Saturday, March 1, 2008

Suffering, compassion, and the power of expression

The Buddhists believe suffering is an inevitable part of life. Different braches of Buddhism seek to address that suffering in different ways, but all three incorporate concepts of compassion and detachment as methods to alleviate suffering.

Of course... we all define suffering differently. But one thing that really stood out for me this weekend is we all do indeed have something going on which we might term as pain, sadness, loss, anxiety, insecurity, or disappointment. Suffering. And... one of the things that seems to be effective for a lot of Westerners is to have a space or time within which we can speak freely about that suffering and share our story with other people.

It's the basis of therapy or counseling. Having someone who can actively listen to your story can be very powerful. And sometimes simply sharing your story... saying things out loud, naming your suffering, and letting it transition from thoughts and feelings living alone in you to an articulated concept and inner life made tangible through language can lessen its power over you.

It's as if we remove the option of remaining hidden - even from ourselves. By speaking suffering aloud, you share the burden of that suffering and place it into a larger context from which perspective is possible.

Suffering can be short and simple, complex and lengthy, or anything in between. It is as changeable and impermanent as all other things in life... but it can often feel as if we are stuck inside of it or trapped by it and cannot see a clear way out.

I think sometimes it is easy to remember to practice compassion for others - to provide a source of love and understanding to help ease another's distress. It is sometimes harder to remember to be compassionate with ourselves. To encounter fear or insecurity with kindness and gentleness, to respond to anxiety or pain with attention and calm, to treat depression or grief with patience and understanding.

To be positive in our attitude, long-viewed in our perspective, and tender in our approach. Even - and perhaps especially - with ourselves.

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