Suffering, wisdom and compassion

A couple of people got in touch after the last blog wondering how and if they should tell their story.  These on one hand are normal people, raising families, going to work, living life; nothing special.  On the other hand, these are people who have really lived through some hard stuff and come out the other side. Not only have they survived their suffering, they have turned it into something good in their lives; they have made sure that no one else had to experience what they had to experience.

There is a whole genre of ‘misery memoirs’ out there; ‘ A Child Called It’ by Dave Pelzer and Frank McCourts’s ‘Angela’s Ashes’ are two which spring to mind.  Pelzer’s experiences of child abuse are so extreme that his survival seems at times miraculous and the fact that he has thrived in his life, extraordinary.

Buddhism and Suffering

There is an old Buddhist story of a woman whose only son dies.  Mad with grief she goes to Buddha and asks him to take away her suffering. Buddha says he wants mustard seed, but that he only wants mustard seed from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent or friend. As the woman goes from house to house asking for the mustard seed, the villagers share with her their experience of loss, until she understands that the nature of life is that there is death and suffering. As Jim Morrison famously said; ‘no one gets out of here alive’.

When I got this week’s emails, it got me thinking about the people I know.  I couldn’t think of one single person who has gone through life without some kind of challenge or another.  Buddhism teaches that life is suffering.  This is not to say that there is no joy, no pleasure or no fun, it simply means that these things pass. Life is impermanent not only because we are born and we die, but also because our joys don’t last, that great day out ends, the summer turns to autumn, the peacefully sleeping baby wakes up and howls.

So if we all suffer, then what is the point of reading about other people’s stories or of writing and sharing your own story?

For the same reason that Buddha sent the girl around her village asking for mustard seed; because knowing that we are not alone in our suffering helps.  When we hear someone’s experience of dealing with something we are struggling with we gain hope, we see that it is possible to survive, it is possible to thrive.

Wisdom and Compassion

It also seemed to me, as I was mentally scanning through the people that I know, that those who have suffered the most are often wiser and more compassionate as a result of what they have been through.  Wisdom and compassion which are qualities that Buddhism seeks to develop.

And yet, this, I think is a choice because we read in the news of people who do terrible harm to others, who have not transformed their own suffering into wisdom and compassion.

None of us gets through life without suffering but all of us can chose to use our suffering as the crucible for our own opening.  When we suffer, we have the choice to be broken apart by it, it become more vulnerable, more in touch with our feelings, more open to the support of other. Or we can choose to toughen up, armour, shut down, shut out, calcify.  To choose to be broken open by our suffering takes courage, but it is this courage which allows us to find peace ironically.

Letting go of attachment

Because when bad stuff happens, when we suffer, we understand, finally, that more money, fast cars, a promotion are not what brings us peace and happiness.  We have to face the fact that we are not in control. We have to let go of our dreams or how life should be, or ought to be or how we thought we would be and we have to face life as it is, as we are.  And this shattering of our illusions of what we thought life should be allows us to see life more clearly as it really is.

Once we understand that life is joyful and painful, that it brings us opportunities and threats then we can let go of attachment to our ideals and accept the reality.  It is this acceptance of what is, and the releasing of attachment to what ought to be, which sets us free and we need guides and stories to help us understand and experience this.

Your story matters

So please share your stories. Tell the world about what you have lived through and how it changed you and the way you live.  We may not all have volumes of memoirs to write like Pelzer et al, but we all have stories and someone, somewhere is going through what you have been through and needs to know that they will survive and that they will be happy again.

Julie

PS

If you, or anyone you know has lived with domestic abuse or violence and would like to tell me your story confidentially please email julie@julieleoni.com.

Ps Free Ebooks for anyone who needs them (just click on the links)

  1. How to be LessStressed: From Survive and Strive to Revive and Thrive
  2. Getting over the End of a Relationship: Relationship Recovery
  3. Domestic Abuse: how to get support for people living with it

Ps..here are other places you can read my stuff

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