Letting Go of Suffering
by Karuna Poole, ARNP, MN
The experience of grief is inherent in living. As we live, events will happen that we don't want to happen. We will undergo violations, endings, disappointments and betrayals. If we allow ourselves to fully feel the pain that comes with these events, we will most likely learn the important lessons that are there for us to learn and move on. If we suppress the painful feelings and mask them with self pity, guilt, blame, suspicion, sarcasm, indifference, and/or worry, we are likely to move into suffering.
One day last year, during my annual visit with my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, whose ashram (home) is located in Amritapuri, India, I had the opportunity to experience and move through two episodes of emotional pain. That year, I had come to the ashram bringing with me 60 handmade skirts and blouses. This clothing had been made by friends and myself for children living in the orphanage operated by my teacher.
One day I told Amma (Amma, which means mother, is my teacher's informal name) that I was going to deliver the clothes to the orphanage. As you might imagine, I was totally shocked when she responded that since I had not brought 600 sets of clothes, enough for each child to have a set, none of the children could have them!
My mind immediately started operating on three tracks. The first track was filled with rage, fear and self pity. Among the internal messages were:
The second track both recognized the lessons I was receiving and attempted to de-escalate the parts of me that were angry and afraid. Those mesages, which came in a clear matter of fact, non-critical tone included:
- What do you mean I can't take them? Don't you know how hard we worked?
- You betrayed me!
- You made me betray my friends.
- You aren't fair.
- You made me waste a whole year.
- Now everyone is gong to be mad at me and it's YOUR fault.
The third track in my mind was busy contemplating how to sell the clothes so the proceeds could be donated to the orphanage. In that way the intention behind the gift would be met. Within minutes I had formulated a tentative plan.
- Of course she said that. She does not want to set up competition between the children. That is totally reasonable and consistent with what you know of her.
- If a gift is an offering that has no strings attached, then the clothes were not a gift. Look at your level of attachment.
- This was supposed to be seva (selfless service). Seva, by definition, means that there should be no expectation of the fruit of one's actions. Examine the process that is happening. How can you learn to give freely?
- The work parties were very valuable for the people who participated. They experienced working in community. They experienced giving. They had fun. You have not hurt anyone.
- Your friends will have an opportunity to learn lessons such as those you are now learning.
The second and third tracks obviously were supportive and needed no help from me. The first was a different story. I sat close to Amma and let the fury rage inside of me. I could have said something directly to her but there was no need. Ultimately, I believed her response to be correct. The energy I was now experiencing was primarily old betrayal energy of mine, rooted in my childhood. I first tried to move the energy through by imagining myself telling her off. Then I imagined doing various anger release techniques I would do if I were in a therapy setting. These inner processes moved some of my negative energy, but not enough.
I decided to leave the temple and talk to some friends. I asked them if I could have a few minutes to vent, complain, suffer. They agreed and I allowed all that was inside of me to come pouring out. Afterwards, I discovered that the messages on the first track had lost their power. I returned to the temple to sit near Amma feeling successful and complete with the issue. (Brief episodes of anger and fear occurred occasionally over the next few weeks but I was able to easily release the energy.)
On the same day as all of this occurred, I experienced another powerful and important event as I was walking back from a local tea shop with a friend. As we passed one of the monks, he smiled at me. For no apparent reason my whole being exploded with an unnamed grief. The grief was so deep and so intense I couldn't even walk. I stood there and let the feeling come. I knew it didn't matter what the grief was about, I simply needed to feel and release it. After about fifteen minutes I felt done; exhausted yet lighter. (One of the ways to differentiate true grief from suffering is to notice what you feel like after you express the emotion. After expressing true grief you are likely to feel relieved, lighter, cleaner. After immersing yourself in suffering you are likely to feel even worse!)
I ended that day feeling very grateful. Grateful that I had accessed and let go of such core level grief. Grateful that I had experienced the difference between the pain of grief and the pain of suffering. Grateful that I had done my therapy and had the skills to move through the pain. Grateful that I had moved through so much of the pain in my therapy process that what was left was manageable. Grateful that the process of living has and will continue to bring up any residual pain so I can release it and thereby live my life more and more in the present moment.
As I said in the beginning, grief is inherent in living. We cannot totally avoid pain but we can avoid holding on to it. I hope my story will be of value to you as a model for dealing with your own grief.
Originally published by The New Times, August 1995.