Love is the acceptance of suffering

Nearly all of us yearn to be free of suffering. We are desperately trying to escape the miserable feeling of sadness, of regret, of guilt and misery. In order to do this we seek out activities, relationships and objects in the external world. We impose on them the unfulfillable burden of relieving us of suffering. In fact, it seems to work – at least for a bit. And then, inexorably, the suffering returns, often with double vengeance. And then, off we go to the next object, relationship or activity. This meaningless hamster wheel of the pursuit of happiness is known in the Indian school of thought as Samsara or the wheel of sorrow. Is there a way out?

We can look at the words of Buddha and in particular the Four Noble Truths. The first truth is Life is Dukkha. Dukkha is usually translated as misery, but a more apt translation is Incapable of Satisfying. This statement has caused many people to view Buddhism as a ‘life denying’ philosophical school. But this is not true. The third noble truth says that there is a way out of suffering. This indicates that the goal of recognising that suffering in integral to life is to be able to transcend it. This is a philosophy of acceptance and looking at life the way it is. Contrast this to modern western man, where one denies any weakness, any suffering. This has made the west a society of fake people, with fake smiles and fake displays of strength. Unfortunately, this denial of one’s weakness leads to even greater suffering.

What, then, is the way out of suffering? Acceptance. We need to muster the courage to see this fact clearly. Life is suffering. The people we love will soon be gone. The relationships that we loved will end one day or the other. The health that we have will inescapably fail us. Our jobs will come to an end. The world we grew up in and were so familiar with, will change and move on. No external structure will remain as it is. We need to be able to see this clearly. This is the first step. What prevents us from seeing this is fear. We have this visceral fear of losing the things we value the most – of losing ourselves. We must bring ourselves, gently, lovingly to allow this primal fear to exist within us. We are, after all human. And fear is a legitimate emotion.

We need to be able to practice accepting fear. That is, to recognise it as it wells up in us and allow it to exist for as long as it wants to. Realize that we are not in control of our emotions. We do not choose them. We can merely be spectators in the cinema of a full-HD life. Emotions come and go. We need to accept this fear. When we can allow the fear to be as it is, we suffer consciously. This is the meaning of the allegory of Christ carrying the cross. The Christ spirit within each of us honourably bears its suffering. This is noble suffering. This is suffering with dignity. It must be remembered here that we don’t suffer for suffering’s sake. That is, we don’t make an identity of being the world’s greatest sufferer. No. This results in another ego trip and defeats the purpose of the practice. We suffer, with the aim of wanting to understand suffering – so as to be released of it. We go through the suffering, not away from it. The cross becomes the symbol to remind us that where there is suffering, there is Christ. That is, the loving spirit of acceptance is right there and needs to brought to our suffering.

When we can allow such intense feelings to exist within us, and realize that we are fragile beings, great compassion dawns in us. This is the birth of kindness in us. Only when we are kind to our own suffering can we be kind to others. This is Love. Nothing else. Love is not this intense attractive yearning that we feel for objects, relationships and activities. Rather love is acceptance – of oneself and of the other. Love is born when we can accept our suffering – in a noble and dignified manner.

Red Rocks. Denver. 2022

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