Jan Chozen Bays, MD, suggests a practice that sounds grim at first glance. In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness,” the Zen teacher says:
As you go about your day, pay attention to the phenomenon of suffering. How do you detect it in yourself or others?
We shouldn’t just look for obvious suffering such as death or starving children. (Those things are good to meditate on with the intention of determining if we can do more to help.) Dr. Bays wants us to be mindful of the spectrum of suffering, from minor irritation to full-fledged grief.
Gaining awareness of the suffering in our hearts and the hearts of those around us is good. But it is most helpful if it unlocks compassion. As Robin Williams once said:
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
Observing our own suffering also gives us motivation to change. How can we stop it? How can we think about it differently? I’ve always believed that your greatest suffering can become your most effective ministry. Could that be true for you?
Dr. Bays also suggests that we use the Loving Kindness exercise when we are suffering to lift up others who are in pain as well.
Are we brave enough to notice suffering today? Let’s see how it changes us.