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Monday, March 16, 2015

Pain, and eventual death, are part of every Life’s design

Death is not an avoidable future. It is an inevitable end to this lifetime. The sooner we understand and internalize this truth, the more peaceful we will be.

A friend called me yesterday. He sounded distraught. His mother, he said, was suffering from stage 4 cancer of the liver. She was in her early 60s and my friend, it appeared, was grappling with what he believed were his family’s current and impending realities. He said he wanted to share how he felt and so sought my time for a call. I thanked him for finding me worthy of reaching out and sharing. I spent some time helping him understand how he could cope better in the circumstances.  

But, seriously, how do you deal with such a situation? It first begins with acceptance. That acceptance is not just about a physical state (such as stage 4 cancer in my friend’s case) but also about accepting an unalterable, inevitable reality of Life – that all our stories, our lives, will have to end someday. Death is not the opposite of Life. It is not against Life either. Death is an integral part of living – if you are born, and are alive, you will die one day. You will have to. There’s no escape. So, accept this non-negotiable aspect of Life. When you find yourself or someone you know in a situation where a health challenge is looming large, is threatening, give the situation a lot of positive energy. Give the person a lot of your care and compassion. Even if it is you who’s felled by a health issue, don’t brood. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t lament your “fate”. Just be in total acceptance of what is – perhaps the pain, perhaps the draining treatment process, perhaps the attendant financial costs – and live fully while being prepared for ‘any’ outcome. It is when you resist the situation – by asking why, why me, why me now – and wish that it go away, that you always suffer.

I am reminded of a story from Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836 ~ 1886) Life. Towards the end, Paramahamsa was suffering from cancer. The disease was obviously causing him a lot of pain. But the doctors treating him were bewildered that he was always cheerful, as if he was not in any pain. So, one of the doctors asked him if he was not feeling the pain and if he was, how was it possible for him to be so cheerful? Paramahamsa is said to have replied: “I feel acute, intense pain. But my disease and I have learnt to peacefully coexist in my body.”

This attitude – of acceptance and detachment – is what each of us needs to cultivate in respect to Life. We must evolve to accept that death follows Life. And that the only way to live fully is to live knowing that death is round the corner. Also, the sooner realize that we cannot avoid pain, the better. Pain is inevitable. It is a part of Life’s design. We cannot avoid the pain that Life inflicts on us. Nor can we hope – or, in some cases, pray – that our near and dear ones (parents, children, siblings, spouses) are spared of pain. When we hope or wish that there be no pain, is when we suffer. So drop the suffering by dropping the wish that there be no pain. Each of our lives has a unique design. Pain and eventual death are part of that design. The factors that cause us pain may vary from person to person, but the way to deal with the pain is pretty similar. Just accept what is and know that the suffering is avoidable if you don’t question whatever’s happening – or whatever will eventually happen.  

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