March 13, 2012

My Suffering is (not) Better than your Suffering.

Beirut, Lebanon.

I am in the plane to Cairo. We are still on the runway of Beirut Airport.

It is freaking hot in the plane. Is this policy in Egyptian planes? It’s not that hot outside (it was freezing cold, according to the Lebanese).

This morning I wrote something when I woke up. Many things happened since. Let’s see if I still agree with myself.

Here goes:

“I woke up angry, disappointed and sad. Not the mood that I would like to spend my last day in Beirut in. I am trying to figure out what is going on.

At home, I have a bird. There is a story around how the bird found me.

To cut a very long adventure short, in the summer of 2010 he appeared on my balcony one day. I found his owner, returned the bird, then the owner brought the bird back to me, the bird got lost and I found him again. So this bird came back to me three times.

I couldn’t take my bird with me on my journey, so I agreed with a friend that she would take care of Izzy (that’s his name), and I felt good about the fact that they would keep each other company. Izzy has been living with her since Christmas.

Yesterday, 30 seconds before my meeting with the director of the play, I received an email that my friend doesn’t want to take care of my bird anymore. Since a week ago she “just can’t handle the noise anymore.” It’s “driving her crazy.”

I am angry about the rejection, I am angry about the betrayal, I am angry about the intolerance, I am angry about the victimhood. And I feel disgust for the Western weakness and incapability to deal with any challenges in life.

Yesterday, I met a successful guy who walked on a landmine when he was a young child. He spent five years recuperating. He became a professional athlete and is now a sports coach and a business man and is devoted to making a positive contribution.

I met a political activist who is fighting the corruption in this country next to his 48 hour work week.

I met a director who works in prisons and is risking a prison sentence herself for being honest.

And they all live in a f*cked up country, where the traffic is completely constipated, legislation is corrupted and one is always surrounded (and I mean really surrounded) by huge construction sites.

But in Holland we can suffer from the sounds of a love bird to a point that we are completely consumed by it. In this moment, I am unable to bridge the gap.

Please listen to the music I meditate to every morning.

Maybe we have too much time and too much choice in the West. Maybe we are too concerned with creating the perfect bubble where everything appears to be in harmony with what we believe is right.

I feel guilty for being so intolerant and judgmental. I am pretty sure that people here would appreciate some silence too, and clean air. I am sorry for ranting. This is a selfish society too—most people see no other choice than to fight for their survival. No utopia here.

I guess that what I am learning by traveling and meeting the people who are devoted to change is that we, as human beings, are really missing the point. We make little things too important and big; inconvenient things we rather deny. We are a species with the capacity to complain about the wrong brand of toilet refresher while our ship is sinking. We will even justify that because in our minds we can control the choice of toilet refresher, but we can’t prevent the ship from sinking. So our “wisdom” is to at least “contribute” to the discussion around toilet refreshment. When it all goes down we can at least say we tried to make a difference and we did what we could.

Did you know that we produce food for 12 billion people every day and that we feed only 6 billion and throw away the rest? We are with 7 billion on this planet; 1 billion of us are starving (and another billion is obese).

I really know how it feels to get caught up in personal frustrations. It happens to me all the time. Examples? I just saw pictures of my workshop and the only thing I can think is that I look fat in them. Plus, I made a facilitation mistake and received some critical feedback, which means that my participants noticed. I feel terrible about it, I feel deeply ashamed. There were times when I would like to stay in bed when something similar happened. But I have a plane to catch to Egypt and two clients waiting for me. I have to keep moving on.

Ok, ok, I am not angry anymore. Thank you for taking care of Izzy, dear friend. I am sorry for both of you that it didn’t work out, I know your intentions were good and it was hard for you to tell me it wasn’t working. My anger surely wasn’t serving you to feel better. I am sorry for my arrogance and my contempt. That’s my stuff.”


I read this post back again. I can see myself moving through the anger and coming back to myself. The only thing I am not seeing is “the other.” My friend had good reasons to email me; she wasn’t exaggerating about the discomfort she experienced and my email was deliberately hurtful. That was uncool. Why was my reaction so strong? Why did I feel that the suffering I witnessed was superior to her suffering?

Note to self:

Don’t get caught up in your own story. Don’t exaggerate the importance of your doing, not even when it feels “right.” Actually, be aware when you start feeling “right.” And don’t fall into the trap of comparing. Don’t think you are actually comparing your experience to the other’s experience–you are not.

When you compare, you are merely measuring your own judgment to your own experience. By rejecting what you consider futile, you are only projecting your arrogant and superior version of life on the other.

Remember how crappy it felt at times when your own suffering was discarded for being futile (and remember how much this is now part of your story)? Projecting your expectations is harmful, it is as if you create laws against being honest and truthful in your universe. If your laws are obeyed, you create ungenuineness inside and outside of yourself. The pain you felt when you received the email is the pain you are still carrying inside.

Don’t blame others for making you aware. Be thankful.

I am sorry.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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