“There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and teacher, uses this analogy to explain how understanding and love come from suffering. Our own suffering helps us empathize with those around us. Many times, when people are suffering, they act in ways that are not compassionate. They may say things that are hurtful. They may do things like cut in line, steal, or even physically hurt others. When we see these kind of acts, we see those people are not acting with compassion, and it is easy to view those who engage in such behavior by their acts, instead of their humanity. However, if we can take the time to see where these acts come from, we see they come because those people suffer. We, too, know what it is like to suffer. I would venture to say that we all have lashed out at others due to our own suffering. We can recall things like feeling very ill, and yelling at our kids. We may have been short on sleep, then been short with others as a result. We may have had our feelings hurt by what was said to us, and responded in kind. We can see that we most likely wouldn’t have responded unmindfully if we had felt healthy, rested and happy instead of sick, exhausted and upset. Because we, ourselves, have acted without compassion while suffering, we can find it easier to sympathize with those people that lash out while hurting. That sympathy is the understanding and love that is born out of our own suffering. When we can hold understanding and love in our heart, it is easier to be compassionate.