Fueling Love in the Face of Pain & Suffering. ~ Suzanne Grenager

Via elephant journal
on May 24, 2013
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What does it take to stay openhearted, sane and loving in a global village rife with heart-rending insanity?

The world is too much with us, late and soon.

I woke up before dawn this morning, the weight of the world—my own little one and our big wide, weary one—heavy on my heart.

More death and destruction in Syria and the world over, natural disasters, homegrown bombings and shootings galore. We are doing unspeakably terrible things to each other, our children and ourselves. The icing on that bitter cake was news of our friend Scott’s suicide near our place in Bodega Bay.

I couldn’t bear to hear any details. And I didn’t need to. Human suffering lived in the bowels of my being, and it prompted this question: How, dear God, can I keep the love alive in me, in the face of so much pain?

What does it take to stay openhearted, sane and loving in a global village rife with heart-rending insanity?

Isn’t that what you, dear reader, also want to do?

We are all in the soup together, as I like to say. We always were.

Now we know it 24/7, unless we retreat to a Himalayan cave. God knows I’d like to sometimes—or okay, at least to an unwired cottage in the woods, as my husband, Trond, dubs his desire for extra-worldly simplicity.

That’s what Bapuji did, Swami Kripalvanand, an inspirational source of my early Kripalu path and recent book.

He threw everything aside to sit and bathe himself in himself—in his humanity and his divinity—until there appeared to be nothing left but the love we all are essentially are. That  love is so great it can contain all the suffering in the world. Exactly what our world needs now.

But how to keep the love fire fueled, short of retreat to a cave?

I got my answer to that burning question when sitting on the couch with Trond soon after posing it. I burst into sweet tears. I say the tears were sweet because as they began to fall, I felt myself open and soften into the pain I’d been resisting with all my mind’s might.

I’d been upstairs in bed since five o’clock trying to meditate to no avail. My brain was a rat’s nest. I’d tried lying supine, taking my usually surefire deep, relaxing yoga breaths. But my heart still felt like a stone, closed to myself and the world.

I gave up and joined Trond downstairs. Over tea and cookies, I told him how sad I was about all the suffering we humans are privy to. I wondered aloud how I could keep on loving—myself first, since we cannot give what we do not have—when so much shit is going down all around.

That’s when I burst into tears and finally got in touch—felt in my whole body-being—the horror of the dead Syrian children, girls forced into prostitution, little boys raped by priests and Jerry Sandusky, a man people I know knew. I wept long and hard for the children, for their mothers and for their murderers and rapists, who must have a hell of a time sleeping at night.

I found myself crying aloud to our friend Scott, how terribly sorry I am that he’d been so unhappy and we hadn’t known. I let the pain of all that and more have me, until my tears were spent.

I had my answer: that if I want to keep my heart open for the love, I must keep it open for the pain and suffering as well.

Not just a little open, but wide open. To keep love fully alive in me, I must be willing for pain to live in me here. I must be willing to feel the full force of it, whenever it arises, with every fiber of my blood-soaked heart and queasy, roiling gut.

I know, I know. It sounds gory and scary, and it kind of is. But if we shut our hearts down to the horror of the desperation and despair of, say, the man who ate another man’s face—maybe the worst of the worst recently—we shut ourselves down to ourselves, our Self—the love that we are but that the heart must stay open to receive and to give.

We can love exactly  to the extent we are willing to feel what’s in the way of love—the fear, the doubt, the shame and suffering, whether it seems to be “ours” or “others”—until we burn it up.

Until our hearts are great enough to contain all the world, our job as spiritual seekers is not done. So let’s support each other in doing the inner work it takes to make room for everything. Make sense?

Please add the voice of  your experience to mine. And may we learn from each other how to live and love well in these challenging and also promising times.



SuzanneSelbyGrenagerBioSuzanne Selby Grenager: A sister seeker, awakener and scribe am I. Off to India before the Beatles, I followed a breadcrumb path from newspaper columnist through Kripalu Yoga teacher to body-mind therapist and transformational life coach. In 2012, I screwed up my seasoned courage, held my well-traveled feet to the fire and published Bare Naked at the Reality Dance, my achingly honest first book about what it takes to wake up, fall in love with ourselves and make the difference we’re born and dying to make. I hope you’ll visit me and my blog.



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13 Responses to “Fueling Love in the Face of Pain & Suffering. ~ Suzanne Grenager”

  1. I am thrilled to have been accepted as a contributor to the fabulous elephantjournal. Thank you, ej, for the honor!

  2. Mary says:

    I am speechless. It will take time for this to sink in. I think I go through my life avoiding all the pain and suffering that is around us. How to keep one's heart open in the midst of all this. I think of Thich Nhat Hanh's poem, "Please Call Me By My True Names." We are not yet aware enough to stop causing all this suffering in the world. Blessings, love and prayers for you , Sue, and the world.

  3. Heather says:

    What a brutal series of images! Funny how we collect horrible sights and facts until we explode and let go of our ability to control anything. Thanks for your honest path.

  4. What a a beautiful and moving tribute to my words, Mary! Thank you. I know that poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is exactly about the need to keep our hearts open to everything and everyone — because we *are* one, one and the same. Thank you for reminding us of that, and for your opening your own great heart to this message and the world. Blessings, love and prayers for you, too!

  5. Wow, Heather! What an interesting persepctive you share. I wish you'd said more about *how* we "explode and let go of our ability to control anything." I imagine you mean that at some point the world's suffering, if we attune to it, becomes too much to bear, and so we must release it — in a great WHOOSH! I might call surrender. We let it all go, which is, I find, really the only way we are able to let it all (meaning all of life itself) come, rife as it is with fear and suffering on one hand, and their antidote, love, on the other. Thank you for acknowledging my path, as I do yours.

  6. Mary says:

    Suzanne, You have figured out a profound equation, balancing suffering with love, and then you've explained it eloquently. Thank you.

  7. Thank you, Mary, for your very kind words about my post.. Your understanding and support mean a lot to me!

  8. What a beautiful article, Suzanne. The Gita's answer to this question is similar to yours–opening up to all experience: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/01/gita-in-a-


  9. I am thrilled that you, who were a publisher here and first invited me to submit at elephant, enjoyed this, my first elephant post! Thank you, dear Bob, for taking time to read and comment so supportively. I am touched and humbled that you put me on the same page as the Bhagavad Gita. And if I am, it's thanks to my maha-guru, Swami Kripalvanand, a man as *open to all experience* as any I've met. On that subject, I encourage others to follow the link you posted above and read your profoundly moving series about that classic ancient scripture we call Gita. I have just now read a few of your posts about it and am beyond grateful that you have pointed me to them again. I intend to devour them all, food for the soul that they are.

  10. Suza Francina says:

    Thank you, Suzanne, for your honest essay. As the Buddha said, "May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water," —the muddy water of the immense horror, pain, and suffering in the world.

  11. Well said, dear Suza — you and the Buddha both, I gather. Many thanks for taking time to visit me at elephant, read my post and acknowledge my honesty. From the little I yet know of your work, I can safely say here that it takes one to know one. I have ordered your latest book and look forward to meeting you and your honesty on the page.

  12. Suzanne, just now reading your article. Guess I have been swallowed up in all the huge and tiny sufferings and the large and just as ephemeral happinesses. Thanks for your ever-honest, ever-probing clarity. Carry on!

  13. Hey, Millie. I wasn't sure what you meant by saying you've been "swallowed up in all the huge and tiny sufferings…and happinesses. So I asked you via email if you feel deeply enveloped in/by life's up and downs (which we want to be) or whether you're saying you've gotten swamped by it all. I loved your response, as follows: “Swallowed up” hits all the verbs you mentioned, depending on the mood/energy/day…I'm sometimes happily immersed in and excited about (life), sometimes feeling tossed around in a swirl of not-totally-understood-or-digested happenings/imaginings….”

    Oh, boy can I relate to that! Way too many of the swirling, too-little-understood-or-digested happenings and imaginings going on lately. And that leads me to *imagine* that it's high time for the "happily immersed" phase to resurface – soon, please! Thank you, wise woman, for sharing your experience here. You help me (and others, I know) to feel less distressed about our inability to be as consistently clear and joyous as we long to be. You are a beacon!