A very dear, lifelong friend died of bone cancer. It’s a very painful disease, and he was suffering in every hour. Even in his suffering, however, he reached for a higher consciousness, a change in his energy – and this sometimes astonished me, honestly.
Not long before he died he told me that he’d had a bad day, but that I’d sent him a book many years ago that was helping him now. I was surprised – I’d long ago forgotten sending him the book. In it, he said, there’s a question he now uses almost every hour. “Can you endure it?”
Instantly, I knew this was from the writings of a wise man, Ajhan Chah. His way of helping others who came to him after tragedy or severe injury – anyone suffering from physical or mental anguish, was to simply ask, “Can you endure it?” It seems a strange thing to ask, doesn’t it? But that question points one to the fact that the way beyond suffering is not to run away from it or to wallow in it, or to bear down and try to get through the suffering on will alone. The way to get beyond suffering is to take each moment, knowing that no matter how painful in that moment, you can endure it. If we can hold steady in the midst of difficulty, if we can endure it, somehow that changes the experience, eases it, and we begin to let go of the suffering.
I believe that we have teachers throughout our lives that help us endure pain. When I was 15 and had a big back operation, a kind nurse came into my room and taught me deep breathing. To this day, I thank her for her kindness. To this day, I have used breath work to help ease physical or mental pain. In her own way, she was asking me to endure it one breath at a time.
We have great resiliency, even when we don’t think we do. It seems to me that these days we often think we cannot endure something that we simply do not like. Or something that we fear. Something that requires us to change our daily life in a way that is unpleasant, or that we anticipate will be unpleasant.
Sometimes, we resist tapping into our strength, preferring to be lost in complaining or telling our story of suffering over and over again. It’s part of our own development to realize that tragedy happens, and anguish occurs. It’s part of what happens sometimes inside the business we own. Sometimes it happens in life. Whenever it does, gently reminding ourselves about the impermanence of all things and our ability to endure can help.
Humans are resilient, even when we have gotten into the habit of telling ourselves that we are not. Now that my friend Gary is gone, I miss him terribly. Sometimes I cry from the pain of losing him. And think I remember him saying that he asked himself often in his final days, “Can you endure it?” Through my tears I know this is my question, too.