The Wisdom Of Conscious Suffering
When I had cancer, a close friend asked if I ever wondered: why me? I told her that I didn't. I told her that given that one in three Americans will, at some point, be diagnosed with cancer, I felt why not me? Cancer happens. It's sometimes random. It happened to me. There was neither rhyme nor reason. It just did.
A different friend recently asked the same about a close friend of mine, who was just killed in an auto accident. A speeding semi veered into his car, in a national park, in Uganda, killing him and leaving his wife widowed for the second time and seriously injured. My friend wondered: why? Why him? Why her?
Another friend asked how I took the news. If I tried to think my way through it. If I tried to look for cosmic explanations, or if I was angry at the Universe, or if I was trying to look for silver linings. I wasn't. My friend wanted to make sure that I wasn't trying to think my way through it, because he wanted to make sure I was allowing myself to feel my way through it. To allow the pain to wash over me, and through me. Which is the only real way to respond to emotional trauma. Did I allow myself to cry? I certainly did. And I have, off and on, for days.
As I wrote, some time ago, when first I was hospitalized to be tested for what turned out to be cancer, I was alone; but a saintly nurse came to my room, just to check in, and to let me know that although her shift was ending, she wanted to introduce herself, because she would be my nurse the next day. And she asked what I knew, how I felt, was I frightened. And then she asked if I'd cried. Don't be afraid to cry, she told me. At that point, it had been literally years since I'd cried. I've gotten better at it, since.
In some schools of Buddhism, there is a concept of conscious suffering. That suffering is a fundamental part of life, and that we shouldn't fear it or hide from it. That we should, in fact, nakedly embrace it, no matter how painful. We're all suffering, all the time. The most basic reason for it is our mortality, and our consciousness of our mortality; but we all have plenty of other sorrows, many of them profound. And while it's not good to wallow in conscious suffering, unconscious suffering- running from it, or trying to numb it- which is how most people deal with it, even though it doesn't work- at best only creates a sort of emotionally displaced equilibrium. It leads to psychological and emotional stasis. To really learn and grow and evolve and heal and work things through means facing suffering head on, however complicated or intense.
If we don't consciously come to terms with our suffering, we don't consciously come to terms with life itself. If we don't consciously come to terms with our suffering, it comes back at us in unforeseen and even more damaging ways. Conscious suffering shouldn't be the focus of our lives, but neither should we ignore it. To fully experience life's joys and wonders necessitates our also fully experiencing its pain and sorrow.
There is so much beauty and love in the world, but there also is so much horror and alienation and hatred. They are all part of the matrix of existence. We have to look deeply into all of them. We have to keep our eyes open. We have to try to understand them, but we also have to understand that some things are beyond understanding. We have to experience them for what they are, as they are. We have to feel them. When they arise, as they arise. Without fear.