A man beats his child
Teaches her that love and pain are combined
She grows up and marries a man who beats her
Then they teach that child the same lesson, and he one day beats his wife
The cycle of pain and suffering continues.
I’m not pulling my punches today. We live in a world caught in cycles of pain. It’s important to look at them. It’s important to look at how they influence us. It’s important to see how we perpetuate them. All the great major religions at their core are interested in ending these cycles of suffering. They seek to bring balance and harmony to civilization. Nevermind what extremists are doing or what people who have lost their spirituality in their service to the great edifice of the structure of religions are doing. Get to the core. Get down to the root. To do that means we have to look at how we’ve created our internal world so that we can begin to break the cycles of pain and suffering within us.
The Hammer Falls Once on Us; We Share It Twice on Others
Even people who consider themselves to be nice people may cringe as they look inwards at how they’ve aided, abetted, or perpetuated suffering in themselves or on others. It’s a cold dark world at times when we have to admit that we are part of the problem. That’s part of the profundity that comes with spiritual awakening; we suddenly see all of that all at once. Spiritual awakening doesn’t give you rose colored glasses. It takes those away and smashes them into millions of peaces. Awakening simply sees. It sees what is without label. It sees pain, and it sees joy. It sees their sacred dance together as life unfolds.
And yet from this deep awareness, there will often arise the aspiration to influence life and to assuage much of the suffering that is going on. It starts with stopping how we swing the hammer on others. So often the pain that we feel from someone else we immediately we want to get rid of. So we pound someone twice with our hammer–whether it is abuse of another, general whining and bitching, or someone other outlet.
Or perhaps we swing the hammer twice on ourselves. There’s a strong masochistic element in many people, and many people think that there is no harm in harming themselves. But there is. Your seemingly private pity party in alcohol, binge eating, excessive working-out, over working in general, or whatever you do to avoid your pain and suffering is actually inflicting suffering on yourself and is also making everyone else around you suffer more. Because we are all connected, and what we do to hurt or debase ourselves, hurts others.
The Pain Game
A woman comes home and yells at her husband
At night, he crawls into the bottle to hide from that pain
Later on he gets in a shouting match and fist fight with another man over nothing
He ends up in jail. The other man ends up in the hospital
The other man cowers the rest of his life from difficult situations and never asserts himself again
His family learns the lesson of becoming a victim
The cycle of pain and suffering continues
The cycles of pain play out in so many ways. It’s like the game of telephone, but in a very bad way. In telephone, someone whispers a message to one person, and then that person whispers it to another. The message gradually morphs into something different from the original message–most of the time. Then everyone laughs at what the final metamorphosis is.
But with pain, it’s not funny what this morphs into. It is simply more and more suffering. Many of us who have awakened find it really upsetting to do harmful things to others if we didn’t already have that aversion. Although I notice that there is still this martyrdom element that can show up, but as I said, suffering for the world does no good.
The world knows suffering.
It needs to know love.
Grounding and Releasing Pain and Suffering in You
Which is why having grounding rituals is important. One of my favorite techniques that I learned someone time ago was called a negative tension release. What I’m going to describe is a variant of that. Essentially, you sit up straight and focus on different parts of your body. Start with the top of your head and work your way down. Breathe slowly and deeply with your eyes closed, and focus on any feelings of dis-ease or pain at each area. Then shake it out of through your arms. Work your way all the way down to your feet, and see if you feel a little better. I usually do, and it’s definitely been helpful as I’ve released negativity pointed at me indirectly or directly. Not all negativity is personal–and oftentimes when someone is trying to make it personal, it really isn’t. Sometimes, different places and cities are negative, so this can be a great way to practice clearing away the mud of walking through a swamp. Those places not necessarily evil; they are just swamps. Don’t make too big of a deal out of it.
Walking Out of Pain and Suffering
A man sees another man get mugged and robbed
He says nothing
At work, he sees his boss talk over all the other employees
He says nothing
At home he screams at everybody
His children and wife say nothing
His children grow up, and they learn to scream at others, but when something serious happens, they say nothing
The cycle of silent suffering continues.
It can all seem bleak, but I encourage you to look inward. I know these little vignettes have been striking, but sometimes these scenarios are the only way to get people to pay attention. I recently encouraged a spiritual friend interested in child advocacy to take pictures of children who have been abused. Words are powerful, but like the old age says, a picture is worth a thousand words. The power of those images can help people finally see the problem at hand instead of ignoring or avoiding it.
Which is where the start of breaking the cycle of pain and suffering begins. We start by bringing awareness and our inner sight to view the suffering in our own lives.
Our Eyes Open to Reality
As I mentioned, spiritual awakening does not bring rose-colored glasses. Anything that only judges life as positive and negative and focuses solely on the positive while ignoring the negative is a very naive way to look at life. That’s not how spirituality is. Spirituality sees all. But you will only be able to see all of life when you are willing to see all of you. A lot of times, we don’t look at all of life because we are afraid to look at all of ourselves. It’s a hard thing to imagine that we could ever do things like murder, gang rape, steal, and so forth, but the human beings doing such things are–in fact–still human beings. They are just like us. Labelling them as evil, insane, unconscious, or whatever doesn’t get us out of the fact that we have those same potentialities inside us. Sure, the more you embrace the fullness of your love and awareness, those types of things don’t even surface in your consciousness as something that you would do. But this is the no-holds-bars reality of the spiritual path; to get to that place of awareness means you have to accept all of life and all of yourself–both the ability to do great kindnesses and the ability to do great harm.
What to Do With the Mess in Your Living Room
If you have started to open your eyes, even a little, I applaud you. But you may suddenly feel overwhelmed by the fear, anger, hatred, sadness, despair, and other things piled in your inner living room. “How did it all get here?” you may wonder. They got there through avoidance, neglect, and more fear of ourselves. To clean it up starts and continues with noticing what is there. You have to survey the damage. Many people just want it to be cleaned up already, and while healing can be instantaneous, I think it is often more helpful to go slowly. There is no rush. No matter how badly things seem, the idea of fixing ourselves can potentially be worse. Because fixing often means rejecting parts of ourselves. Healing means loving all of ourselves including our hatreds, fears, and sadness. This may sound strange, and you may not know how to do this. But as I said, start by noticing what is here. The journal is, as ever, a great place to start to list out what you see before you consider bringing in the battle axe to hack it out.
Breaking the Cycles of Pain and Suffering
A man is belittled at work and robbed as he gets off the subway
He goes home and cries after filing a police report
His partner asks why he is crying
He tells him and lets the pain go
The cycle of pain and suffering starts to break
Whenever you are unhappy or upset, I encourage you to pause. I encourage you to see the upset feelings inside, and I encourage you to find the courage to let them go. Whatever happened is not about you. If there is something to be learned from the situation, then learn it. This is part of the power of our courage and love. This part of the power of seeing the reality of the situation. When we turn to face it instead of running from it, attacking it, or avoiding it, we can now see it. I can’t emphasize this enough. The cycles of pain and suffering that the Buddha and other teachers talked about thousands of years ago are still just as present today, and they are still just as heal-able. And all it takes to get started is the willingness to look and see what is right there.