When we have an area of painful affliction within our being–whether in our own body or between ourselves and another–and that area of painful affliction persists for some time, we understandably become concerned. We may become unable to enjoy, let alone perform, activities that we may have taken for granted in the past.
In speaking with doctors, therapists, family, and friends about our painful affliction, it is easy enough to speak with honesty: I’m in pain. It hurts me right here. It hurts when I do this or that. It feels better when I do that or this. I’ve had it for X months/years. It’s so annoying. I hate this. It gets on my f*cking nerves. I wish this g*ddam pain would just go away already. I’m really, really scared that this will never go away.
The common wisdom is that honesty is the best policy.
Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not.
When we persist in painful affliction, getting into the habit of flowing in negative thoughts and feelings actually becomes a secondary cause of our suffering, right down to the level of internal chemistry. Thus, our misapplied honesty winds up hindering our recovery process and weakening the positive benefits gained from the various forms of therapy we attend. Without meaning to, we develop the habit of speaking affliction into our affliction. Without meaning to, we begin to view our affliction as an enemy, as an object of disgust–not seeing that since this affliction is a part of ourselves we now hate ourselves and thus become a house divided against itself. And perhaps most unfortunate: we practice the art of the professional victim, losing any sense of personal accountability for what our lives have become.
It’s been said: if we keep giving it what we’ve been giving it, then we’re gonna keep getting what we’ve got.
When we find ourselves in painful circumstances, and despite the help of doctors and therapists our painful circumstances persist, then we must open up to the possibility that something within us is causing the problem. And if we were to work on that something within us first, then we increase the probability of moving in the direction of integrity, of health, of less pain and suffering.
In short: if we change the inner story (mind and heart), then we change the outer story (afflicted areas of our body).
The dual practice of kindness and compassion toward our present affliction is one way to make these internal changes. The light of these virtues, when brought into painful circumstances and allowed to grow thru practice, can over time profoundly affect the course of a disease. It’s like a glowing ember gently fanned into a small flame, and that small flame fed with leaves and twigs until it becomes a middling flame, and that middling flame then fed with branches and larger hunks of wood to become a large fire. In a dark place, an ember illuminates and warms very little, but with right attention, intention, and presence, that something small can grow into something great–producing greater illumination, greater warmth, and greater benefit for those who suffer in the dark.
If we have been meeting affliction with affliction for some time–whether on the order of days, months, or decades–then to meet our darkness with anything other than darkness can indeed seem out of place. But we can change. We can begin to cultivate kindness and compassion in the mind and heart and allow the afflicted areas in need of healing within us to be the recipient of that uplifting light. And from there, intentionally radiating that light outward for the benefit of all.
Daily recitation of verses such as the three-part dedication, recited regularly from that heartspace of genuine concern for all, may be a helpful starting point to allow kindness and compassion to grow within you.
Or perhaps you might spend a few moments daily reasoning along the following lines: Since I suffer, others too must suffer in this world–perhaps even more than I do. I wish to be free from suffering, and hope to find the means by which I may be healed of this suffering. Since I feel this way, others too must feel this way. Therefore, with an open heart I hope and pray that all who suffer may find the means to be healed of their suffering, including myself.
Or perhaps your own inner tradition has the route to cultivate these qualities.
Whatever it is, I highly encourage you to dedicate the time to those practices which can help you transition from affliction-oriented thinking to healing-oriented thinking.
Aside from giving the mind and heart an alternative to anger, blame-gaming, fear, annoyance, and irritation, right cultivation of kindness and compassion eventually reduces our self-centeredness, a definite obstacle to healing in any disease process–whether within our own body or between ourselves and another. [Side note: eventually you come to the point where you have to face the fact that for some time–whether on the order of days, months, or decades–you have on some level been self-centered person and through that self-centeredness have been the primary agent of your own suffering and therefore the suffering of others. In the beginning it’s bitter medicine (this I tell you because I know the taste well), but in the end it does produce a sweet result.]
Kindness and compassion, along with equanimity and sympathetic joy, comprise the Buddhist practice of Brahmavihara–the Four Divine Abodes. It uplifts the mind and heart, gradually removes affliction from the mind and heart, and thus is a valuable resource for moving in the direction of increased well being and decreased suffering.
For those of faith, uplifting our minds and hearts attunes us to the wavelengths of Spirit. Being more attuned to the wavelengths of Spirit, we more readily receive information from those levels when we reach out in our darker moments of despair.
And perhaps the most consequential result of this practice? The realization and remembering that there exists within us, right now…today, the potential to be a powerful source of healing for ourselves and others.
Our impatience prevents us from experiencing the fruits of work; therefore, let’s remember to undertake the work with the right perspective.
Hope this helps you in your search for greater health, Justin.