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Meeting darkness

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Meeting darkness
Answer
10/10/14 5:15 AM
I try to meet whatever arises be it pleasant or unpleasant. I try to experience life as it really is and as it happens.

Recently I viewed an image on the internet of a hospital ward in Africa. A ward for victims of Ebola. There was an accompanying article stating that the doors to the ward were locked to prevent the patients from leaving the room. The doors were opened only to allow for the removal of the corpses and the occasional spraying of the dying patients with chlorine. On the floor were two deceased persons lying in pools of urine. The person in the foreground was a young girl of perhaps 9 or 10 years old. She was wearing one of those colorful floral dresses proudly worn by African girls and women.   A trail of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth. She lay on her side on the floor. I stared stunned at the image for a while and began to imagine the horror experienced by the girl in her final days. Alone, terrified, and no doubt in significant pain. I tried to hold the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations as they flooded my awareness. And then I realised that the young girl’s experience is but a drop in an ocean of suffering in the world. I felt angry, fearful, hopeless, sad, and confused. I don’t want to live in ignorance of the suffering of others. I want to understand how to hold it. I want to become compassionate.

My practice has been mostly around vipassana and samatha meditation. I know that I need to do some metta practice to balance out my practice as a means to allowing the darkness in because I know that to live only in the light is to live in ignorance. I would like to know how other people face and respond to the darker aspects of life and human nature. A reference to authors, videos, or personal responses from members of this forum would be great. With metta!

RE: Meeting darkness
Answer
10/10/14 5:10 AM as a reply to Darin.
I was watching a compilation of car crashes on youtube earlier to help face my fear of driving.  There were some really bad fatal accidents in there, and it kind of just hit home that, one moment those people had been alive, and the next, they obviously weren't.  It suprised me how much that mattered to me, as I've never been a very compassionate person.

The thing to realize, though, is that these feelings don't really change anything in the world.  Those people are still dying of ebola whether or not you feel compassion for them.  People will still be dying every moment in horrible ways no matter how much you try to help.  So the best thing we can do, as human beings, is form ourselves into something that will not add to this pot of suffering.  Work within your own life to help the people you have access to.  When you feel angry or worried, remember that the world is suffering and use that to put yourself in perspective. 

You do not need to feel bad about the world because feeling bad does not help the word.  We can live happily in spite of suffering and do our best to help when it is possible for us.  Kindness does not require despair. 

RE: Meeting darkness
Answer
10/10/14 8:08 AM as a reply to Darin.
The photo of Omayra Sanchez has always haunted me. She was a Columbian girl who was killed in a 1985 volcano eruption. She was pinned in dirty water for three days, but rescue crews did not have the equipment to get her out. 

Photo in question (NSFL)

Also-- this photo of children being led away from Sandy Hook after the shooting.

There was a quote somewhere attributed to the Buddha, saying that we have all cried oceans of tears during our time in samsara. Metta is a good practice, but the second brahma vihara, compassion, is also profound practice when seeing pictures like this.

"May ____ be free of suffering. May ____'s suffering finally cease."

RE: Meeting darkness
Answer
10/10/14 4:15 PM as a reply to Darin.
Yes, since "beginingless time" the Buddha also mentioned how we have all been beheaded countless times during which the blood (if collected would fill the vast oceans many times over). It's difficult to fathom the horrors that go on in this world, now and before and will surely come after as well.... and we have been both the perpetrators and the victims many times over.

So, with that in mind, I wholeheartedly agree with Ajahn Brahm when he says the the most compassionate thing we can do for this world is to liberate ourselves. Spend time uprooting the defilements so that we won't have to continue contributing to the ceaseless round of suffering so in evidence....
Therefore as you say 
I try to meet whatever arises be it pleasant or unpleasant. I try to experience life as it really is and as it happens.

This is a very good place to start and continue.

Many years ago I visited an "exhibition" at a hospital in Bangkok. Full of huge poster size pictures of people injured (from a variety of causes), sick/diseased or disabled. It was a real "gore fest". It could be taken to be very depressing aspect of life OR viewed as just the way it is. Without becoming too morbid about it.

A friend of mine has just returned from Burma. She was practicing very austere techniques of sitting with/through intense pain (she could sit lotus for six hours! or she was able to sit "Burmese style" crossed leg one in front of the other for 10 hours straight. Some of the Burmese there were sitting 16 hours!! From 1pm to 5am!!). Just her telling me about it made me sweat!!!
Anyway, she said that she was able to "break through the pain barrier" as it were. The initial 3 hours or so could be worse than after 8 or 9.... And the pain would come and go. Excruciating at times. And then poof gone for a while only to be back later. I know extreme pain (longest I've ever sat was 3 hours and that was hell pain enough, I can't even contemplate what she was getting up to). 

She said that what she learnt the most from her 3 months there was how much we fear pain. The avoidance of pain physical or emotional governs so much of we as human beings try to do. She is beginning to see how so much of all this pain is in the mind. And how even with extreme physical pain we add to it so much mentally.
My practice has been mostly around vipassana and samatha meditation. I know that I need to do some metta practice to balance out my practice as a means to allowing the darkness in because I know that to live only in the light is to live in ignorance.

I think that metta is a great practice to cultivate too.

Enough said.

Peace,

Piers