Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, February 5, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
There is enough suffering in the world, we don’t need to add to it. There are so many ways that we create suffering for ourselves. One way is how we have a tendency to suffer because others are suffering. Akin to survivor’s guilt, I think we sometimes believe that there is no way that “I should be happy because they are suffering.” It’s as if having happiness in the midst of sadness, despair, and pain somehow suggests that we don’t care; that it’s selfish to be happy and joyous in a world where there is so much injustice, pain, cruelty, and suffering.
While it is normal and makes sense that we experience empathetic emotions in response to the suffering of others, I feel it’s disrespectful to our own life and the lives of those who are suffering to add to the suffering. Suffering because others are suffering does little to improve a situation.
Being a former nurse, I understand the importance of the caregiver’s attitude. It’s measurable in the physiological assessment of a patient if the care provider enthusiastically enters the room and greets them with love and joy in their heart. As one who has also been a patient, I know this to be true. It’s wretched to have a miserable nurse providing your care. When this happened to me, my suffering was somehow justified. I also experienced this with visitors. Friends and family who came to see me filled with worry, sadness, and sorrow, reinforced my suffering. When this happened following surgical procedures, it amplified my post-operative pain. However, when loved ones entered my room with laughter and joy, I immediately felt better. I even required less medication. In essence, the joy was in fact, healing.
Joy inspires. Suffering does not.
On a recent trip to Portland, DC and I stopped at a rest area off I-5. We saw a lady morosely sitting in a wheelchair holding her unique sign – a plea for help. I watched a few people walk by, pretending not to notice. “How sad,” I thought. I watched a couple others drop some change in her hat making little to no eye contact. In response to this, I saw a moment of optimism, or anticipation, followed abruptly by deflation. She needed connection (we all need connection). We gave Tammy some money and had a wonderful, joyous, conversation. She lit up. She sat up in her wheelchair and told us about her and her dog Hope and how they live out of the car. Seeing her as an equal, a valuable human life, we did our best to be uplifting and supportive. As we pulled away from the rest stop, we saw that Tammy was still smiling, expressing joy from our interaction, and blowing us kisses. And, I believe, inspired. I doubt this elevated experience would have been the case had we simply gave her some money and told her how sorry we are for her situation.
We owe it to ourselves and those who are suffering to be happy and joyous. We are more effective in the reduction of suffering when we are not suffering. How can we possibly we reduce suffering in the world if we are suffering ourselves? I’m in no way suggesting that you ignore the sadness and sorrow in your heart - show people that you care and that you see their pain. What I am suggesting, however, is that you use this sadness and sorrow as motivation to respect yourself and others enough to recognize all that you do have – the gifts in your life. Though the suffering of others most definitely affects all of us, their suffering does not have to be your suffering. Alternatively, your joy can become their joy.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
Contribute to the Turning Leaf Foundation
If you would like to help bring Mindfulness to the less fortunate and to help pay for current services, your generosity is deeply appreciated.