It’s the age old question of good and evil. I was doing a workshop on this subject and could tell that there was a tremendous amount of frustration starting to arise from people taking positions about various pieces of content. Who did what to who and when and where type stuff. The frustration turned to anger when politics started to enter the discussion. It seemed the more that we examined this topic the more complex and convoluted it became. Mankind has always been opinionated concerning good and evil. It is as though we all know how we define them but are but have our own personal definitions. So it’s easy to let Conditioned ego take a position and start to defend it.
We have the automatic response to the discussion, we say that good and evil exist as opposites of each other, and between ultimate good and ultimate evil are a billion degrees that we can all argue about. The accusations fly about who is good and who is evil and about what acts are good and what acts are evil.
So perhaps as a way of reducing how we view this subject we can focus on the result of an action instead of a definition. Suffering is defined as stress or hardship. Pain, as physical problems, can also be addressed as suffering. There is always that specter of pain and, if we live long enough, we all end up experiencing pain. Whether we suffer over pain is another question.
BAD = WHEN WE ARE CAUSING SUFFERING
GOOD = WHEN WE ATTENUATE SUFFERING
Now, I know this isn’t going to stop the argument. But, if we start here and keep it to our social interactions, I think it may be a place to engage. We start the day by, in whatever way works for us, reinforcing that we are not going to intentionally add to anyone’s suffering. (I hope that you already have a practice concerning your suffering and include yourself in this message.)
CAUSING SUFFERING: What I have noticed is that most suffering can be avoided by not doing something. This is going to involve some awareness and asking the questions:
IS THIS NEXT ACTION.
IS THIS NEXT THING I SAY.
IS THIS NEXT LOOK OR MOVEMENT.
Going to cause suffering?
And, if I believe it’s going to cause suffering can I find another way to express myself in a genuine fashion that does not cause suffering or can I let this go without any addition? Can I say or do something in a different fashion that enables me to make my point but cause no one to suffer? I guess I’m not big on burying how I feel and think but I do want to express myself in awareness. In talking to others it is becoming more and more apparent that very few of us are ever checking ourselves concerning the above questions. We are automatically running on conditioned behaviors and responses.
Addressing how we cause suffering is not the easiest path, it would be much simpler to continue to process in auto-mode and not have to regulate and re-calibrate. But, if we are willing to do the initial work, we find that it eventually becomes a new process. We observe and regulate until we have engaged in the new process that avoids causing suffering. How long does that take? I think it will be entirely up to you if you chose this path.
ATTENUATING SUFFERING: This means to remain aware and to see clearly the suffering that surrounds us. Now this is specific to reducing suffering. It’s not about being a nice person, or being polite or encouraging, or going out of your way to be supportive where it may not be needed. That’s all good but it can be done and never address suffering. It’s simply about seeing and reducing suffering.
Working with suffering is going to require some transfer of energy. I think wishing well for others is a fine practice, I do not believe that it has any effect on suffering outside of making us feel better. The others I’m not so sure about. So, be prepared to expend some energy if you want to become engaged in reducing others suffering. There will be a question of identifying suffering and then choosing an appropriate action.
A thought about seeing and attenuating suffering. It is a tricky thing to evaluate and practice. The question comes up concerning the impact of “suffering.” True suffering needs to be addressed. But if a person presents as suffering one may want to ask oneself is that actual suffering or is the person in the midst of learning one of those life lessons that needs to be experience in order to learn? All things are subject to transience. Things happen up and down in sequences. Unequal sequences but things keep rolling. Tricky to know when to step in.
We have all experienced those moments when we felt as though everything was out of kilter. Many times we might have accepted help from others without question. Yet, later on, we realized that we had stood in the breach and came out better for having the experience. We see then that we had to go through what we experienced in order to become who we are now.
We want to avoid that position of endlessly and mindlessly “Helping” everything that we perceive needs our help. I would suggest that taking that minute to find the difference between responding and reacting will make a difference. If your’re a helping person you will do well to always take that fragment of a second and respond clearly. We are sometimes surprised at how many times we want to alleviate someones suffering when in fact we are adding to the problem or we are doing something to enhance our own self image.
I think it’s the difference between doing something for somebody or helping them do something for themselves. The first feels as though we are looking for a reward, even if it’s the feeling good because we are doing something for somebody. Which is entirely different from doing something good because you are a good person and that’s just what you need to do. The second feels more genuine and includes the person suffering in the solution.
When we see the opportunity to diminish suffering it’s easy to get caught up in excuses like:
I can’t possibly do anything about that.
Get angry or defensive and blame someone.
Feel like it’s a waste of time.
But no. We can always do something about it, maybe not the specific thing, but at least something within our scope and proximity. Being angry and defensive lets us think we are doing something. We aren’t, we just feel good by releasing energy. That does nothing but help us think we feel better and doesn’t reduce suffering.
It’s only a waste of time if your are trying to gain something from reducing suffering. We reduce suffering because we can, because we are empathetic, kind, and generous. Not because we want to feel good. If we decide that as a part of our living life that we are going to include reducing suffering, then we are already good people.
Ego feels we need to make a direct impact on the things we see as suffering. So, if we see that there is something going on and people are suffering two thousand miles away our initial instinct is we want to go there and fix it. Except we probably are not in a position to go there and we probably cannot fix it. So we do nothing except let in the anger and outrage. We then feel better because we feel we did something.
A more effective way to handle it is to find that problem locally and within your means of helping to reduce the suffering. So we can’t help people starving in Indonesia directly but we can volunteer for the local food bank or refugee center. Do that. Don’t let Conditioned mind convince you that you’re helpless because you can’t do anything about world problems. Suffering is not localized on the planet. You can find it everywhere. Two thousand miles away or next door.
Thoughts and comments are always welcome.
Take care of you and all you love,