5 08, 2007

seeing suffering in India

August 5th, 2007|emotions, freedom, pain, Travel and Places|0 Comments

I’ve recently had talk with a few people about India and my experiences of being there. It’s been over 10 years ago now since I was there for about 6 months. I arrived without friends, guides or plans – simply bringing a large (but mostly empty) backpack and a guidebook. I saw ancient ruins, ashrams, monasteries, beach resorts, sky-touching mountains and parched deserts. I treked in the Himalayan mountains and river rafted and kayaked down mountain rivers. I saw the extremes of India’s culture, from the poverty, to the spiritual traditions, to the Hindu-Muslim clashes. The experiences from that trip expanded my mind and helped shape my mind to be able to see outside the cultural assumptions we take for granted.

Now one of the most common questions I’ve received over the years has been about the poverty in India. “It must have been so hard to see all the poverty and suffering there!” is something I’ve heard over 100 times.

The answer is of course, paradoxical. The truth is that it felt like an extreme relief. It was a profoundly freeing experience to actually see the suffering that was actually there. Here we avoid this. In the North American culture most of us are in, we do all we can to remove all sights, sounds and impressions that suffering exists. We try to hide homelessness, ignore poverty, and even amongst friends there’s usually a tacit agreement to filter our emotions and sufferings. Showing these in a corporate office is usually taboo. We’re uncomfortable with the emotions that seeing direct pain can bring up. In India, on the other hand, it’s all visible. The leprosy on the street is visible; the millions of people living in shacks with unclean water and no toilets are visible. The simmering rage between Hindus and Muslims is also visible.

(This kind of sight, by the way, is not that uncommon. Leprosy is quite common and visible in many streets)

It’s hard to convey why this is such a relief. But perhaps an analogy is in order. Say two people are in an exclusive relationship and one person cheats. The other person knows (as they usually do), but it hasn’t been brought out in the open. There will be a great tension in all interactions between them, because there is a great pain waiting to come up that they resist. So until it does, there will be a feeling of walking on eggshells, and if it continues, there will often be an entire routine built around avoiding the truth that a broken agreement has taken place. Misery will appear. When and if it actually does become visible, and both parties put all their emotions on the table, there will be a palpable sense of relief; the need for pretense is gone. Both sides can actually reveal their emotions instead of living within emotional castles of thick stone walls.

The truth is that suffering exists. Buddhism starts with this simple statement as the first noble Truth. Our society intellectually knows this, but we push it away emotionally. We say “yes, I know about suffering, I know it’s there, but I don’t want to touch it or be confronted with it”. And yet, when we do actually touch it, our heart opens. We simply can’t act compassionately until we actually touch another’s sufferings. We can’t understand others until we fully listen, and listening means fully allowing them to touch you. This touch involves more than the hospital rubber gloves of analysis; it involves an openness that has the possibility of being overwhelmed for a while. Yet being overwhelmed, as I was in India for some time, develops the heart. Emotional muscles need to work, or they atrophy. Allowing ourselves to be touched, and yes, sometimes hurt, by others’ sufferings lets the full range of the heart come forward.

It was actually more of a shock for me to arrive back in Canada than it was arriving in India. I was presented with all my family patterns of hiding real emotions (similar to most families here), and realized I simply could not go back to the way I was acting before. So over the next few years, I did my best to be visible with what was going on. This caused many upsets in my family, but has immeasurably helped me. My parents may not always feel comfortable with me, but their reaction is based on who I actually am, not a game we play.

I generally recommend being immersed in a similar culture for anyone wishing to see other ways of living. It’s not just India of course; there are many, many other cultures that don’t have the emotional straightjackets we do. An example closer to home might be Italians; in general, they tend to be much more visible with emotions, and if fights break out, so what? It doesn’t mean a lack of love. It can easily be part of it.

23 07, 2007

an allowing space

July 23rd, 2007|allowing, emotions, listening, love, tears, triggering|0 Comments

This one has more of a glimpse into my personal journey, dealing with a large triggering of pain inside me, and the compassion that came from it.

The last couple weeks have surprisingly full of triggers for me with an online group that I’ve been part of, a group related to the Michael teachings. Although it was somewhat painful and resulted in me distancing myself away from it, great lessons came up for me.

Essentially, in this group, which is spiritually oriented and focused on balance and behaving with compassion, a few people (some of whom were moderators) behaved very differently in private emails than they did in public. In one case, it was flaming; throwing insults, wishing pain and destruction, being quite nasty. This went to the level of being an online stalker over the past few months, and there were some phone calls and text messages as well, all nasty and wishing pain. This was primarily to Karen,
but to a lesser extent to me.

What triggered my own pain was that the online group (although I’ve met most of the people on it face to face), which styles itself as focused on community and support, was totally unsupportive of bringing this up publically. It was “a private matter”, and it didn’t matter if it got to abusive actions, it wasn’t their business. Even if the other person (who was part of the group) made nasty innuendo publically. The hypocrisy of this struck me – the philosophy of community and support seemed to be thrown by the wayside. The moderators even suggested the police, showing they understood the scope of the issue somewhat, but refused to do anything themselves. It came to a crux Monday. I’d posted publicly what was going on as factually as I could, without any blame that I could see, and was basically told “personal issues involving people we know are not something we want to see on here”. Nice support there! It brought up a lot of pain inside me – especially long term stuff related to support.

So that’s the background. However, this is about my personal journey, not any rant on the flaming the anonymity of the internet can bring. Such things abound in this extremely isolated society we’ve created. What resulted next is what’s important.



Karen called me to offer her support on it Monday, and was indeed incredibly supporting. What was unusual and special about the call was not anything she said. The entire call, lasting close to 90 minutes, did not have many words in it at all! She simply gave me space to be who I was, which included the pain that was occurring. There was absolutely no “problem” to fix, nothing to resolve, nothing to make go away. It was simply two people with much love for each other simply being present, and the fact that there was a large amount of pain was incidental.

So what happened? Of course, like anyone in pain, at first I wished other people would change so I wouldn’t have to be triggered like this. I’m human too! Though I knew it was a triggering, so I didn’t identify too much with these thoughts. After muddling along, gradually accepting that there was no escape from the inner landscape I was in, I started scribbling on a drawing pad in charcoal. No definite shapes; just dark, sharp movements, expressing the chaos inside myself right now. Balls of small abysses accumulated on the page, bringing form to my internal world at that moment. It didn’t last long, but was enough to bring more acceptance and flow to what was coming. Karen was silent all through this. This was not a silence based on zoning out; she was present with me, with her full attention at hand. There was nothing that needed to be said; her presence said it all.

Her words describing her state were “It was about holding a space open for you, and acknowledging the perfection of whatever it is you were experiencing. In that moment, it was perfect, and there was no need to exert influence to change. I knew you were capable of doing it yourself.”

Soon enough, I felt more open to myself, breathing more fully, and lied down on the couch. Tears came. Tears, tears, and more tears. There were no reasons for the tears at first, and I didn’t need any. Some times reasons are like a straightjacket, restraining the human dance of emotions. I simply allowed what needed to come out. The expansive presence that was created in that moment created a magical, permissive atmosphere. This was no exercise of catharsis as seen in workshops; it was simply a gentle allowing that fully reincorporated parts of me back into myself. Tears flowed for the better part of an hour. Karen felt the pain, but didn’t see anything to fix at all. The warm silence continued. After tissue after tissue got tossed away, I came to a realization: I discovered I didn’t really know what true support was. I wanted it of course, but didn’t have the knowledge that can only come from repeated experience. This not knowing was profoundly opening; it brought me to see how much support I was getting in that moment. Funny how not knowing and seeing go hand in hand.

Going through my own pain and the openings this created helped bring me to a more neutral space about the online incidents. I’ve backed away considerably with those groups, because it’s clear that their version of support and community is quite restrictive to me; it’s based on protection instead of vulnerability. But this is perfect; they simply want different things. I’ll continue to meet these same people face to face (except the person who did the stalking), but won’t expect any support from them. Paradoxically, this whole experience helped me find far more support for myself; the experience of spacious allowing and acceptance has followed me since. The image I’ve had of support has changed from one of a building’s unshakeable foundation to something like an open space to play in, based in the present moment.

All of this has been intrinsic to my exploration of universal Love; it’s brought more of a visceral understanding, and definitely brought strides in living it with myself and others. My friend
Sophie got a whiff of that Friday!


(oh yes, and btw, it was my birthday Saturday! It was wonderful! Here’s a picture of me to celebrate. No, this wasn’t taken on my birthday – rather a few weeks ago – and I love it! The background is one of
Sophie‘s paintings, in my home.)