"Everybody's in trouble. Everybody, every minute, is tortured, suffering a lot. We shouldn't just ignore them and save ourselves alone. That would be a tremendous crime. In fact, we can't just save ourselves, because our neighbors are moaning and groaning all over the place... We can't just try and go to sleep. The rest of the world is going to wake us up with their pain." -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
This is a useful quote to contemplate when you are feeling stuck. Stuck in your own stuff, your own obstacles, unable to access a wider view. When we can raise our gaze from our own claustrophobic ruminations, it can be amazing what we see, heart breaking, shaking. It can definitely ventilate our own little situation. This quote came to my mind today when reading a terrible and terribly important article in the New York Times over the debacle of "care" in New York state's institutions for disabled children. I won't link to it, as it is a very triggering piece, containing descriptions of abuse and worse. But it is there if you would like to read it, on their front page. I read it this morning, and wept aloud, as my two little boys played at my feet.
There is so much suffering in the world. How do we not turn away? How do we not turn away when we can't even stay with our own suffering, or that of our children? How do we turn towards it, and stay with it? Because if we can do that, we can maybe, possibly, help someone else. Help our children. Help our family. Our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. Help those who we secretly might believe can't ever be helped. This is our task.
We can learn by helping our children. We can learn by staying with their suffering, holding them when they cry, acknowledge their hurts, large and small, instead of covering them up with the quick "you're ok, you're ok" as we shush and shush. What's that about? That "you're ok?" Is that what we want to hear when we are crying? Someone telling us that we are really alright, that it isn't a big deal?
I had a friend who very tragically lost her husband at a young age, in a very sudden, abrupt way. People tried to make her feel better. They tried to cheer her up, to distract her, to tell her it would be ok. But she wouldn't do it. She wasn't ok. She wasn't going to be ok for awhile. And even then, it would be a different sort of ok, not the kind people mean when they say it. She needed to grieve. She needed to really feel her hurt, her deep, wrenching pain, and to cry. Some friends could not abide it. Some friends dropped her, feeling she was indulging in it. I would go and visit and just sit with her while she cried and cried and cried. I didn't say very much. There wasn't much to say. I just sat, and tried to stay open, until the tears stopped. It wasn't easy. It was scary. Her grief reminded me that everything is impermanent. That none of us can escape pain.
We can breathe with our children, being present with them, noticing when we want to shush them or brush over their hurts, so that we can "get on" with our day. We can instead acknowledge that what is happening, right now, is our day. We can open to our own discomfort with their tears. Acknowledge our own fear, anxiety and old hurts that can be opened when witnessing their pain. We can practice tonglen, or maitri.
This willingness to stay with suffering takes bravery. And we can take this brave heart out into the larger world, and by doing so, our children will in turn trust their own bravery. Everybody is suffering. Everybody, everybody. We can't ignore their pain. As Chogyam Trungpa writes, their pain will wake us up. Once we are able to find the courage to peek out from our own stuckness, our own unwillingness to open, and begin to breathe in some fresh air and relief, we can somehow find a way to bring that same relief to others, in any way we can. It might be a very small way. That's ok. In fact, that is stupendous. Just finding the bravery to hold our children when we would prefer to stifle their tears - that is enormous. Or the bravery to smile at our neighbor. That is huge. Who knows where that step will lead? We are watering the seeds of bravery, compassion, opening. A smile can lead to total transformation.
These little, small seeds we water can grow into mighty trees. Trees that extend the shade of compassion and liberation to many, many beings. Let us practice not turning away. Let us work to stay, just stay, and open, to everybody. To their pain. That can be enough. To just sit there, open, and let their pain in.