How do we learn to live with our pain and suffering as we live out our lives? How many of us carry around a chip on our shoulder because we feel we have been mistreated by others?
How many of us hold onto our resentments as a justification for feeling that we have been victimized by life’s circumstances? How many of us ever wonder what pain the person who just walked past us, or is sitting across from us on the bus or train, has experienced in their lives?
How many of us relate to ourselves and others with a sense of empathy and compassion for the pain and suffering we have each been exposed to in life?
Whose pain hurts the most?
The little boy whose father beats him weekly in an alcoholic rage, or the little girl whose stepfather sexually molests her while her mother is away working in the evenings?
The little girl who does not feel like she is good enough, because she feels that her brother is her parents’ favourite child, or the little boy who feels fat and ugly—or who hates his freckles or braces or glasses, and feels stupid in school because reading is difficult—or feels foolish because he is not good in sports?
The little boy who is told that if he would only change, his home would be a happy place, or the dark-skinned child who is called a “nigger” by bullying classmates?
The children in a family where the Dad is nowhere to be found, and the Mom spends all of her time trying to make ends meet, so they can have a permanent place to sleep and food to eat, or the child and jobless father who sleep on cots in various homeless shelters among strangers, and never know what the new day might bring?
The husband whose wife has just died in an automobile accident, or the mother whose infant child just died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
The Native Americans whose lands were taken away, as was their way of life by the U.S. government; or the Japanese-Americans who were relocated to internment camps during the Second World War (for being Japanese); or the Africans who were brought to the colonies and sold into slavery, whose descendants continue to experience racism into the present?
Then there are the women who have been second-class citizens in the U.S. since the signing of the Constitution, who were finally able to vote in 1920, who are still paid less for doing the same work as men and still have others telling them what they can or cannot do with their bodies.
What about the pain of those from different cultural heritages, religious beliefs or sexual orientations who have been marginalized by others? What about the pain of being uneducated, unemployed, underemployed, homeless or chronically ill? And the pain of those veterans who are returning home after being wounded physically and emotionally, many of whom have been treated as the collateral damage of war?
We all share pain and suffering
Pain and suffering are aspects of life that we all share. At some point, we have all attempted to understand our interactions with people and our life experiences. In our attempt to make sense of our experiences, we have created storylines about what we have experienced.
Many of our storylines have led to conclusions about ourselves that are untrue and have given voice to our Inner Critic, who continually tells us that we are not as we should be, or are not good enough or lovable or worthwhile. Our shame and guilt comes from this negative voice that resides within us.
Adyashanti has written: “Suffering occurs when we believe in a thought that is at odds with what is, what was or what will be.”
We need to acknowledge that our experiences do not define who we are, regardless of what our Inner Critic might say. We are not our storylines. We are not our thoughts. Who we are is the awareness that witnesses and observes our storylines and reactive thoughts. Eckhart Tolle wrote, “You are that awareness disguised as a person.”
Our pain and suffering can make us untrusting when relating to others, always watchful and anticipating the worst. However, pain’s ultimate gift is for us to discover our underlying unmet needs and our capacity for compassion and human kindness.
Pain’s ultimate gift
The Mom who was abused as a child, not wanting to inflict the fear and pain that she faced onto her son or daughter.
The man who was not seen for who he was by his parents—while knowing the pain of not being acknowledged for who he is—being able to relate with empathy and loving-kindness to others who are being discriminated against, due to their skin colour, race, sex, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
It doesn’t matter whether we are male or female, young or old. It doesn’t matter what our skin colour, cultural background, sexual orientation or religious beliefs might be.
We are all born, and we will all someday die. We all feel guilt and shame. We all experience fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and loneliness. We all crave loving, trusting attachment with others.
As Toni Morrison has written, “We all belong to one Human Race.” We all belong to the one Human Family. We are all equal in our experience of suffering. Similarly, we all have the capacity to express compassion and human kindness.
And, even more simply, we each have the capacity to give one another a smile and a hug.
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image 1 Photo by Steven Arenas from Pexels 2 Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 3 Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay 4 Image by Sajjad Saju from Pixabay