Sometimes it seems that all the positive psychology out there tends to neglect one very basic thing: We all suffer. If we are human, we will suffer, and to deny that is denying a very important part of our existence.
Sure, we don’t want to suffer, but alas, we do, and sometimes there’s nothing we can do to avoid it: things happen that are beyond our control, and we hurt because of them. If we take the positive psychology movement at its initial face value, it negates something very vital. Something that’s very much a part of the human experience, and we cannot live a rich, full life without acknowledging it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to cultivate a positive attitude, but not to the point where we become desensitized. The relentless pursuit of happiness, the focus on it to the exclusion of pain and suffering, is very limiting. It may initially feel safe, but the insulation required trying maintain this state in the face of all things becomes suffocating, both for ourselves and the world around us.
When we judge our own pain or that of others as not valuable or negative, we deny part of our humanness. And in doing so we live in a fragmented state, disconnected from ourselves and from others.
Suffering is a common thread that is shared by all of human existence. And being in touch with our own suffering helps us cultivate compassion, for ourselves and for others. Yet we try so hard to disconnect to that which makes our existence wholer and more meaningful. Where is the compassion for ourselves, and for our neighbors? Do we really, as the human race, want to continue to disconnect from something that unites us all?
Listen to how the news is conveyed. Machinegun style, bulleted facts about death, accidents, horrific and disturbing events. Behind those news items, real people are hurting. Families have lost loved ones. Our very human brothers and sisters are suffering. Where is the emotion? Where is the compassion?
The content of the news is negative, we all know that. But the very way the news is communicated sends a dangerous, inhuman message for society to internalize: Do not connect with suffering, do not connect with compassion. Disconnect from your emotions if they are not positive, and disconnect from others, too.
If Mother Teresa delivered the same news stories, or Jesus, the Dalai Lama or Buddha, would they be able to convey them in the same manner? How different would they sound, and what effect would that have on those of us who watch and listen?
I think we’d be moved.
Our own suffering, and that of our human brothers and sisters, would be validated. Instead of shunned, sensationalized, or veiled behind a meaningless cloak of “objectivity”, it would be brought into the light. And whatever is brought into the light can be healed.
I think we’re tired of living in a world that’s so desensitized. We’re tired of always putting on our “best face” for the world to see. When people are suffering they don’t want to hear “Cheer up”. “Be strong” also implies that’s it’s not okay to feel weak. People hide when they’re hurting because they don’t want to go out in a world that’s not going to accept them.
And it’s not that the suffering need pity, either, because no one wants that. What people need most is to be validated. To know and to feel that they are understood, that their experience is real, authentic, and that they are still worthy of acceptance.
Being fully and wholly alive requires awareness, acceptance, and loving kindness. For ourselves and for others. It means embracing all of life, of which suffering, pain, loss and sorrow are a genuine part. We cannot simply just stomp them out. Or ignore them. They are part of our experience.
The emotional river of life that connects us all includes so many things. Suffering is just as much a shared human experience as happiness is, and deserves equal acknowledgement. We must let the river of life flow, in all its wholeness. We cannot choose which emotions to let through and which ones not to. It just doesn’t work that way.
To be there for others, to recognize when someone is in need, we need to first be there for ourselves. And that requires compassion. If we can learn to accept our own suffering as valid, and allow ourselves to experience it without judgement, we also become more open to accepting it in others. And then we become more connected.
In acknowledging pain and loss, we are all given the chance to be made anew, to become whole again. If we accept this, we create an opportunity for healing. And through that we are able to embrace ourselves, and others too, with loving kindness.
It is from there that we can affect real positive change in ourselves and the world around us.
It is then that we see through veil of separateness and are able to be more present with all things. We recognize the behaviors in ourselves and in those around us that arise out of avoidance to feeling pain. We cease needing to change the things we can’t. And we stop taking things personally. In doing so, we become more empowered to change the things we can.
We become more able to celebrate life, to honor and cherish it. We don’t have to hide from pain, or sorrow, wherever we happen to find them. We cease feeling alone, and we’re more able to be there for others. We become fully present and able to savor the joyful moments and happy times, however big or small, and we stop missing the opportunities to create more of them.
Life is wondrous, mysterious, and vast. Let’s give our own suffering, and that of others, the breathing room it deserves. It’s part of the human condition. Of course we want to be happy, and we want happiness for those we care about, too. There’s something very natural in that.
But, if we want to live a life of fullness, if we really want to experience the rapture of being alive, we must accept and be present with all things. We must realize that the human experience is one great wonder in which joy, sorrow, happiness and loss all play their part. And there is something beautiful we have the power to cultivate, something universally healing that not only unites but also transforms. Something that from the dust and ashes of sorrow and suffering eventually gives way to meaning, and allows fresh joy and happiness to arise anew. And that is compassion. And it begins, within.
Be the change you seek in the world -Ghandi
Be kind to others. But be kind to yourself, too.
Suffering is not meaningless. No one should have to suffer alone…
Because in actuality, none of us really do.
Related Elsewhere and Worth Reading:
- A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life by Leo at Zenhabits
- Love & Compassion Can Defeat Suffering & Depression by Lisis at UrbanMonk
- The Darker Side of Positive Thinking by Bud at ABoundlessWorld
- Is Happiness a Worthwhile Goal? by Mary at GoodlifeZen
- Nobody Trips Over Mountains by Lisis at QuestforBalance
- Love, Sorrow, and Attachment by Albert at UrbanMonk
- How a Broken Heart Mends Herself by Melissa at MindfulConstruct
- Zen and The Awakened Soul by Dayne at TheHappySelf
- When We Don’t Speak of Death by Robin at Naked In Eden Blog