Is it possible to feel, to truly experience and understand, the suffering in the world today? Even though I lead a protected life in an American city, can I go right out to the psychic knife edge of existence and put myself into the shoes of someone in pain, in trouble, in crisis? If we are one in spirit, how much can we feel each other? How far can we go with empathy?
And as I increase my capacity for empathy, can I hold someone’s pain without being swallowed up by it? Is it possible or ethical to hold someone and simultaneously keep them at arm’s length?
In the past I’ve allowed myself to become ill by taking on the suffering, trauma, and unresolved pain of others. In 2009, am I ready to go back out to the edge and not fall over, be overwhelmed, drowned, or ungrounded? Can I be with someone, near or far, named or unnamed, and be a friend or midwife through the pain instead of an enabler or rescuer? Can I experience this oneness as celebration rather than struggle? As lightness rather than heaviness?
These are my questions for 2009: my hesitant resolution.
“You’re brave,” my friend Marcia said, when I told her my resolution, “’cause you’re asking for suffering. And you’re going to get it if you ask for it.”
Well, we’re going to get it even if we don’t ask for it. But by asking for it, I’m making it conscious and willful. Unconscious suffering gets masked as shopping, partying, workaholism, and numbing out in front of the TV or internet. Unconscious suffering gets passed over and passed on, endlessly returning as part of a cycle. Unconscious suffering allows me to stay the same, and the world stays the same. Conscious suffering means I take on the questions and experiences that remove me from my comfort zone of the knowable and familiar, venture into new terrain, and hopefully come out transformed. Through conscious suffering we wrestle, dance, gestate, transform, and mold an experience into something completely different. We process it.
This is the key to changing society and the troubles of the world: to take the trauma which is ancestral and global (here in America we all carry the trauma of genocide of the indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans and much more) and to process it and heal it. As my friend Susan Winecki says, “I must bring forth into the light what lies dangerously hidden behind me in order to take the venom out of it and make it human, just like me. I believe this must be done with every living being–trees, toads, lichen, etc. All must be seen and touched and brought into relational awareness–and then we realize that we are the world, that the world is us and our duty to life is to heal that part of ourselves that we project onto others, to heal that part of ourselves that is our own darkness begging to be seen and touched and brought into light. As I heal myself, as I love myself, the world is healed.”
If I hold someone’s suffering I also hold their joy. Maybe this is what will sustain me in 2009. Certainly we can all increase our capacities for joy. Certainly we can celebrate with one another!
Here is a message from the Hopi Elders back in December, 1999, which could not be more relevant now:
"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.
"At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
"The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
"Banish the word "struggle" from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
"WE ARE THE ONES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR."