drawing of an older couple with wrinkled faces
Image by 1tamara2 from Pixabay

It is precisely suffering
one’s own everyone’s
that calls from the center
of those who commit
to a mystical practice.

There is suffering seen and not seen, heard and not heard all the time everywhere, everywhere. Suffering caused by nature, by fellow humans, by invisible and mysterious forces. Suffering exists for each one coming and going, one by one, the one coming, the one going. Each one turns or does not turn into the suffering, grows or does not grow, recovers or does not recover. Completely subjective, comparison is meaningless.

Some say pain happens but suffering is a choice. Some say all of our experience in this world, including suffering, is an illusion. Some say G-d causes suffering as punishment. Others say G-d rescues people who suffer, even prevents suffering. There is a G-d in the world who saves people from their suffering through his own crucifixion. Others explain that we have caused our own suffering.

Between Gratitude and Suffering

Here on Retreat Cove, blessed by so much love and beauty around me, I live between the sea and the boulder. Two forces accompany me: gratitude and suffering. Like quiet water moving, my gratitude is clear and infinite. Like a stone, suffering is dense and heavy, without light. Dense and heavy, she cannot walk. I can. Without light, he cannot see. I can. And those, they cannot hear. I can hear. We are safe. They are not.

How is it that I receive such blessings when others suffer the absence of them? I did not choose, deserve, accomplish, or earn these blessings. For years, I have witnessed inside me the back of an elderly Asian man. I do not know him in my outer world. He is always sitting on the edge of an unadorned, single bed made with crisp white sheets, no blanket, the fingertips of his left hand reaching up, just touching the top edge of a tall bureau across from him.

Dressed in a white night shirt, he is preparing to stand up. He is utterly alone, isolated and despairing.

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In response, I hear Shantideva’s prayer:

May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.

May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

Holding Suffering in a Compassionate Embrace

A paradox: It has taken me a long time to learn that when that woman’s body is being stoned, it is not me that is being tortured. That man’s starvation is not my own hunger.

And simultaneously I directly know us humans to be the same. I know each flame in each heart as one vital flare of the great light in our universe. I know each soul as Divine.

Since we are indeed the same, then her tortured body, his starvation, are actually my own. Both can be true. Two perspectives, and the tension between them—firmly bound within my experience of myself—have directed much of the way I have moved through the world.

I recognize my continuing need to be near. I can hold suffering with an infinitely compassionate embrace, recognition, know it at this time in our world as part of being human, part of loving, of growing, of, yes, transformation. And I commit once again toward turning in to my personal inquiry, repeatedly birthed by a longing. Is it to find a place within me where the dark side—the agony and torment of being human—can be safely held, ennobled, allowed to be?

It is the exact moment or extended moments of suffering, the immediate hit of it, not what precedes or follows, that relentlessly challenges me, demands my full attention. Since it is an inevitable part of being human at this time in the evolution of our species, I would so like to be able to accept it. But what is there to accept about human suffering . . . even if for the privileged ones of us it can seed transformative experience?

Pain Announces the Arrival of Suffering

Physical or emotional pain invites, incites, triggers, or announces the arrival of suffering. Suddenly we are severed, anxious, hurled or undone, burned, depressed, crushed, broken or terrified, untethered, dropped, shredded. Or slowly and quietly, over time passing—minutes, days, or years—we are grieving, starving, falling, lost, sinking, aching, drowning.

In the moment of suffering, the utter force of it fills the space so that awareness of anything other than the suffering is obliterated. Here we can know a separation from our source. It is in these moments, when we most need that very particular light of the numinous, that it may be inaccessible. When we are indeed disconnected from the Divine, we are as far from unitive consciousness, from our original light, as a human being can be. I can’t accept this. I cannot stand it.

My head drops forward. My shoulders follow. My fingers and thumbs try reaching out. As this happens, my head lifts a bit and tilts to the right and then drops again. My torso curves over. My knees tremble and bend. I must go down. A gap, a short time lapse, not tracking, and now I am kneeling on the floor. I cannot stand up so I am kneeling, received by the earth. Kneeling now, a posture to be found in sacred spaces across the entire earth.

I am kneeling directly into an infinite nothingness, not dark, not light. Here in this nothingness, I know I am endless, infinite suffering. I am not frightened here. I am not with or without beauty. There is no loneliness here. I am a bare knowing of what is true. Being here requires all of me. I see:

Newly born
sickly, red and wrinkled
lying on my back
and being sliced open
my heart
becomes especially exposed.

Close up on my left
a man’s hands, huge in size
lift out my infant heart
lift it up
as it is pierced.

I see it
my heart enlarging
beyond adult life size
weeping from every pore

the human heart
weeping from every pore. 

Placed in my hands, now exposed to the light of consciousness, this heart first journeys home to my body, with the fire in my back just behind it. The fire burns, then propels my heart as it travels between two ribs on my left side and out of my body, being lifted, becoming clear seeing, clear and unencumbered.

Directly experienced, clear seeing is not about acceptance, rescue, or banishment. Turning from the inside out, becoming transparent, from below to above and down once again—arriving in the heart—

here is clear seeing
a light
vibrating invisibly
longed for
and cherished
that which is true

But compassion!

that transparent bloom
\poised, apparent
in the white
of the soul—

How will it find us?

without the devastation
of suffering
boldly carving
the pathway

Copyright ©2023. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission of the publisher,
Inner Traditions International.

Article Source: Intimacy in Emptiness

Intimacy in Emptiness: An Evolution of Embodied Consciousness
by Janet Adler

book cover of Intimacy in Emptiness by Janet AdlerSharing vivid examples from founder of the Discipline of Authentic Movement Janet Adler’s 50-year inquiry, Intimacy in Emptiness brings her essential writings, including new and previously unpublished work, to a wider audience, guiding readers through the multiple layers of this experiential and innovative approach to embodied consciousness. Her writings illuminate the path of the developing inner witness, transforming toward compassionate presence, conscious speech, and intuitive knowing.

Click here for more info and/or to order this hardcover book. Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Janet AdlerJanet Adler is the founder of the Discipline of Authentic Movement. She has been teaching and exploring emergent movement in the presence of a witness since 1969. Her archives are housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The author of Arching Backward and Offering from the Conscious Body, she lives on Galiano Island in British Columbia, Canada.  For more info, visit https://intimacyinemptiness.com/

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