Thursday, March 17, 2011

Suffering and Being Fully Alive

I am at home, unable to walk because of an injured hip, and online on Facebook.  I am struck by the image of the Jizo Bodhisattva – standing tall and serene amidst the rubble resulting from the earthquake in Japan – posted by my friend Ruth Ozeki.

What does this mean for me?  Buddha – or God, or Allah, or the Radiant Light – cannot prevent suffering, and yet, he/she promises to remove all suffering by following the Way.

The Way of Zen is to be fully alive in each moment.  Clearly this does not always mean a joyful walk in the misty redwoods or swimming with the fish in Hawaii. This moment for many Japanese means unimaginable horror, fear, grief, hunger, cold, and pain.  This moment for me in Pacifica means searing pain in my hip and fear that I may be unable to work.

So often I feel like a personal failure when I am disabled or sick.  Why such a lack of self-compassion?  We wonder at the beauty of a sea anemone quickly withdrawing into itself when touched.  And yet it is difficult to see that suffering and pain and the attendant fear of what the future will bring is being fully alive.

Yesterday I was walking with a cane.  Then I saw men and women – even young, athletic looking men – walking with a cane or a crutch.  I had never noticed!  And so, now, when I think of people having to evacuate their homes in Japan, I imagine an elderly woman, unable to walk, with no place go.  Suffering is personalized. 

To be fully alive is to meet your own suffering head-on and to see that millions are also suffering.  In some ironic, mysterious way this acknowledgement of your suffering and joining in the suffering of others is a source of compassion.  This compassion is a source of peace of mind.

This is the Bodhisattva standing in the midst of devastation.


  1. oh sorry barbara. do i understand that the hip problem is not related to the chronic joint issue>? and that it is expected to heal soon? hope so. sorry you are in pain. wonderful blog though - so you are getting some good out of a bad thing!

    yrs, norman

  2. Thank you for writing this, Barbara. I really believe what you say is true, that suffering can be our source of compassion. And I love that the Jizo in the picture has lost his cane and his wishing jewel, but he's still standing there anyway, in the midst of all that devastation.