A friend emailed me to request an explanation of that phrase I used in my entry Travelogue VIII: Suffering. I realize it wasn’t self-evident. I figured my response to her may be useful here too. Do bear with me… it is not an easy task to answer that question in a few words :P
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“Being blind to my own suffering.”
I think that no human being is a stranger to suffering. By ‘suffering’ I do not mean necessarily undergoing great physical pain, or extreme experiences of starvation or loss. Suffering can also be emotional or psychological, which is more the type of suffering that I experience. :)
I get hurt in a thousand and one ways. I fear rejection. I doubt my true worth at times even when I know that I have intrinsic value as a person. I may know that I’m in pain, but still be “blind” in the sense of not understanding or penetrating my suffering.
Often I am blind because I choose to deny my own suffering. I feel guilty about thinking that I suffer because I am blessed in many ways, or because I know there are many more who suffer ‘worse’ than I do. I turn a blind eye to my own suffering, even though the experience of it is real. I run away, and try to live as best as I can while pretending that my suffering does not exist. I also deny my suffering because I do not wish to face certain realities.
Of course, denying my own suffering merely represses it in my mind. Because I have not worked to understand it, I become more and more victimized by my own pain. From there, it’s a short leap to self-pity, and to wallow in self-misery. It may even start a self-destructive cycle of thinking and behaving which inevitably leads to more hurt and pain.
It takes courage to face my own suffering. To admit to myself that yes, my suffering is real. Why does it take courage? Because I have an underlying fear that this is an admission of weakness and that it is selfish. (I fear I suffer because I am not strong or good enough to deal with my life, and why am I so caught up in myself?) Facing up to my suffering means putting all that fear aside and facing up to the truth of my brokenness and self-centeredness.
The next step to understanding my suffering is to accept my broken self. That’s hard, because I hate my weaknesses. But the hard fact is that I am both my weaknesses and my strengths. By hating my weakness, I am rejecting myself. I am myself fulfilling my deepest fear that I am only worthy to be accepted and loved for my goodness. This self-sabotage prevents me from daring to be truly honest with myself. And total honesty is required for me to grow and improve in a healthy way.
When I welcome my broken self home, I feel safe with myself to be honest. When I lovingly accept my weaknesses as part of me, I become more integrated. And it takes a whole, intergrated self to penetrate my suffering and see clearly why I suffer. More than that, it also teaches me how to transcend it. Automatically, I will find it easier to be other-centered rather than self-centered. And when I am more other-centered, I suffer less even when the same hurts are inflicted on me.
Stepping past denial of my own suffering is the first step. Accepting, welcoming my weak and broken self ‘home’ to myself is the next. If I learn to do these better, I will also become more able to see and acknowledge the suffering of people around me. And to accept and love them for their brokenness. Only then can I be genuinely empathetic without being judgmental. If I am not compassionate to myself, I will not be equipped to be compassionate with others.
I think you’re right! It is very difficult to gain self-knowledge…but bit by bit, I’m sure you are. The fact that you’ve been thinking about it, and that you have the insight that we are blinded by our own emotions means that you’re making progress!
We’re all very self-centered creatures, we human beings… I think. And a lot of our emotions are so strong because we are very attached to lots of things… which means we find it hard to let go of them. We become very possessive. The idea of letting go of anything or anyone, is scary, and we don’t like even entertaining the idea at all!
It takes life’s experiences (often they are not easy) and lessons to teach us to really understand that the deepest joy and the deepest love come from learning to penetrate our insecurities, our emotions… and when we penetrate these, we become more relaxed in dealing with life’s issues. I think it frees us to be more generous, more other-centered. It teaches us to not cling so desperately to people and things because we understand more deeply what love, friendship etc is. We become more secure. Fear less. Trust more. And we have more peace …and experience more joy in our daily living.
I am still suffering, and learning, but also enjoying the process! :P
Ha ha, I bet you didn’t expect such a long reply! But this is a difficult subject to explain in a few words. I hope you understand my entry more now. :) If not, don’t worry, we can talk in person when u’re back! ha ha…
Fellow Traveller Ann :)