“An open heart writhes for all those who suffer…”

In the last few days, I’ve found myself talking quite a bit about suffering with friends, even relative strangers.

Sometimes the conversation drifts philosophically to the concept of suffering itself. But more times than not, the suffering we discuss is very specific and personal: the acute effects of experiencing loss of life, loving relationships gone awry, wreaking mental and emotional havoc within.

Having endured it myself (who hasn’t!), I’m grateful and humble that I can discuss suffering and try to offer my advice while not, at this point and place in my life, experiencing a devastatingly heavy burden of pain, depression or heartache.

Something sort of profound that happens when these sorts of discussions take place. I feel their pain — I feel deeply connected to their pain. Maybe the effect is a surge of subconscious memories bubbling to the forefront of my mind — ghosts of suffering long since buried suddenly resurrected, rising once more in hopes of offering someone else a lesson of hope and perseverance and overcoming.

How to Read This

This piece is an open letter to anyone who is suffering.

I’ve split a wonderful quote on suffering by psychotherapist Thomas Moore into six block-quoted segments, which serves as a greater narrative throughout. This letter is not intended for any one person or to help with any particular situation. I write it attempting to summon some bit of Truth woven in our shared human consciousness, and thus it should speak to anyone about anything.

As I first discussed in last December’s post, Strongheart: Harvesting Compassion in the Faces of Strangers, I believe that an open heart — any compassionate soul — connects incredibly deeply and incredibly quickly with other human beings through suffering. Suffering is one of humanity’s common denominators: it sheds labels and cuts to the core of our Being. As we all endure suffering, we are indelibly connected by it.

An Open Letter to a Suffering Soul

“The dark night of the soul is a profoundly good thing. …”

Dear Friend,

Love surrounds you, always.

In times like these, it certainly doesn’t feel it. Amid suffering you feel blinded to any and all light — even as the sun shines brightly through your windowsill. In times like these your spirit is stagnant, your heart beats just to beat — not because it has cause, or hope, or good reason to keep on.

And yet love surrounds you always.

I can hear you quipping, “That’s easy for you to say…”, and indeed it is. In life is it easy to speak from experience when the experience has long since passed. So, too, is it easy to speak of “ideals” and “wants” and “shoulds”, especially without the intimate knowledge of the suffering you have been chosen to endure.

But suffering is just that. It is chosen.

We suffer by our choice, or we suffer by the choices of others, or we suffer by the choice of fate… destiny… God… or life itself. And although your suffering is completely overwhelming right now, the magic of time slowly unburdens all pains — affording us the opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow, and to turn suffering into vital lessons. These irreplaceable lessons teach us how to attain the single most elusive pursuit in the history of humankind: purposeful living.

True happiness.

… It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely. …

You see, every event in our lives serves significant purpose — each moment, each day, each experience; whether glorious and loving or devastating and painful. Every gracious moment of tearful joy is, at its core, remarkably similar to each forced-upon feeling of a victimization and suffering by a heartless and chaotic world. The effects — how we feel — are distant. But the cause What causes

… Sometimes this letting go of old ways is painful, occasionally even devastating. But this is not why the night is called ‘dark.’ …

Every terrible feeling, every bout of debilitating depression, every instance of suffering is a genuine opportunity for something newer and better. As stepping upon fiery coals surges forth an uncontrollable, instinctive reaction to run and escape the pain; suffering, heartache, depression, are humanity’s natural means to propel a mental-emotional surge of conscious change.

… The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding. …

Suffering is the fire beneath our feet that sets a storm of instinctive reactions in our brains to escape, to run, to live, to change. The burden of our suffering is so severe because pushing our thinking minds to the brink of overwhelming, total collapse demands immediate action. This is the feeling of a breaking point, when “something has to give.”

What nature intends to break, I believe, is not our will to live. It’s counter logical for human instinct to ever push a human being to self-destruct — such is the incomprehensible yet prevalent tragedy of suicide.

Nature, I believe, intends to break the human Ego.

… It happens mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control. …

We suffer to reduce our individual, egoic perceptions of Self — the labels, the titles, what we “do for a living”, and who we “think” we are. Amid such unbelievably heavy sorrow, suffering reduces our egotistical self-perceptions and returns us to a purer state.

A humbled state. A vulnerable state.

We feel far from invincible; we feel that we’re crumbling. We feel far from any job title’s description; we feel only raw human emotion. We feel far from any thing or any one person being able to alleviate our pain, give us pure joy, or fill the void of our sadness. The labels are gone. Our ego is hurt. Money and possessions are meaningless. Our ego reels. All of the unnecessary perceptions of “who we are” and judgmental thinking patterns about others are reduced to rubble. Our ego is silent.

Instead there is only our true Self.

And who we each are at the core of our Being as humans is a simple, caring and compassionate being, longing for fulfillment and happiness in life.

… For that reason it can be disturbing or even scary, but in the end it always works to our benefit.

But the burden of suffering doesn’t only serve to destroy our own ego. When a compassionate soul sees suffering in another human being, the egoic walls of self-defense are dissolved. We see others who suffers and innately lend our hands as best we can, realizing that we are not very different. Instead, we see ourselves in each other.

As love binds us, suffering binds us. And that is why we must suffer.

Flickr photo credit: Shandi-lee