October 28, 2010
my little suffering
It's been awhile since I've posted anything here, and it's not because I don't have anything to say. My silence has been fueled largely by a lot of travel recently, and as much as I like to travel for work, it really does mess with a routine. Eventually, I find myself feeling a little run down, and now I've got a cough, and I'm tired and it's Halloween and I'm wishing I weren't feeling so tired and run down. So, I started this post wanting to complain about a few things, but as I was feeling that urge to complain, I was reminded by a recent reader comment asking about how I define compassion. So, let's start there.
I think compassion is partly about recognizing suffering in someone else. Suffering is such a buddhist word to me, and although I find myself drawn to buddhism, I sometimes question (in vain) whether suffering really conveys the right meaning of other people's pain and struggle. To me, suffering is a really strong feeling, like the agony of being in the last days of dying of cancer, not the pain of being surrounded by too many things. But when I reflect, I recognize that they are both a type of pain, one just being more profound than the other and that the degree of pain and how it inflicts itself depends on the person and their perceptions, so I think suffering IS a useful word in relation to compassion. So, in order to be compassionate, I think you have to recognize the suffering of others. And then, I think you have to respond to that suffering with love and kindness. That show of love and kindness might manifest itself differently depending on the person and what that person needs and appreciates, and maybe knowing how to respond lovingly is part of the challenge and the learning that comes with experience.
I think that people respond with anger, hurt, and thoughtlessness when they are so distracted by their own suffering that they are not able to respond with love. Our own suffering can sneak up on us--sometimes I think we don't even know we have a wound until something comes along and rips the scab right off.
This happened to me recently. I have struggled over the last several days because I have wanted to respond in kind (i.e., not with kindness). I have wanted to go looking for a wound that needs some salt rubbed in it because I have been suffering myself. In the process of talking with a few good friends, though, I have started to embrace my suffering, and am trying to take care of it. I have been working to recognize that thoughtlessness happened because of someone else's suffering, and it is better to take care of myself and be ready to respond with compassion than it is to point out the short comings in others. This is not easy, and I am working on it. I will let you know how it goes.