In the Presence of Suffering

Charlie Veitch
The Love Police 

Suffering creates empathy and tolerance. It is mostly through suffering that we experience the fissures and limits of knowledge, of coping. Through the pain of loss or grief we see that every single human being on the planet is capable of despair, and in this mutual despair, we understand concepts such as value, of belonging, of affection, and compassion.

Suffering is not a virtue, nor an emotion to seek. Many great people can be destroyed by pain if it is not dealt with in the appropriate way. Suffering must open the third eye; it must remind one that no man is an island. The old saying of “a friend in need is a friend indeed” is correct. There is no greater glory in the universe than sharing compassion with someone who needs it. This great glory is discouraged, beaten out of us, turned into competition, and mutated into selfishness, the ugliest of emotions. Seeing the selfishness of others, if one is healthy creates more compassion.

I recently did the entheogenic compound ayahuasca with three friends in London. During the height of the experience, one of my friends turned to me and said, “if you’re presence alone doesn’t change someone, nothing will.” I understood Tom at that moment. More than cleverness we need kindness, more than judgment we need presence, we need souls to witness our suffering. And I mean to truly witness, and be there.

  • Society encourages us to look away. Homeless people, abused children, mentally disabled people remind us of our fragility, and this fragility is not good for business. Hollywood tells us that women do not want vulnerable men. In my opinion, to open yourself up to vulnerability is an epic strength that could possibly save the planet. But we tighten our competitive resolve and shy away from weakness.

    Whilst on a 4 hour stop-over in Lisbon airport, I passed the time by finding a comfortable sofa and watched “Into the Abyss” (Werner Herzog documentary) on my laptop. Werner is one of my favourite film makers because he brings empathy and wisdom to his questions. A particular scene in the documentary tore my soul sideways. The chief executioner in Huntsville Prison, Texas, was a barrel chested American, who had personally witnessed over 125 executions in the last 3 years. He spoke of how Texas seemed to be intensifying its issuance of death warrants. He spoke of how he was responsible for the last 24 hours of each prisoner, ensuring they were fed and watered, and treated with respect. (we clearly see the irony, the dissonance here, of “respect”). This oak-tree of a man calmly explained how he got to know the true-selves of the prisoners. One day he woke up and his entire body was shaking violently. He could not go to work. Werner asked, “do you think that was your true self showing through?” to which he replied “most probably”. His true self physically prevented him from killing another sentient human from that day forward. He retired early and lost his whole pension, but he regained his soul. Please watch this documentary.

    What good is it for a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul? Can one appreciate the true essence of “being alive”, of “having a spirit”, if one does not access the higher self?

    I am writing from Rio de Janeiro, my city of my birth, and I am back here for the Earth Summit. All around me I am reminded of big business, of how world leaders need to balance the ecosystem with growth, with the economy. I boarded the Rainbow Warrior III Greenpeace vessel and saw a satellite image of the deforestation of the Amazon. It’s an image that can knock you off your feet in its glaring simplicity. We are wounding Mother Nature, we are tearing so much off her, and we are not respecting her.

    In order to change the world, we must change the underlying ability of man to suffer, and to suffer properly. Only in the empathic glow of true compassion can any worthwhile communication take place.

    So next time you see injustice, allow your entire body to glow with compassion.

    Because if your presence alone doesn’t change things, then nothing will.

    Charles Veitch

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