapy and seeing a therapist. I made arrangements with her sisters (who both lived 10 minutes away) and with the neighbor right next door to check on her daily. I went and performed, emailed daily and learned my Mom was doing very well with her healing. It was an interesting space to be in; to both have been so present in the early stages of recovery and then to allow myself to let go and for her to grow into further healing. It helped both of us. I suppose that was the joy in it; seeing the progression and also being in the depths of the pain/healing.

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On Aug 18, 2015 Anupam wrote:

I believe suffering is an inevitable part of being alive,being human ,being vulnerable...I suffered for 25 years in an emotional vaccum in my marital relationship..absolute no connectedness with my husband,emotional or physical.But i had the safety of a warm home and loving children.It kept me safe but i was still suffering my cowardice,my inability to live as per my wish.I gave it up in feb this year..after complete 25 years..left my family to live alone.I still suffer because i miss my kids who are adults now...i'm called selfish by many people.They are right in a way because now even my kids are suffering...But i know they will outgrow this pain soon and grow up to be mature people.As for me,i 've decided to live alone till love finds me.



On Aug 18, 2015 Dawn wrote:

 Thank you, Bonnie Rose. Your writing reminded me how big love is, how spacious and courageous its embrace is.



On Aug 18, 2015 leonard Kaboggoza wrote:

 Leonard Kaboggoza- I think suffering is to collide with a  an expected, unpleasant experience in life which  come on my way because of  the choice I have  made. Whatever choice  I make, am  accountable / culpable of the end    results.   I take suffering as not  suffering by accepting to make a choice, and  live a life that I  understand as a human person.  As human beings, we learn by teaching, it is that experience we go through that transforms us  and  find   joy within the experience of suffering. When I make good choice I  find joy, When I make a bad choice in favour of safety, I end up  suffering the more. I have been a victim of this life situation. Life is not a straight line cannot do away with suffering.  Through suffering we are able to  reflect back, evalaute ourselves, and make new strategies for attaining eternal joy.



On Aug 18, 2015 deepak satam wrote:

Suffering is suffering, i don't know why must we avoid,  it is part of life, instead of denying the suffering being with suffering will get us out of it. we are probably too attached to people, family, friends, pets... out of our circle of known people do we really suffer as much for the unknown people...??? I don't know if Suffering is bad as everyone goes through it but i suppose learning & understanding suffering in the true sense could dissolve the pain...



On Aug 18, 2015 Christina Thomas-Fraser wrote:

 An honest, poignant sharing of the painful love and sweetness of grief that lays the heart wide open. Thank you.



On Aug 16, 2015 david doane wrote:

Suffering means to me to bear or carry my experience.  My experience is my truth.  To accept, value, express, utilize what I am experiencing is for me to suffer it.  I can carry my experience efficiently, in a way that doesn't create unnecessary pain, or I can carry my experience inefficiently , which creates unnecessary pain.  Pain is unavoidable -- it's part of life -- how I suffer it is up to me.  I have chosen to suffer my experience over safety when the cause is important enough to me and the danger looks acceptable.  I have chosen safety over suffering my experience when the danger looks too great.  Suffering my experience is integrity, and my integrity definitely has cracks and limits.  I think of Jesus as someone who suffered his experience over safety, and the price he paid the was execution.  I've been no martyr.  I've been aware of the choice between suffering my experience or safety.  Sometimes I have suffered my exper  See full.

Suffering means to me to bear or carry my experience.  My experience is my truth.  To accept, value, express, utilize what I am experiencing is for me to suffer it.  I can carry my experience efficiently, in a way that doesn't create unnecessary pain, or I can carry my experience inefficiently , which creates unnecessary pain.  Pain is unavoidable -- it's part of life -- how I suffer it is up to me.  I have chosen to suffer my experience over safety when the cause is important enough to me and the danger looks acceptable.  I have chosen safety over suffering my experience when the danger looks too great.  Suffering my experience is integrity, and my integrity definitely has cracks and limits.  I think of Jesus as someone who suffered his experience over safety, and the price he paid the was execution.  I've been no martyr.  I've been aware of the choice between suffering my experience or safety.  Sometimes I have suffered my experience in the form of saying or doing what felt dangerous, choosing suffering my experience over safety, but the danger was not extreme.  Usually I've ended up taking less heat than I expected.  I do feel joy when I have the courage to suffer my experience, and have shame when I don't suffer my experience and deny it.  As C.S. Lewis said, "The boy chooses safety, the man chooses suffering."  Sometimes I'm a boy.  The more I suffer my experience the easier it becomes.

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