the practical buddhist : essentials

robin williams, non-suffering & extending our compassion

Extending our compassion


With the recent passing of actor and comedian, Robin Williams, there will be a lot of media focused on the areas of life where he struggled. But the truth is that none of us can ever know what pain he suffered, what frailties he championed, or what psychic or physical infirmities he battled.

Instead of occupying a place of judgement, let us use this moment to extend our compassion to those in our collective lives that experience pain, frailty, depression, and ill health.

It does’t matter who they are, what they’ve accomplished, or how much money they make. Our fellow inhabitants on this planet are made from the same cosmic dust as you and I.

On this level, here is no difference between the CEO and the transient, between the doctor and the patient, between the performer and the audience.

All are worthy of our compassion and kindness.

Non-suffering and victimization

I’ve often written that life is full of pain, but that suffering is optional. Suffering, in the Buddhist sense, is always self-induced. It is not the psychic or physical pain we feel, the difficulties that challenge our health and mental well being, but the victimization we adopt in the midst of these experiences.

Those of us afflicted with depression, physical pain, loneliness, discontent, sadness and grief, are not victims until we call ourselves so. True non-suffering involves letting go of our need for the label. To reduce ourselves to a label reinforces our separateness and distances us from path of non-suffering.

Victimization is a distinctly human phenomenon. Animals don’t engage in self-reflection and self-sympathy. They face their physical challenges with the healing-oriented behaviors at their disposal.

There is no inherent valor in being human. It is only when we take ourselves out of the present moment and into a reverie of victimization that we devolve into suffering.

Non-suffering in the midst of crisis?

Is it possible to eliminate suffering when we’re clinically depressed or in pain after surgery? I don’t know. I have to think that it’s possible but highly improbable.

For me, I’d fail at this and I know it.  This realization that I’d fall short, rather than grounds of self-judgement, provides an opportunity for cultivating and extending my compassion for those who bravely attempt it every day.

 There is no dishonor of being depressed, battling addiction, or facing physical pain. There is only the experience at hand and how we choose to face it.