How to deal with so much suffering

photo-1431932441182-250651654c23When I was 11, I watched a movie about some mean English high school boys who beat up a younger boy each week at gym. When one of the attacks killed a boy, I ran from the room, shattered that young people could be so violent and cruel to each other with intent. I also couldn’t understand, even at that young age, why anyone would choose to make a movie like that.

It was the first prick in my illusory childhood bubble of innocence that the world is ‘safe and just’ and people are ‘kind and loving’.

Last weekend the memory of that movie came back to me as I grappled with a fresh sense of shock and sadness over the attacks in Paris. We seem to be in a constant state of shock with so many different events to absorb  – from frequent mass shootings in the US to domestic violence closer to home.

A layer of the bubble of safety bursts open each time.

This time because I’m a mother and my children are in a world that seems far from safe or nurturing. And that breaks my heart wide open as I’m sure it does yours.

This week has been traumatic in the media and I know many of you are feeling the effects of living in such uncertain times. Many are switching off the news because it’s simply too hard to take in.

It’s challenging because we’re witnessing people being robbed of the most basic of human rights and dignity; witnessing cultural, religious and generational conflicts playing out in senseless ways.

We’re seeing the darkest side of human nature.

How do any of us respond to this? To the sheer scale of it?

It starts with accepting that this is our reality. Really seeing it for what it is. Not hoping or pretending it might go away. Yes we live in an increasingly complex world and this is the world our children and their children will inhabit.

It starts with not trying to rationalise it away, which just shifts you into black and white ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thinking where you feel justified in blaming one side over the other, rather than seeing the full picture.

One thing is for sure. Nothing will improve if we continue to deny and ignore our reality; if we believe the world is all love and light and great things will happen because we did some positive thinking today.

Yes there is light in the world, an abundance of it.

Astonishing acts of love, generosity and kindness occur every day in every corner of the world.

And there is also darkness. Just as there is light (love) and darkness (unconscious pain) in each and every one of us.

How you respond to what’s going on is a very personal decision that only you can make. There are degrees of what we are all able to contribute in any given day to making the world a more peaceful place.

For some it’s as simple as smiling at a stranger, or being fully present with your children so they feel seen and valued. For others, it’s about working tirelessly to help relieve the suffering of others. All of these actions come from a place of love.

There is no right or wrong choice, but it no longer feels appropriate for us to bury our heads in the sand and hope that someone else will come along and fix it.

Because they are us. We are them. We’re all connected. We’re all human. We are now able to see a fuller picture of what’s going on in the world through the web, for the first time in the history of humanity. Most of us feel a little less settled in our lives because of the extent of the issues we face.

Some people believe the world is going through a rebirth. Perhaps that’s true. There are many signs pointing to humanity being on the cusp of evolving into a higher level of consciousness over the next couple of hundred years. We could just as quickly annihilate ourselves because we’re too wedded to our comforts to risk change.

It’s important to understand that the fact that we are all alive at this time, means it is up to us, the people who are living in relative safety and comfort, to actually give a shit and put our hand out to people who aren’t.

It’s a scary thing to care so much. Because that means I have to take responsibility for what I care about. I’m prepared to do that. Life doesn’t seem so worthwhile if every person doesn’t have access to basic human rights. Because I know that a child in Syria could just as easily have been my child had I been born in another country.

We all have a role to play. It starts with waking up to what’s happening – informing yourself through a variety of quality sources and allowing your heart to break wide open. Feeling into what’s happening rather than distancing yourself from it for another few years, and hoping that it will just all go away.

It’s not going to.

There’s something about suffering that’s exquisitely beautiful; where what your heart is breaking over somehow shines a light on what you still have. It brings into sharp focus what matters. The people who matter. It awakens intense gratitude for all the multiple blessings you have. You recognise through your tears that suffering and gratitude are two sides of the same coin.

This is where you start. Holding the pain and the gratitude. Allowing yourself to feel the grief and love.

You must be willing to feel.

Culturally we’re not good with emotions or pain; we’ll do anything to bandaid, eat or medicate it away so we can get back to our bubble. And that’s a huge part of the problem because there is so much pain and suffering present, and entire populations of people who are unwilling to experience even the slightest discomfort.

So what happens to unexpressed pain? Personally, when we don’t feel our emotions, they get repressed into the unconscious, and generally are acted out in dysfunctional ways some time later. It’s not too much of a leap to imagine that much of the violence in the world is repressed unresolved pain of generations of injustice and trauma being acted out.

These times are asking us to drop deeper into what’s real, into the pain of the mess we are in, because it’s through the heart that you realise how much you do care about the future of this planet, if not for your sake but for your children’s.

The head will tell you to stay comfortable, keep striving for more, make sure your image is perfect, upgrade your house, make more money. The heart says “break open, please! The world is in crisis. Your comfort is illusory and can be taken from you any second. You know this. Allow yourself to feel the pain so that it can mobilise you into caring so much that you can’t not do something.”

Can you see the opportunity here? That each of us in our own way could contribute to the solution with more love, kindness and compassion, rather than add to the problem with more fear, suspicion and intolerance.

Our cultural innocence and assumption that bad things happen to others is slowly shattering. The shattering of any innocence is sad. But it is also a crucial part of our development. I believe we have the potential for a more loving and peaceful world, but it will only happen if each and every one of us is willing to work towards it.

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