on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

bearing witness to our own pain

I was reading “Joy on demand” by Tan Chade Meng, and I came across this passage which made me pause, reflect and break a little bit:

“…if you can witness all that pain and failure within yourself and have the composure and kindness be sufficiently strong for a gentle joy to arise and permeate even in the midst of witnessing all that pain and failure, then you will have no more fear, and you will embody the confidence of fearlessness. This is one of the highest levels of confidence you can have.”

He is writing about the capacity to bear witness to his own pain and suffering. He continued,

“By this time, I was already a seasoned meditator, so I knew that I was supposed to look at all internal phenomena with equanimity and kindness, but in this case, the depth of my practice was not yet remotely capable of generating equanimity and kindness in the face of that much pain and failure, so all I could do was bear witness. Not with equanimity, not with kindness, just witnessing.”

I identified very much with that. To not have the strength, wisdom and compassion to endure with equanimity, to possess a mind that has not been trained enough to reframe the narrative, to not be able to look at ourselves with non-judgment or widen our perspectives. Sometimes all we can do, all I can do, is just to be capable of looking at my own pain in the face and bear witness to it all.

I think this is a major component to why I write so much about my own suffering. I don’t want to hide it, pretend it doesn’t exist or that my life is great. In committing my experience to published words I am honouring it, that in the act of writing I have to bear witness to it.

Sometimes, all we need is to grow enough to no longer have the need to run away from ourselves. I think that is one of the first steps to self-love. What do we do when we see a dear friend in pain? We can only hope to sit with them and their pain. It is uncomfortable, awkward and painful, sometimes layered with shame and guilt. We need to be able to do that with our selves, to acknowledge our own suffering.

Then maybe one day, we will have the courage to offer a sort of love to people that can only come from being able to understand what it means to suffer.

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