“My parents shouldn’t have to suffer”

Posted on June 30, 2011

How to Rise Above the Pain of Attachment to Find Love, and
Why only a Clear Mind is Capable of True Affection and Caring

The most surprising Aha! moments come when we realize that something we have been absolutely sure about is completely untrue. Like a sudden ray of light into darkness we realize a new and liberating facet of truth. This can be the case when we gain some insight into the extremely common confusion between love and attachment. We pay an extreme prize for this error, and we pay it in suffering.

Before that clarity dawns, we don’t know there can be another way. Even the dictionary tells us that attachment is another term for affection. This view is directly in conflict with the wisdom traditions. Attachment is clinging, and that is not love. Love never hurts, it is free and pristine, and attachment always must lead to pain.

Only when we can let things be the way they are do we have a clear mind. When we want things to be different than they are, we lose, because reality doesn’t care about our opinions. Only by accepting reality as it is now can we perceive the world clearly. Only when we perceive the world clearly can we be effective and caring. And only when our mind is not filled with attachment and clinging can we have an open heart. One stressful though and our heart closes. That’s inevitable!

The crucial significance of non-attachment became clear to my friend Bob when he had to take his parents to an adult living facility. There he learned a powerful lesson about what love really is.

It began with the realization that mom and dad just couldn’t live in their nice home in the suburbs any longer. Even with help in the home, it was no longer safe. Dad would fall and bruise, and he even broke his arm. Mom also couldn’t cope any longer. She’d burn food in the kitchen and could easily have set the whole house of fire. They were both in their nineties.

It was very difficult for them to say good-bye to their home. They understood the need to move, but with their mental clarity coming and going, often didn’t know what was happening to them. Eventually Bob had them settled in a very good facility and went back home. Home is 2000 miles away.

He had seen how their attachment to their home had caused his parents pain, but the real teaching came for him when he returned to check in on them two months later. He was so happy to see them, but when he walked into the door he was greeted by a deep sense of depression and despair. There was nothing either of them could find good about their new home and they let him know in no uncertain terms how unhappy they were.

That night Bob went home in despair. He felt an intense heaviness in his chest. What was he to do? Moving them back home was out of the question. He wanted to relieve their pain and change their minds, but how? He seemed to be facing a hopeless situation.

That’s when Bob remembered his skill of Inquiry. He realized that his pain did not originate from his parent’s depression, but from his reaction to it. How was he going to be able to serve them better, with his mind and emotions in turmoil, or with a clear head and an open heart? So he sat down that night, pulled out a pad and pen and began to question his thinking.

His most disturbing though was, “My parents shouldn’t have to suffer.” He began the questioning process. Could he absolutely know that this was true? Of course it was what he, as a caring son, was supposed to think. All the voices in his mind, his entire conditioning told him so. And yet the undeniable fact was that they were suffering. His thinking was on a collision course with reality. He was waging a war in his mind he could only loose.

That was when he began to realize that this sacred belief simply wasn’t true at all. He continued with the process of inquiry and described to himself in detail his reactions to believing this thought. It made him miserable. It made him crazy because he was looking so hard for a solution and there was none. It made him as depressed as his parents were.

Then he asked, “Who would I be without this thought?” He would be relaxed and have a clear mind. Would he love his parents any less? Of course not! But there was a crucial difference: without attaching himself to this untrue concept he may be able to be with them in a much better mood. And that might help them.

So Bob turned this thought around: “I shouldn’t have to suffer.” At first this seemed selfish to him, but he realized that his suffering had really nothing to do with his love for his parents. It was the outcome of attachment and confused thinking. If he didn’t suffer, but had a clear mind instead, he might even find a solution to the situation. He couldn’t imagine one, but obviously his suffering solved nothing, it wasn’t helpful to anyone. He felt a shift inside his chest.

Then there was the other turn-around: “My parents should have to suffer.” This was the hard one. Everything in his conditioned mind fought against that belief. But for now, for this moment, wasn’t it true? They were suffering and that meant they ‘should’ be suffering, until they didn’t. The extremely simple logic of this insight settled in to Bob’s mind and if was a relief.

“My parents should have to suffer” of course means nothing about a future. To project that they ‘should’ suffer in the future would be mad, and we’re working on sanity here. But to say that they shouldn’t suffer when they obviously were was just as crazy. It was as though Bob could see something in his mind straighten out, an old and confused habit of thoughts coming into a new state of clarity.

There were other stressful thoughts, and Bob worked on gaining clarity in his mind for about two hours that night. One by one he saw through all his stressful beliefs, and as they melted away in the light of truth, he felt a great sense of relief. His emotions came to peace and he slept like a baby that night.

The next morning he couldn’t wait to see mom and dad. He walked into their room refreshed, with a clear mind and with his heart wide open. And that’s when the miracle happened. Inspired by Bob’s open heart, his two old parents instantly rose out of their gloomy mood, and they all met in a great space of love. This is how they had been together at the best of times and suddenly no one could any longer find a reason why it shouldn’t be like this again.

His parents stayed in this loving mood for the whole week of Bob’s visit, and it even after Bob left, they never again fell into depression. They opened to their new surroundings, made new friends, and lived out their final days becoming more and more peaceful until a merciful reality took them into the state beyond.

Today Bob often thinks about how different that day could have been and the time that followed. We believe that when someone we love is in pain we also have to hurt and we call that compassion. But what hurts is not love. It is blind attachment; it creates more pain and it doesn’t solve any problems.

The sacred belief, “My parents shouldn’t have to suffer,” and the misunderstanding of love that it breeds, is like an archaic religion. It is delusional. There is an unalterable reality about sickness, old age and death, as the Buddha taught. Can we support those whose turn it is, instead of joining them with self-created pain?

No matter how long we have held onto a set of unquestioned beliefs, if they cause us pain, isn’t it smart to question them? If our thoughts are at odds with reality, it may be time to change our religion.

Let me invite you to find out more about the revolutionary process of inquiry, also known as The Work of Byron Katie. If you are facing the suffering of a loved one, I cannot recommend this practice strongly enough! Just like in Bob’s case it may make a profound difference in your life and theirs. For personal consultations or coaching in The Work with Ram Giri, please go here.

With love,

Ram Giri

Skills for Awakening

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One Response to ““My parents shouldn’t have to suffer””

    Jul 11, 2011


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