In the modern day, our understanding of spirituality usually takes two forms. First is the traditional faith-based type that tries to understand the workings and intent of a higher power and how to attain a favorable afterlife. Second is the New Age obsession with esoteric topics such as meditation, yoga, chakras, and the third eye. However, none of this really gets to the heart of living an engaged spiritual life. Today, we will be discussing this.
How often do we go about our lives unaware of the suffering around us? It’s easy for us to think, “That has nothing to do with me.” Wake up! Becoming aware of others isn’t just about them–it’s the most important step to saving yourself from suffering!
Here’s the uncomfortable truth. No matter how rich, powerful, strong, or healthy you are, you are going to grow old, get sick, and die. There is no yoga pose or jhana attainment that can prevent this. You are going to lose your loved ones, friends, and family to age, illness, and death. You will face anger, fear, loneliness, and grief. And that’s if you’re lucky and don’t kick the bucket first. There is absolutely nothing you can do except come to terms with it. So when you see someone else suffering, you must ask yourself, “Could I really handle that if I were in their situation?” Because one day, you will be in that very situation!
Some will say, “I’ll deal with it when I get there.” This is like a student saying, “I’m not going to study for the calculus exam. I’ll just wing it and play video games until then.” This attitude has never worked for anyone long term. By the end of the semester, they’re sweating bullets because they’re frightfully unprepared and end up bombing the test. And that’s a cakewalk compared to the experiences of loss and death that each of us must face. Don’t you owe it to yourself to come prepared?
Some will say, “I’m not scared of dying. I’m scared of it hurting.” This is due to misunderstanding the nature of dying. Death is the only reason why we’re scared of pain. Pain is only an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us from dying. Therefore, without coming to terms with pain, we cannot come to terms with dying. The same goes for old age and sickness.
Some might say, “I’m not afraid–I’ve made my peace.” Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves. Are you really saying this out of your free will? Or because you’re cornered and have no choice but to surrender?
Every time we see suffering should be a reminder to ourselves, “This will be me one day.” By practicing compassion for others, we can actually learn to put ourselves in their shoes and try to experience what they’re going through. We can create the awareness that “That is me suffering.” This way, when it’s our turn, suffering will not take us by surprise. By heightening our awareness, we can understand how everyone goes through these things, have compassion for ourselves in our moments of suffering, and accept our experience instead of turning away. This is what it’s all about: developing compassion for all beings, starting with self compassion.