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Ram Dass on Acknowledging Suffering: How We Can Begin to Heal

By Ram Dass

On how we can begin to heal… Ram Dass says:

It’s the horrible beauty of the Universe and to realize that there is a wisdom inherent in it, and that wisdom includes suffering and that all suffering is not an error.

What about all those lows? When you’re angry. When you’re getting fired. When your car breaks down. When there’s an unexpected pregnancy. When there is a fight. When there is violence in the neighborhood. When there is racial tension in the community. When there is ecological disaster imminent at every turn. When politics all sound like lies. All of this does an interesting thing: it throws us back in upon ourselves for us to see where we’re at. When all the pins get pulled away, we have a chance for a moment to see what resources we have. There are many stages on this path, many lessons, but don’t stop anywhere. It’s all part of the process of awakening…

It is the continuing work of life: of learning to trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should, no matter how it looks to us. We learn to appreciate that each of us has a part in nurturing this interconnectedness whole and healing it where it is torn. Discovering what our individual contribution can be, then giving ourselves fully to it. Until you are resting in a place that understands that, it’s quite presumptuous to think you know best. I have watched in the work I do with people that are dying, where they suffer and suffer and suffer and if I could, as a human emotional heart, I would do everything I could to take away their suffering. It breaks my heart that they’re suffering and I watch as the suffering burns its way until they finally give up because the suffering is so great. I’ve watched as they give up, something emerges in their being that is so beautiful and so radiant and so spiritually innocent, that it’s like they meet a part of their being that has been hidden all their lives. It’s like an egg being cracked open. 

It happened with my stepmother, Phyllis, as she was dying we went through a period where she was in pain, and willful and tough. Then it cracked, and the moment it cracked, what came forth was somebody so radiantly beautiful that it blew her mind even, and she and I were just together in this incredible grace right to the end. Now, I looked at that with horror and with beauty. I would have taken away all that suffering if I could, because I really loved her. I didn’t want her to suffer from my human part, and at the same moment, when I looked at her from a spiritual point of view, it was that very suffering which had forced that cracking open, which had brought her being through

Now, am I to say that suffering stunk, or was it good? The horrible beauty is that suffering is grace and suffering stinks. Until you can stand right in the balance point and see both of those, what are you going to pray for? Do you hear the predicament? Do you hear where you are praying from? You are essentially saying, “I want it different, because I can’t stand it the way it is.” Once you see the way it is and just see it fully, you won’t really wish to change it. You may want to understand it, but you won’t want to change it. It’s just the horrible beauty of suffering.

In the Tibetan literature they say, “Embrace your ten thousand horrible demons and your ten thousand beautiful demons.” You’ve just got to take it all and keep going. All your fears have to be embraced, entertained, honored, and you go on with them. If you are going to be able to deal with seeing someone else’s beauty, you have to be able to acknowledge your own beauty. In a similar way if you are going to able to be available for someone else’s suffering you have to be able to acknowledge your own suffering and be able to understand the nature of suffering in such a way that you have converted the quality of suffering in yourself…

There is an understanding of suffering such that you don’t invite suffering into your life but when it comes you work with it and transform it. The extreme of it is the Christian monk who is saying, “God, God give me more pain. Give me more suffering because I want to get closer to you.” And [my guru] Maharaj ji saying, “Do you like suffering or joy,” and saying, “I love suffering – it brings me so close to God.”
 

On how we can begin to heal… Ram Dass says:

If we are to help heal the world, we need to remember that it is a sacred place. Our actions need to be positive statements, reminders that even in the worst times there is a world worth struggling for. We need to find ways to keep the vision alive, to acknowledge but not get caught in the dark side. To remember that even the worst aspects of suffering are only part of the whole picture. We need to enter lightly…

Entering lightly means not ignoring suffering but treating it gently. We don’t want to ignore another’s pain, but our becoming depressed or angry about it doesn’t relieve it and may increase it. The delicate balance is in allowing ourselves to feel the pain fully, to be sad or angry or hurt by it, but not be so weighted down by it that we are unable to act to relieve it. It is a matter of ends and means again: to create a caring, loving, peaceful world, we need to act with care and love and peace.

The way in which we deal with suffering has much to do with the way in which we are able to be of service to others. Of course, not all helping revolves around suffering. Much of what we offer may be in the nature of simple support or guidance. Moving a friend’s new furniture, teaching a child to read. But it is the affliction of others that most directly awakens in us the desire to be of care and comfort. The impulse to do all we can to relieve another’s pain is the automatic response of our native compassion. 

But the experience of suffering — in ourselves and in others — triggers off complicated reactions. To investigate these is itself an act of compassion. An essential step toward becoming more effective instruments of mutual support and healing. How then do we respond to the pain we see all around us? And, once we have investigated this response, how do we respond to our own afflictions? As Gandhi said, “Fearlessness is the first prerequisite of a spiritual life.” Fear means we’re either worried about something that’s already taken place, or anxious about things that haven’t even happened. 

Bringing ourselves into the present moment can help us to loosen fear’s stranglehold. In the process of learning to be mindful, and to age in a conscious way, fearlessness is an essential ingredient. This fearlessness involves the willingness to tell the truth, to ourselves and others, to confront the contents of our minds. We must be willing to look at everything — our own suffering as well as the suffering around us — without averting our gaze, and allow it to be in the present moment. 

Rather than closing ourselves to fear, we learn to open to it, to sit with it, allowing it to arise and pass in its own time. By simply looking, with no push or pull, mindfulness is strengthened. You will find that the moment you enter this witness state, the boundaries of the Ego are loosened and fear begins to change. You will discover that the fearful thought you are looking at is quite different from the fear you’ve run away from. The minute you look at it and embrace it, the power is yours. I’m not suggesting that once this has happened, the same fear will not arise again, but you’ll be seeing it from a different point of view. Rather than being some awful Goliath, your fears will become like little shmoos.”
 


Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr. Timothy Leary. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (affectionately known as Maharaj-ji), who gave Ram Dass his name, which means "servant of God." In that moment, everything changed — his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since.

Be Here Now, Ram Dass’ monumentally influential and seminal work, still stands as the highly readable centerpiece of Western articulation of Eastern philosophy, offering guidance on how to live joyously 100 percent of the time in the present, luminous or mundane. Be Here Now continues to be the instruction manual of choice for generations of spiritual seekers. Forty years later, it’s still part of the timeless present.

Ram Dass now resides on Maui, where he shares satsang and kirtan, and where he can amplify the healing process in the air and waters of Hawaii. His work continues to serve as a path of wisdom and inspiration to countless seekers. Ram Dass’ spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping free them from their bonds as he worked his way through his own.

A new film from Ram Dass called Becoming Nobody will be available as a DVD and download on January 7, 2020. For more information, visit Ram Dass' website here.
 

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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 22: Healing With The Masters Summit