Processing Suffering

An individual’s ability to bring suffering into himself or herself and to transform it is a hallmark of capability.

Suffering can be poisonous – sometimes, when we suffer we seek to cast blame, to find someone who we can label as responsible and place the responsibility at their feet – ‘here, this is YOUR problem!’

This is a small-minded approach – not understanding the system of humanity, and the nature of suffering, we seek to push it off our little doorstep and on to someone else’s.  In this way, suffering, and responsibility/accountability for it, gets passed off like a hot-potato, between groups of people who do not want to include it as part of their conception of themselves – we could be speaking of warring states or disgruntled individuals, a labour strike or a domestic dispute.

In any situation, there instigating occurrence or factor is never as straightforward as we initially tend to believe – it is convenient for the narrative of those with weak understanding, and usually nothing more.  There are always more layers to be peeled back, a greater depth of understanding and context to be achieved, and a more holistic view of the situation.

This is one aspect of the falseness of most dichotomies – when we encounter a debate being waged between two or more positions, in order to polarize the middle, dichotomies are often structured and communicated to greater society – ‘us vs them’ thinking.  Again, it doesn’t matter if you are talking about land rights, economic ownership, the fight you had with that guy last week.  That is because there is strength in numbers, and humans traditionally fight ourselves

When understanding that we are all responsible for improving our current state of affairs is strong, you will see a shift towards taking responsibility and becoming accountable for our actions – there is less concern about being held to task, and more interest in proactively making changes to improve the situation for all involved.  A reduction in entrenched positions, and an increase in the workability of any given situation.

Once we learn to view the systemic nature of our problems more objectively, it helps ameliorate the intense personal suffering often felt in negative situations – this recalls a powerful understanding:  ‘Concern for the cause reduces the impact of the symptoms.’    If you seek to understand the systemic nature of conflict, and view the players involved as representing symptoms of the overall malady, it will help increase the amount of compassion and understanding you are able to extend to any or all sides involved in the conflict.

Too often we limit our need for understanding to just a bare bone ‘understanding’ of the facts – ‘who’s done what now?’

It is much better to find the appropriate context, to be able to understand the picture as a whole.   Then, it is more likely we will be able to find holistic solutions to conflicts, rather than the typical piecemeal approach to peace that postpones conflicts without resolving underlying tensions.

Now, it is perhaps easier to understand the need for this on a big-picture, societal level, however that all starts with the individual in moment to moment living.  All societal trends are shaped by individual responses somewhere along the chain, so the best control we can build as a society is to teach, ingrain, practice and expand the ability to process suffering on an individual level.

A good approach to this is to push back on our own mental discourse, to challenge our own views – rather than just letting our understanding stop with the realization that so and so is a dick and must just be some kind of broken person to cause us so much pain, we must push ourselves to provide a deeper understanding of events, a deeper degree of realization – finding the context, compassion, and empathy to understand why that person may be that way.

This isn’t to absolve anyone of personal responsibility for their actions, but rather to provide a more conducive environment for their own growth towards responsibility – most of us have some degree of fundamental damage or distortion to our psyches, which will never be resolved without the people who surround us, providing us our personal context, providing a great degree of depth of understanding and compassion for us to work through our own issues.

Without the support of our peers, without offering our peers the support they need, positive growth becomes a much more haphazard activity – it is both sad and unsurprising that many people take many unresolved issues to their grave with them, having spent a lifetime being constrained by them.   Enlightenment is the ability to let go of the trappings of this world, and it is our gift to give each and every person we interact with and encounter.

Being able to contain and process both our own suffering and the suffering of others is an essential part of this process.