Suffering Is The Seed Of Wisdom (+ A Self Compassion Meditation)

When you feel overwhelmed by all the suffering in the world--either your own, or the stories that bombard us daily in the news--it's hard to see wisdom in it. Suffering hurts. We tend to get stuck in our stories about what happened, how we, or others, were wronged. (Click here to listen to this guided meditation to develop self compassion.)

Suffering Is The Seed Of Compassion

When you allow the suffering of the world to touch you--when you can stay with it, without getting overwhelmed--you actually help heal the situation. By consciously taking on suffering, you expand the capacity of your heart. This then increases your capacity for joy, because your heart gets bigger.

Suffering is suffering -- there is no "yours" and "mine." As soon as you acknowledge that simple fact, the thing that brought so much pain then becomes the letter of introduction, the initiation to open-heartedness. Com-passion: to suffer with.

When you sign up to take a deep look at things by practicing meditation in a disciplined way, you sign up for everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Birth, old age, sickness and death.

There is no bypassing the latter two, no bargaining death. Things will come when they are good and ready, and they will fall apart just as easily, independent of our feelings about the whole phenomenal display. From an ultimate perspective, good and bad are no different. There is only that which causes suffering, and that which heals it. In the end, it all evaporates like mist, revealing the beauty of simple suchness underneath.

The Wisdom Of Not Doing

In the meantime, you do not have to try to make anything happen. Your job is to be kind, and present, joyfully, to appreciate--to love-- the splendor of it all, and to keep doing that. To use the ground you fall down upon as the leverage to press yourself back up to standing.

You learn that you have to extend love, respect and compassion to yourself before you can receive it from anyone else.

You may expect meditation to suddenly make your life peaceful and easy and happy. The modern context insists that meditation is going to make you stress-free. But Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was so clear on this point. Meditation is simply the way in--a way to start developing a sane relationship to your present experience and that, if anything, it would most likely make life more intense, excruciating and miserable at times.

Despite deep practice and devotion, still the world turns round and round, still samsara (the merry-go-round of conditioned existence) rules and still there is suffering.  Chogyam Trungpa said about meditation practice that It's not about happiness. It's about something much more interesting than that.

But who wants to hear that? How do you get any relief from that kind of statement?

It's About Love

The love I'm talking about is not the special sauce--not the fairy tale love of the cinemas. It's the love of things as they are-- exactly as they are-- right now. Because they can be no different. Rather than assuming you understand what is happening right now, just take a moment to listen. There is a stillness that comes from that listening, and that stillness is peace. It comes down to simply accepting what fate has tossed your way, accepting the pain and loss, the disappointment and letting that pierce to the core of your heart. Because a devastated heart is an open heart.

Like Rumi says, "God's treasures lie in ruined hearts."

Acceptance doesn't mean sitting by idly while people suffer, it means that before we can act with benefit, we first have to accept the situation as it is. Then, and only then, can you act with wisdom.

Wisdom Is Learning To Tolerate Suffering

It is about learning to tolerate experience. You tune in so deeply that intense pain becomes simply a deeper resonance, a different vibration on the musical scale and you learn to appreciate that sort of music. I don't say like: you don't have to like it. But appreciate it, and accept it. Then you can love it.

When everything falls apart, moments of quiet contemplation reconnected you to the earth, and to your wounded heart.

You might think that by practicing deep meditation and yoga that you can avoid the work, and the pain of life, but in fact the opposite is true. Deep practice invites suffering, because this is how you burn off karma.

Samsara Or Nirvana?

The only difference between samsara and nirvana is your attitude toward the phenomenal world. Attachment and revulsion perpetuate your suffering. Wisdom means total acceptance of whatever arises, and letting go of that urge to try to fix things. Not everything can be fixed. I'm not saying don't support worthy causes. I'm saying don't fight things. Without acceptance, your actions will be based on aggression as you try to change the things that you can't accept.

Why is it so difficult to accept what is?

Failure, despair, loss, and rejection are hard pills to swallow. But why do we have this idea that we should be moving toward some goal? Where do we think we are headed? We get an idea about a result—how we want our life, our work, our relationships--to look, and then we get busy manipulating the phenomenal world to create that. And why not? Creation is an act worthy of the gods. But what happens when our masterpiece fails? What if we run out of paint? Lose our vision? What if it just doesn't work?

When you accept whatever it is that arises, not just with your mind, but with your whole being, then that is wisdom. That is love. You don't need anyone to love-- just love what is. Start with yourself.

Click here to listen to a short self compassion meditation.