Everyone is looking for a cure. But will that be enough? Aren’t we often addicted to our suffering? Isn’t suffering more exciting and newsworthy than a cure?
Of all living things
the most fortunate are
those who escaped….
I saw a still-born hippo
floating in a pool,
it’s legs reaching to the sky
as it’s grieving mother swam, circling around it.
Why did the opossum cross the road?
Did it not see the car speeding onward?
Now just another memory of life
flattened on asphalt.
There’s a black man hanging from a tree, like my savior,
with a sacrilegious cross burning in the yard.
The sounds of wailing through tears
mocked by fleeing hooded jeers and laughter.
And I’ve seen a black man stopped by police
because of the color of his skin
Unjustly harassed, searched and thrown against the car
only to find nothing.
My dear Ophelia, drifting underwater
what was your last thought
watching the last air bubble, wobble
and rise toward a liquid sky?
To a woman: Did you feel free
the moment you jumped
from that high blue bridge
and flew toward the earth?
The broken red wings of your spirit
spilling through your cracked skull
onto the pavement one summer morning.
Your twisted body, lying there
in front of me behind the wheel,
on a street called North when you went South.
The subject of a undisciplined and indiscriminate passerby
who just had to wiggle out of her red van,
before the police arrived, get up close
and take a photo with her cell-phone.
The mosquito gorging itself
on the blood-feast of its host
takes no notice of the hand that will kill it.
The fly for all it’s many eyes
still cannot see
that it feeds, mostly, on shit.
Does the flower feel pain
as each of its petals fall until
all that is left is a withered stem?
Does the tree feel pain
when its limbs are stripped from the trunk
during the storm or when
this living thing is cut down
by the chainsaw massacre of deforestation?
I’ve seen wild mice care for the injured young in a nest disturbed.
I’ve heard the piercing, shrieking squeal of injured rabbits.
I’ve seen the Killdeer risk its life to distract a predator
and I’ve looked into the sad, fearful eyes of an unloved dog.
I’ve seen a deer hit by a car get up and limp away
only to die by the side of road while looking back
as if to apologize for disturbing traffic.
I’ve seen a butterfly with a broken wing
clinging to hope while wishing it were back in its cocoon.
I’ve seen the fish
stranded too long on the beach
its glassy eye blinded by sunlight
its gaping mouth filled with sand and
its scales sticky with death
In Alaska, I found a cassette tape
by the side of the road
the middle of nowhere
the wilderness, no one around for miles
wet and muddy, its case cracked
I don’t know what made me
pick it up and take it home.
I let it dry, cleaned it, rewound it and carefully placed the tape in a new case.
My proud first attempt at restoration.
Then I put it in the player and pressed “PLAY”
I was assaulted by the sounds of thrown objects
hitting something and someone,
cursing, screams, cries, anger, hatred, vicious argument,
begging and pleading.
There were no names.
and the sound of a crying child hiding in a corner whimpering “please stop”
Threats and the dull sound of fists hitting flesh
meting out punishment where once there was love.
I sat listening. Frozen. Unable to move.
As the sun set I cried.
I’ve smelled living death
The stink of blood mixed with piss
as the cancer-fill man stood naked by the toilet.
His unbathed pasty flesh clammy with sweat.
He is too weak to bathe himself so I have to help
as I try to disguise my gagging reflex;
and I wonder if this is what the mortician sees, feels and smells.
And I’ve smelled the death of a slaughterhouse
the mindless cruelty and knock of a thudding blow
to the head of a cow with a stunbolt
the still live animal lying helpless, it’s throat now slit,
blood gushing in rivers onto the dirty, stained concrete floor,
the twitching limbs of a dying years supply of hamburgers and steaks.
I’ve even smelled the death
of a carcass in the hot summer sun
at the dumping grounds of livestock no longer “live”.
Cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goats piled indiscriminately
the rotting remains, not yet destroyed
lying in an open trailer to a buzzing soundtrack
the pungent waves of nauseating stink
this unmovable feast for flies and their maggot young
The bodies juices oozing
from the rusted corners of the container.
I’ve heard the uncontrollable impulsive
wailing of the living that accompanies
the release of the recently dead
Maybe I’ve seen too much
Maybe I’ve heard and smelled too much.
Maybe I’ve even said too much.
But of all the things that have touched me –
Have I let them move me?
Or do I stand in shock,
immobilized by the glare of oncoming lights
that are driven by forces beyond my control?
I sometimes wonder
if the luckiest child is
the one never born
into this world of suffering –
and of those already born;
if the most fortunate ones
have already escaped
the suffering that is yet to come.
Halloween. What a perfect time to talk about suffering. The two images today are part of a series titled “All Our Efforts Are Futile”. In the long view, everything we make seems to fall apart. No matter how much effort and how good it seems when it was first created our work, over time, will deteriorate. It’s just a fact of life. It’s a constant reminder of our own impermanence.
The foundation of all mental illness
is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.
~ Carl Jung
It seems to me that we spend most of our life trying to avoid suffering. But just like our own impermanence and the inevitable decay of all we build, suffering is a part of our life experience. But what is “legitimate suffering?”
Is it the suffering that comes as a result of the actions of others? Is it the suffering that comes from our own actions?
I once saw a mental health advertisement on a city bus: it was a quote from a Newsweek magazine article from 2014 that had the headline “One In Five Adults Suffers From Mental Illness Each Year”. Those are not very good odds by any standard. If you look around you every 5th person you see may be suffering from some mental illness. Now mental illness takes many forms and that descriptor is not exclusive to the more elaborate/newsworthy like a sociopath. But can be something as common as depression or melancholia. I wonder if it is wise to describe these conditions as mental illness because everyone experiences them at some point in their life it is part of life experience and any number of things can spark that fire. But mental illness is just one type of suffering. There is also the suffering from physical illness.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a couple of things. One is that life is filled with suffering; but that suffering changes and metamorphoses over time. In my younger years the suffering was more emotional but as I’ve gotten older the suffering has changed and become more physical just due to the natural aging of the body. A constant reminder of impermanence. I’ve also noticed something in my youth I did almost anything to avoid suffering. I ignored it, I joked about it, I lied about it, I would participate in activities that would temporarily subdue it. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to accept suffering much as one would accept a constant companion. I don’t enjoy it but I do accept it and try to give it the space it needs. I have found that this more nurturing approach actually eases the suffering and helps me understand it – including how my actions may have brought it on.
“Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”
~ Yoda (from Star Wars)
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret — it leads only to evil.” ~ Psalm 37:8 (NIV)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything. ” ~ James 1: 2-4 (NIV)
I have found this last quote to be especially true. We should consider it a joy to undergo suffering when it produces so many good things such as perseverance, maturity and a sense of completeness. We should not take the “consider it a joy” phrase as a directive to seek out suffering nor should we use it to justify causing suffering in others. Suffering will come automatically – usually when we least expect it, when it is unplanned and inconvenient. So when it comes welcome it. It’s okay and if you see someone suffering sometimes the best thing to do is not trying to ease their suffering (although many will argue that is what we should do) but to just be there with them in their suffering. Suffering is made more bearable when we are not alone. But be careful of being too empathetic so that you suffer along with them. Being with them does not require you to suffer because they suffer. Remember you are the supporter in that scenario.
I found tons of videos on YouTube that deal with escaping suffering including many well meaning gurus, religious leaders, teachers, philosophers and songs. It is so darn hard to find one deals with enduring suffering. In a world of escapism, quick fixes, and good vibrations have we forgotten the role of suffering in our lives and therefore put our own mental health at risk?
We all have speed bumps that crop up in our lives. It may be a death, an accident or loss of some other sort that causes us to slow down and even stop to reconsider our direction in life. This is a good thing. Life’s tragedies large and small can be a sort of amazing grace. And sometimes they can even make us better.
Wherefore I am well pleased in infirmities, in damages, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses — for Christ; for whenever I am infirm, then I am powerful.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:12 (YLT – Young’s Literal Translation)
When is empathy good or bad?
So maybe Oasis had it right…
Don’t empathize with suffering – have compassion instead. Compassion = when you suffer you can choose to have it teach you compassion for others. A lesson I am still learning. Too often I’ve empathized with others suffering which has lead to my own suffering which makes me less useful. If I let suffering drive me to compassion I become MORE useful to my world.
In the Samsaric world of Capitalism
I am neither positive nor negative.
I know that promises breed hope –
Without a guaranteed reality.
What will be, will be.
Not what is promised or guaranteed.
Guarantees are empty absolutes;
To live by them is to live in delusion.
If we want to remove the Samsaric sting
We must accept the beauty of a flawed reality.
Like wrinkles on a face, spots on skin & gray hair describe aging –
Broken promises reveal an imperfect reality.
Where, O Samsara, is your victory?
Where, O Samsara, is your sting?
***about the photo: this image was taken at an abandoned mental institution called Molly Stark State Hospital. The local county has turned the grounds into the wonderful Molly Stark Park near Louisville, OH. The buildings still stand in their slow decay with boarded up windows and doors because the cost for demolition is too prohibitive.