Suffering is such an overused and under-specific term in meditation practice and spirituality.
There are a number of ways it can be translated or understood and each of them requires a different approach to meet it and ease it. The idea that there is one technique or tool that can remove all types of suffering is absurd.
Just some of the things that suffering can mean:
- The resistance we feel to how things are or the separation between us and the environment around us; anxiety, dukkha
- Emotional pain
- Physical pain
- Not getting our physical needs met
- Being in a toxic or unsafe environment
- Doing overly difficult, tiring or stressful things, which a lot of the time includes just existing as a human in this world
- The pain that comes with growth and going out of your comfort zone
Each one of them needs a different response in order to be able to soften around it or to allow it pass.
When we just say, ‘oh that’s suffering’ or ‘the best response to suffering is….’ It’s not very helpful. All of these types of suffering feed all the others and there is no single root cause.
By using a blanket term for all of the above, we believe we understand what the other person is going through and that we have answers that will help them fix it.
One of the important points to recognise is that if there was an obvious solution, they probably would have found it by now.
People don’t suffer because they enjoy it or because it is easy, people suffer because it is the best option they have. Or because they believe that the pay-off of the suffering in the short-term will be worth it in the long run.
Healing and changing is hard. It requires being offered a different option or way of being that people believe could release them from the way of being that is causing the suffering.
Suffering is Relative
Suffering is relative, in both senses of the word.
When we have built resiliency, wellbeing and perspective into our systems, things that could overwhelm us seem like less of a big deal.
But it is also relative in the sense that it arises from our connection between ourselves and the other person or thing we are interacting with. We can be a super Zen practitioner, but if we are in a toxic environment, there will be suffering. Some situations are just pitted against us being able to be at ease with them.
We all have physical, emotional and mental limits. Life is incredibly hard and these limits are being pushed for most people all the time.
We don’t exist separately from our environments and this means that as an individual you can’t just do a thing that means that you will be free from suffering.
We can only build and take part in resilient, joyful, caring, open environments where people can connect with each other with more ease, resource themselves and potentially discover new ways of being that are more supportive for them.
It takes a village to reduce suffering.
Recognising this, understanding the different types of suffering and having a good feel for a good response to each type of suffering feels vital to building compassionate spiritual spaces where people are able to be present with a wider range of experience.
Spirituality needs to be compassionate, trauma-informed, responsive and inclusive in order to make a real impact.
When we feel safe, open and resourced we are no longer putting all our energy into managing things or protecting ourselves. We are able to open to new experiences and aspects of our being much more easily. It gives us a safe place to play with consciousness and experience different ways of being that open doors of perception to a deeper way of understanding the Universe.