Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday on Saturday: Suffering

Because I am notoriously bad at following the rules... I am posting Sacred Life Sunday on Saturday.

It's all about identity. The identities we choose. The identities we claim.

I am too fat. I am impatient. I am sloppy. I am not smart enough. I am too smart. I am too skinny. I am American. I am Thai. I am British. I am tall. I am short. I am loud. I am quiet. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a mother. I am a father. I am a survivor of child abuse. I am a formerly abused woman. I am a student. I am an elder. I am ....

I am....

And then....

It's too hot. It's too cold. The neighbor's music is too loud. This doesn't taste good. That doesn't sound good. This fabric is too rough on my skin. It's too windy. My groceries cost too much. There's too much traffic. Everyone keeps bugging me.

How often we declare these things and in the process make them true. How we attach ourselves to them and use them as definitions of who we are.

We use them to separate ourselves from others and to bond to others. How often do we use our suffering as a way to bond with others? We are a group of child abuse survivors. We are a group of formerly abused women. We are a group of men who have been in prison. The sangha of the oppressed.

From the minute we come to this planet through our mother's womb, we start screaming. We start criticizing. All of our senses scream. Taste, feel, smell, hear, see. All the input from the external world begins to irritate us.

That's the suffering inherent in being alive in the material world. All these sensitivities. The sensitivity, the impingement and the irritations come through until we die.

It becomes important at some point to view these things differently. We have to see the world as it is, instead of judging it - or each other. We become identified with the ideals. Our critical minds tell us what others should be, what governments should be, what parents should be, what our partners should be... It's always predicated on some peak experience. Peak experiences are wonderful but they're not sustainable. Everything changes. Constantly. We can become conditioned - or we can become open.

I've noticed myself doing this a lot. I have such strong ideals, such a strong sense of what's right and what's wrong and balance everything against that, that I am making myself miserable.

There's a huge difference between being depressed and pessimistic or truly accepting the world as it is but still finding the beauty in it. The more we are attached to our identities, the less we can see the beauty because we're too caught up in defending our ideals.

Suffering becomes noble when we can finally see it as a learning experience, as an opportunity - even a challenge if we choose it that way. Rather than fear sensitivity, be fully sensitive instead of trying to protect ourselves endlessly from pain or misfortune. Embrace it, understand it, be open to it, admit it, and finally to accept it. That begins to give us some freedom from the pain, the frustration and the irritation, no matter what form it takes. Instead of asking "why me", just say "why not me".

And the final, most important thing, is to detach ourselves from our identities as "those who suffer."



Anvilcloud said...

I think that the language that we use to frame things makes a difference. It's also good to keep a sense of humour and not take ourselves too seriously. I try to do that. Sometimes I succeed.

Brandi Reynolds said...

the part of defining by peak experiences really hit me.

I know I have done this. I know there are times when i continue to do this.

this post is a straight shot to the heart-in a good way.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is a wonderful reminder not only that suffering brings its own gift, usually one of understanding, but that we do ourselves and others a huge disservice with our expectations of perfection.

In Virginia Woolf's diary, she describes a perfect day and then remarks, "Of course one could not live at such a pitch every day."

It is easy to get so caught up in the continuous drama of our own negativity that we miss the great fulfillment life offers. The unwanted sensory input is simply the opposing aspect of being able to enjoy music, art, nature and the beauty of other people.

niobe said...

Embracing pain and misfortune? I'm not sure how I would even begin.

painted maypole said...

you said: And the final, most important thing, is to detach ourselves from our identities as "those who suffer."

now THAT is food for thought. thanks.

Catherine said...

I'm teaching my Diversity class this month, and was preparing for it when I took a break to read this post...but it fit so well. Thanks.

Liv said...


yes, but i want to be done with that. and i most certainly would not want to be viewed as long-suffering or someone who suffers.

breaking the chains is key.

Jen said...

Very true. I try, as much as possible, to not be part of a "group," as a point of identity. I found I did that when I was younger and you're right - it becomes too heavy a form of identity.

Great post.

Girlplustwo said...

it may sound a bit pop culture, but i read the Power of Now years ago and the whole idea of the absence of suffering really stuck with me. generally, none of us are suffering in the way we think we are. the detachment is the key. but it's a noble and difficult path to live in that way (i'm certainly not there, but my mindfulness has increased)

Angela said...

Thank you. I needed that.

flutter said...

This suffering thing? Sucks ass. I wish I had something more eloquent to add, but seriously? That's all I have.

z said...

I like this because it's about being able to percieve complexity, that you can feel depressed and appreciate beauty, that it's not either or, that what you might think is your identity does not limit you, that it is just one aspect of you.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly what is on my mind these days. Preferences and likes and dislikes are loosening their grip on me these days. So are the stories that once made up who I thought I was. Life is becoming a lot easier.

blooming desertpea said...

We are very vulnerable to negativity and it's very hard to shake it off. If we manage to do so, we can experience a great relief. The burden is still there but we can carry it more easily. Detachment sounds like a very appropriate word to describe it.

S said...

i'm listening hard to this one, chani.

so i can carry it with me in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

i really love this post, Chani.

I've found that as i live longer and have more experiences, I am using them as learning opportunities. This is a good thing, although I can find two things to complain about: 1) not having enough experiences fast enough! and 2) it's always a lesson acquired through hindsight - I haven't mastered the ability to accept challenges.

Julie Pippert said...

Wow, Chani, that's really, really powerful.

thailandchani said...

Anvil, I agree that the words we choose really do mean a lot. Being conscious of use of language means a lot in how our unconscious takes it in.


Dandelion, I'm glad it spoke to you. This is something I continue to work on, too. Well.. in a way. I've kind of gone the opposite road to cynicism which is equally destructive. I put way too much stock in thinking all as well as long as there's not an approaching train.


Susan, absolutely. That is one of the things that consistently comes to my attention when I listen to *most* communication. Laundry lists, specific expectations - almost a competitive sense to what we bring into our lives and, dammit all, we won't accept anything but the *best*.

I don't find that satisfying from either direction - my own expectations or the expectations of others. It's limiting and does cause suffering.


Niobe, I don't think Ajahn Sumedho (who writes a lot about this) meant that we are supposed to embrace suffering as in *marrying* it. In fact, one of the things he really emphasizes is that we don't allow it to become part of our identity.

It's really about understanding that the world is dukkha. Suffering is here. We can consistently deny it and "fight" against it (as if we could!) or we can accept it.


PM, it sure spoke to me! Until I really looked at it, I didn't realize how much I do it - and I have enough experience with all of this to know better. It's conditioning.


Catherine, I hope you will write a post about your diversity class. I'd love to read more about it. :)


Liv, breaking the attachment is the key. :)


JenA2, I think we all do it when we're young, especially having been raised in a culture that emphasizes individuality. It's not our nature so we try to incorporate ourselves into groups of likeminded others. Rather stagnating in retrospect.


Jen1+2, I read that book also. Without quibbling too much on his basic premise, he seems to deny suffering rather than accept it. That disturbs me. Pop culture. Yes. :)

Although I have read his second book, too. There's some worthwhile stuff buried in the New Age blah blah.


Angela :)


Flutter, yes, it does suck ass. (I am very literal and that paints *such* a picture. LOL) You're right. But it ain't goin' away.. so we might as well learn how to accept it.


Tiv, yes, yes, yes. Yes!


Kelly, very true. I am at a similar stage. I'm tired of compartmentalizing my life into "good" lists and "bad" lists. It's horribly limiting.


Desertpea, it is easy to have that occur in a fear-based culture. Acceptance really isn't as hard as it seems - and is very freeing. (Not saying I'm all the way there.. but am committed to it.)


SM, good. Glad you are listening. And I hope it brings you some comfort.


De, most lessons are learned in hindsight.


Julie.. thanks. I am just learning it, too. It started in T. and I'm following up on it now.



Sai Hijara - Ferraris said...

Another moving post Chani!

Love your closing line...said it well!

crazymumma said...

And isn't part of your journey about acceptence?

I find it hard to tolerate the things that grate at me, but when I can and do, and rise above certain concerns I feel like a much better person.

Everydaythings said...

just found your blog..thank you for posting on mine and making me aware of your wonderrfull blog space...your blog is delicious to read!!! jsut saved it to favourites!

Olivia said...

A beautiful post...I don't know what to add to what everyone above has said, except, just from me, "Thank you for such a moving post!" Love and blessings, Olivia

Anonymous said...

It really is amazing how our stories have the power to lift us up or tear us down.

Mary said...

Sometimes we view life too seriously. I try to lighten up when I need to. Most of the time it works.

Janet said...

Why not me?

I'm going to try to keep that notion close to my heart.

storyteller said...

Paying attention to our thoughts and language, making subtle changes where we can … moves us in the direction of wellness … and our dreams. You can't fail as long as you don't quit.
Hugs and blessings,