I was listening to a talk between Pema Chodron (an American Tibetan Buddhist) and Father Gregory Boyle (a Jesuit who runs Homeboy Industries for gang-member intervention and rehabilitation).
Pema Chodron was sharing how she considered
Gregory Boyle to be a bodhisattva, a person who's life is dedicated to relieving the suffering of others.
She also shared the ways in which Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries manage to relieve the gang members' suffering, so that they can
overcome the trauma of their childhood, realize their better nature, and become loving, compassionate human beings in service to their families and communities.
One of the things that caught my attention was Pema's description of suffering.
She divided it into 3 types, including one type that represented the "greatest suffering". This was something I'd never considered before.
One form of human suffering she said, is external... It is the experience of feeling distress from
things such as a lack of food, shelter, resources, employment, or from having a disability or a chronic illness or addiction, or from the loss of a loved one, or from experiencing violence, abuse, natural disasters, catastrophic events, wars, etc.
The second form of human suffering she said, is internal, and directed within... It is the experience of feeling unlovable, unworthy, broken, not enough, less than, discontented with self, disconnected from self, or lacking in some way, etc.
The third form of human suffering she said, is also internal, but directed outward at others... It is the experience of feeling hate, anger, righteousness, wanting revenge, or wanting someone else to suffer, etc. It is seeing another person or group as
less in any way, including less than human. It's the feeling that leads to the action of harming others.
I imagine that everyone feels some version of all of these types of experiences throughout their lives.
pointed out that the third form is the greatest of suffering.
That statement stood out to me because it struck me as true...
Imagine a feeling of pain so great inside us that it can't be contained within us, and so
it gets turned out against our fellow human beings. It isn't just a dislike for a behaviour, but a hatred for the whole of the human being who does the behaviour.
I think this identification of "the greatest suffering" also stood out for
me because of how much anger and righteousness I see on the news, in the media, within politics and public discourse, including my own occasional bouts of feeling it.
When any judgmental feelings arise in response to anyone's behaviour,
I'm often (but not always) aware enough these days to see that it's my thinking that is doing the creating... I'll often recognize my uncomfortably angry feeling not as any enduring truth about the situation, but simply a truth about the limited state of my
mind in that moment.
In other words, whenever I'm angrily or emphatically thinking/declaring what I know, that tight or unpleasant feeling alerts to me that I've lost my curiosity and I'm not seeing as clearly as I can.
And that's already a pretty big thing actually... to have any awareness that "unpleasant feeling = limited thinking", even if I don't yet quite experience the deeper, calmer, clearer feeling of truth of it. Just that, stops me from engaging in the war...
one less shot fired, one less call out to assemble my agree-with-me troops.
What occurred to me also, was something quite lovely in recognition of this "greatest suffering"... in that it applies to me too.
I can, when
feeling my own experiences of anger or righteousness, remember that I am, in that moment, also experiencing the "greatest suffering". The acknowledgement of that, for me, feels like a soft, gentle, loving embrace to my self and my humanity... and in that,
allows my hardened heart to soften.
Overall, I tend to hold a simpler definition of suffering that doesn't divide it into any types, and doesn't connect it to any circumstances.
I see suffering as any internal experience
of painful negative thoughts/feelings that arise, that are believed as truth AND are held onto (focused on, ruminated over, internalized). We all can and do experience pain, but no matter the form of that pain, suffering is NOT inevitable. I guess I sort of
see the inevitability of pain as acute, and it's development into suffering as chronic.
However, I do genuinely appreciate Pema's pointer to this idea of the "greatest suffering". It can offer us a self-compassion whenever we feel anger
arise within us, realizing it's coming from a great internal suffering, even if we don't completely understand it. It can also offer us compassion for others, realizing their anger and behaviours are coming from a great internal suffering, even if we don't
completely understand it.
I wonder how different a world it would be if when anger arose, we all remembered to look toward a lighter feeling and a clearer mind before choosing how best to respond to that pain?
way, after all this talk of suffering, if you need a pick-me-up, the 2 hour presentation and discussion with Pema and Gregory was quite funny, and heartwarming, and lovely...