Shining Through Suffering

Like everyone, I experience brief periods of depression from time to time, but I don’t think I have ever felt as blue as I have this past week. Not in a long while anyway. It’s not just the death of my cat. I’ve dealt with the death of loved ones before. I’ve counseled people who have suffered the loss of loved ones. Tara’s death has served as the catalyst for bringing up a multitude of  . . . stuff. Feelings about my life, where it’s going, where it’s been, etcetera  and etcetera.

I haven’t been able to focus on much of anything. Haven’t felt like focusing. At the same time, I haven’t felt like engaging in self-pity, feeling sorry for myself. Let’s just say, I’ve had better weeks.

Somewhat perversely, there may be nothing more effective for taking you out of the depths of your own suffering as witnessing the sufferings of others.

I’ve been watching the Casey Anthony trial off and on. Today I thought I would tune in for a moment or two to see what was happening and there was George Anthony testifying yet again. I have a lot of empathy for George and Cindy Anthony. To lose your only grandchild like that and then to have your own daughter accused and possibility guilty of murdering her – their pain must be excruciating.

Today, George Anthony testified that he was so grief-stricken over the loss of his granddaughter Caylee that he wanted to kill himself. In a statement that mirrors my own feelings about Tara, my cat, he said, “I believe I failed her.”

From the outside, George Anthony looks like a tough guy. A hardened ex-cop. But earlier in the day, he broke down while on the stand. As he wept, the judge asked if he need to take a break and he replied no, that he wanted to continue. He said, “I need to have something inside me to get through this.”

My first thought was “You already have something inside.” Yet, as soon as the thought appeared, it seemed insufficient. We hear it all the time: the answer is inside you. The truth is within. How many times I have written something similar to that just this month. After a while, it begins to sound trite I suppose . . . and insufficient.

For some reason I thought of This Light in Oneself by Jiddu Krishnamurti. I got it off the bookshelf and turned to the section from which the book gets its title:

Most of us, if we are at all aware of our inward confusion [want clarity]. Let us see if we can come upon this clarity, so that your mind and your heart are very clear, undisturbed, with no problems and no fear. It would be immensely worthwhile to see if one could be a light to oneself.”

I wondered, how is it possible to see a inner light when everything inside you is ablaze with the flames of incessant suffering?

To do that requires meditation . . . We are going to see for ourselves if we can come upon the state of mind that is always in meditation. To lay the foundation for that meditation one must understand what living is, living and dying. The understanding of life and the extraordinary meaning of death is meditation. It is not searching out some deep mystical experience, not a constant repetition of a series of words . . . That only makes the mind quiet, but it also makes it rather dull, stupid, mesmerized. You might just a well take a tranquilizer . . .

But Jiddu, I’d like to take a tranquilizer. I wish I could get my hands on some. I’d like to tranquilize myself for about a month.

We all want to accept someone who promises something, because we have no light in ourselves. But nobody can give you the light: no guru, no teacher, no savior, no one.

So, I guess pills are not the answer either.

He tells us not to accept authority, to follow no one, that there is no path. I’m not sure if I am familiar with Krishnamurti enough to know if he means this is same way that the Heart Sutra does, or if he is speaking literally. Either way, it still feels insufficient.

But It will always be insufficient, because the truth of this light in oneself is a lonely truth. In the end, we are left to our devices. Meditation is but a tool, not a tranquilizer that makes everything wonderful after we take it. Only we ourselves can make meditation work for us. It would much easier if there really was a God to absolve all our sins or a celestial Buddha in a Pure Land whose name we could chant with the confidence that after we die, we’ll be in paradise.

Yet, the fact is that it is by oneself that we must do the work of grinding through the hard karma and the jagged emotions that belong to us alone. This lonely truth doesn’t condemn us to loneliness, however.

We stand-alone but we are not solitary. We’re not talking about cutting ourselves off from others, living in a forest as a recluse or residing safely behind monastery walls. If we experience loneliness, it is only because we are forgetting how we are interconnected with everyone and everything around us.

We are standing in the real world where real suffering takes place and it’s much harder to cross over suffering here. We can’t hide. No one can take away our sufferings. No one can give us the light. But I think that when we get that light to shine in this place, it shines brighter because it reflects all the lights shining within others.

Elsewhere in the book, Krishnamurti says,

We are going together to investigate what it means to be a light to oneself, and see how extraordinarily important it is to have this light.”

We are going together . . .

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2 thoughts on “Shining Through Suffering

  1. “I wondered, how is it possible to see a inner light when everything inside you is ablaze with the flames of incessant suffering?”

    If you haven’t yet seen “Tree of Life”, may I suggest that you check it out, since its genesis seems to be akin to your question…

    Form [answer] is not other than emptiness [question]…

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