This week I received news over the internet of four deaths. Each of the deaths were the loved ones of friends and associates. Each piece of news seemed to involve increasing degrees of suffering.
(although that’s question for another blog – whether we can measure and compare suffering??)
I also noticed how upon receiving this news – I quickly managed to turn their suffering into my problem….what should I do? …. what should I say? …. what is the most appropriate response? Notice how the burden of my friends has been transformed into my burden?
Instead I really want to be able to be present to the suffering they are experiencing.
On this Good Friday, we attempt in our rituals and ceremonies to be present to the suffering and death of Jesus. The only “good” thing about it – is that we have an understanding that suffering is not the end of the story. There is a doorway at the other end of grief’s dark path.
Pema Chodron teaches that our suffering is amplified our inability to face things as they really are.
Our desire to make things “good” and then hit the “pause” button – results in disappointment as things continue to flow on in the random uncertainties of life’s chaos.
Our desire to hit the “fast forward” button and escape when hard things happen (filling that gaping void of pain with too much of our favourite hobbies – sex, drugs, food, booze, shopping, sleeping, working, running) results in avoidance of what’s at our toes.
This avoidance only suppresses, internalizes, and delays the experience. Often the effort of avoidance only results in amplifying the effects. The suffering continues to rattle around in our heads while we try even harder to drown it out by turning up the volume of excess.
So, I wanna know, how does one face, and be present, to the pain?
How does one walk into fire?
How do I manage to get out of my own head and into the place where life is actually going on minute by minute, second by second, breath by breath?
The Bhudda says “what is – is”
Jesus says “the kindom is within”
I’ve been using a combination of the two. The Bhuddist practice of tonglen and a Christ centered meditation on the candle-light of Christ.
If I believe that the light of Christ’s divinity is in me – and in all sentient beings – then I trust in the transforming power of love within.
With full intention, I inhale the pain of my friends.
I bring that pain deep into my body and allow the light of Christ’s divinity in me to transform it. The pain fuels the flame and becomes the light and heat of love.
With full intention, I exhale that peace into the lives of my friends.
I repeat this practice for my own pain, the pain of strangers, the sufferings of the creatures, the rivers, the forests, the saints.
For my activist friends who are saying “where’s the meat?” or “I need a God with skin on.” I need to note that this is not a replacement for action, for letter writing, for dealing with hungry stomachs.
This practice only prepares me for action. It ensures that when I do act – it’s not about me. My action is about meeting the sufferings of the day and not about addressing my own needs to please, to avoid, to cover up, or control.
But of course life just ain’t so neat. My efforts become messy as I enter into the stream of circumstances that demand from me a “blind understanding”.
Good Friday’s betrayals are mine. I lose focus. Fear overcomes my good intentions. I get distracted. I run and hide for cover.
Even in the daylight of Easter I lose my way and need good friends to be present and guide me with the grace of their prayers and acts of love.
May the One who sees all that is hidden lead you through this holy weekend.