Counting the Omer with Sandy Garrett
Day 24 — Acceptance of Suffering
Kabbalat Yesurim • קבלת יסורים
By Marilyn Paul, Berkeley, CA
Accepting suffering sounds as if we have to live with something bad. It appears that we have to resign ourselves to pain. I see accepting suffering as a way to surrender to reality as it is and to learn to appreciate the full human experience which is full of beauty and ugliness, hope and despair, suffering and pleasure. There is great richness in that.
We are reminded by our Jewish tradition to live in joy. Our spirits are lifted up when we attune to the joys of the moment we are in. This is a great blessing. And along with this blessing comes another blessing. We can notice that we are suffering, from large and small disappointments, from losses, from grief, from rejection, from loneliness. Why is it a blessing to notice and accept our suffering? We can provide ourselves companionship in our suffering. We can hang in there with ourselves. We can more easily empathize with others.
I noticed that when I had cancer I received an enormous amount of advice about making the best of it. It was frequently suggested that I focus only on the good and that positivity would help with a positive outcome. I focused on the positive as I went through chemotherapy – which made me awfully sick. I tried to focus on the positive as I lost my hair, which scared my little boy. And I tried to focus on the positive as I emerged from the ten hours of surgery that left enormous scars. I did focus on the positive, and much of my positive focus was helpful but I also avoided my suffering and I abandoned myself.
I wish I had known more about accepting suffering. It’s exhausting to deny your experience. Energy that I put into denial was not available for comforting myself. I wish I had known that accepting suffering means being right with ourselves when life throws a huge curve ball at us. It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to suffer, because we do. Cultivating joy and accepting suffering are not mutually exclusive. Here is a paradox: we can suffer and feel joy, both. In fact, we are taught that we must. It’s tricky, we don’t want to be mired in self-pity and we want to acknowledge the truth of our experience, there is joy in that. So, mining paradox we go on with our Mussar practice in deep gratitude for these wise teachings.
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