“Suffering brings me so close to God. Suffering brings me so close to God. Can you hear that?” ∼ Ram Dass
So opens Cultivating Grace and Transforming Suffering—the new one-hour film released by Love Serve Remember Foundation—which flew on my radar this week and I’ve already watched it four times straight through. It is the third in their “Cultivating” series and includes curated dharma talks by Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, Krishna Das, Trudy Goodman, and Mirabai Bush, from a recent installation of Ram Dass’ famous and beloved retreats on Maui.
Well, yes, I can hear you, Ram Dass, because I know this to be true from personal experience. I’ve had my share of suffering, and I can do it with the best of them.
By now in my fifty-first year, the storyline of my life includes events worthy of suffering like being the target of a bully in middle school, an adolescent weight problem, a battle with cancer at the age of 20, a couple of divorces, co-parenting with a man I can barely have a conversation with, the significant financial and emotional ups and downs of a twenty-five year career as a freelance writer/designer, and so forth, and so forth. Lately, my angst-du-jour includes general suffering over the state of the planet, both from environmental and humanistic standpoints.
I’ve stopped watching MSNBC, but my Facebook newsfeed keeps me aware enough of the deep suffering going on all over the world to which I am inextricably connected. No man is an island, you know.
About six years ago, something important happened as I stumbled along my path with eyes half-closed. I suffered a heartbreak so devastating that it woke me right up. It shook me awake the way a grotesque nightmare does, like a non sequitur in the apparent reality of our lives. The details of the heartbreak story are irrelevant. The relevance lies in how inappropriate my emotional reaction was, and even more so in my awareness of this fact, even as it was happening. This was an irreversible paradigm shift; a new landscape from which to operate.
In Cultivating Grace and Transforming Suffering, Jack Kornfield speaks to this: “To become mindful…present…is really the invitation to work with the joys and the sorrows of the world, and to do so with this gift, this capacity of loving awareness, of attention that actually can be present for the whole dance.”
In that moment, suddenly I could have my emotional experience, and step out of it for a moment and see it clearly and objectively; witness my own suffering.
I had been in and out of therapy most of my life starting when I was a teenager. I had spent many hours and many dollars on the couch, gestalt, behavioral, humanistic, and even a stint in classical Freudian Analysis in college before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and had to shift my focus to actual survival—for realz.
So when I woke up to the fact that I was transferring my grief for the end of a 10-year marriage to a break up with someone I’d dated for six months, I also woke up to the fact that I needed something beyond intellectual understanding of the source of my suffering.
I needed to be with myself in a different way—to explore the pain and listen to my heart.
I did the only thing that brought me some relief. I turned to my yoga mat. I took as many classes as my schedule would allow…three, four, five times a week, for months. During this time, I was also introduced to kirtan (a musical form of yoga which involves chanting Sanskrit mantras). It took a full month to make it through a yoga class without tears of sorrow, and another 30 days for me to find my sense of humor. I lost myself my practice, and then I found myself. My willingness to be with my pain—to listen to my heart—reunited me with the part of myself that transcends whatever narrative is playing out in my life. It’s the part of me that is connected to each other, to the universe, to all that is. Suffering brings me so close to God.
Since that pivotal time, I have cycled through many joys and sorrows, expansion and contraction, birth and completion. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to pull out of the suffering, and often I watch the entire drama unfold like a movie that is happening to someone else—a protagonist with whom I closely identify. But I know that if I lean into my practice, I will be able to hear my heart and remember.
In the end of the film, Krishna Das says, “Grace surrounds us and holds us like the sky holds everything in it…and as soon as I find a way to let go of my story, I keep seeing over and over again that grace is always here and it includes the forgetting and the remembering. The practice is the opening of the hand to catch the raindrops, which are always falling. If you don’t open your hand, you get wet, but you don’t get much to drink.”
Visit ramdass.org/grace to watch or download Cultivating Grace & Transforming Suffering in it’s entirety. All donations from the Cultivating series go toward perpetuating the wisdom and teachings of Ram Dass and other esteemed teachers, to make them accessible for all to share via podcasts, webcasts, films, blogs and social media.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Zoe Kors
Editor: Renee Picard