Suffering – the Central Problem


How do we find right relationship with our world – a planet filled with the dissonant chords of hatred and violence?

All my life, I have been wrestling with this problem, and I still don’t have an answer. This central difficulty has been a driving force on my spiritual journey all my life.

This became painfully obvious to me the other day, when I reacted to more news of unspeakable atrocities committed in the name of God with a hateful and violent rant of my own. My rant lost me good friends, lost me my own peace of mind, lost me my self-respect. It left a gaping wound in my gut. And it raised once again this burning question which even defies being put into words adequately.

Opening to the horrendous suffering and injustice all around me, I am feeling, opens me to experiencing a broken-heartedness so deep and encompassing that I have no means of dealing with it constructively. I get angry and righteous and I lash out.

Which is exactly the reaction which creates violence in the first place.

Most of us cannot stand to live with this wound inside – we want it to go away, we do everything in our power to pretend its source is “out there” on someone else, and we create feelings of justification to back up our outrage – which is what I did the other day, and what I have done many times in the past.

But since the other day, I have been staying with the feeling in my gut – not running from it, not pretending to know what it is, even – living with my inner gut reactions which tell me I’m no good, a fraud, living with my utter helplessness and hurt and rage and frustration. And as I write this, a deeper feeling begins to be uncovered, a parting of the veils into an ever-living Heart which bleeds eternally for the suffering of the world.

These are not easy words to write, my friends – they don’t come easily. I am in uncharted waters here, and I’m sharing this not only because it is a healing for me (and it is!), but also to reach out to ones who share a similar sensibility, a similar gut reaction to the continual cruelty in the world, who may feel the same helplessness in the face of injustice. We think our spiritual paths will save us from this, that if we just “get it” deeply enough, we will find a way to separate ourselves from our own heartbreak. My experience is that my path has brought me squarely TO this place, instead; and there is no running away that will work, and no “solution” to suffering, even believing that there is no solution.

I am stuck with suffering. And accepting that, and embracing it, I am broken open into a new and much more genuine way of relating to Life.




What’s been done in the name of Jesus?
What’s been done in the name of Buddha?
What’s been done in the name of Islam?
What’s been done in the name of man?
What’s been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?


Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?


Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody’s seen the things they’ve seen
We all have to live with what we’ve been
When they say charity begins at home
They’re not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul’s wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create —
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state


Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

~ Bruce Cockburn, 1981 (Inner City Front)