By Ruth Lera
I try my best to remind my students that the act of meditation is a great act of courage.
The reason for this is that I can’t stress enough that we all have pain and suffering.
I am all too aware that much of the pain and suffering that goes on in the world are acts of great atrocity. That these horrible acts of cruelty are often so terrible, it is difficult not to find ourselves casting our eyes away, because just the thought of what some people and animals are going through on this planet of ours, seems like more than our fragile human systems can handle.
But the truth is, even if our own pain is not in the category of atrocious, it is still pain.
Everyone has faced disappointment, let-down, regret, loss and heartbreak on their human journey. This is what the Buddha explained to us: that we all have suffering. This suffering is one of the main factors of the human journey, and our job here is to decide what we are going to do with this pain.
My personal experience is that the more I turn away from the pain within myself, the less tolerance I have for other people’s pain. When I can’t face the darkness that lives within me, then I find myself judging, blaming, excusing and ignoring the challenges in others.
This path of denying pain is a quick route to loneliness, because the journey is much more universal then we can even imagine. That is also what the Buddha told us. For anyone who has listened even a little bit to the what Buddha’s guidance has found, is that if we are brave enough to stay with our pain longer than feels comfortable (such as in meditation), turning into the pain within ourselves can build capacity in our own hearts.
This is new for me, being such a “heart” person.
A younger me would definitely have balked at this older me posting heart images on social media, and talking about listening to the heart versus the mind. However, more than being a “heart” person, the thing that surprises me more is how this projecting of the heart is coming from such an organic place inside me.
A healer once told me that the heart chakra is infinite, and I feel it. I made room for my heart to expand by not running from my own fear of the discomfort of my innate imperfection.
This is what can be so hard to understand on the spiritual journey, that we don’t start to feel happier or better—we don’t feel more peaceful as we evolve spiritually. Instead, we feel better equipped to be with the imperfections, and actually start to find them perfect for the sheer reason they exist.
We find that in each moment there are imperfections and disappointment and as an incarnated being we can only decide what we are going to do with our hearts and minds. Are we going to solidify the pain by deciding there is a problem? Are we going to become desperate for a solution? Are we going to blame someone or something for what is happening?
Or instead, are we going to just see the love, beauty and humor in the normalcy of the challenge we are facing?
I guess the real question is, can we just say I love you to every moment that is in front of us, and set the intention that we hope whatever the moment is bringing will be of benefit in the journey, even if it is confusing, uncomfortable and tangled in webs of past and present karma?
This is a capacity we have to build—to believe the challenges are part of the journey toward love, and it takes courage. It begins with sitting quietly in the face of discomfort.
Running away from our pain isn’t a mistake. Denying the suffering and sticking our heads in the sand of whatever present neurotic, modern addiction has our attention isn’t a failure. It is just the perfect imperfection, as well.
But this is where I think the bigger questions can be a support to us.
When we get brave and sit quietly and ask ourselves: Why am I really here? And what do I want to do with my time on earth? We might get answers such as be of service, become love, clear out fearful karma or be my most authentic, true self. These bigger answers can motivate us.
When a friend lets us down, or our spouse forgets us, or our employer doesn’t appreciate us, perhaps we don’t have to reach for blame or shame, but instead can ask: How can I sit with my own pain and build the capacity in my own heart in the face of this disappointment?
Maybe we can see that this challenging moment is ripe with opportunity to feel suffering, even if it isn’t as atrocious as many face every day.
When we reach for our meditation skills (of course the resistance will inevitably arise) and we will feel like it is too much, or we aren’t sure our fragile sense of being will be able to handle seeing where our soul aches for more comfort, we will know we are courageous. We might even stay with the particular discomfort that is arising one moment more then we knew we could.
This not reaching immediately for comfort, but instead staying and maybe crying a little (or yelling a little) and really feeling that the pain in that particular moment will be a gift.
In that moment we stay with the pain a little longer than we knew we could, we’ll be doing a great service to ourselves and the world, because in that moment we will be building more capacity in our hearts.
And I can’t think of a better life purpose than that.
Editor: Dana Gornall