Why Accept Suffering?

There is a black lady, a patient at Fauna Hospital, Ithemba Labs. She is a mother of two children, a girl of 8 years and a boy of 16 years. 10 months ago she was diagnosed with cancer when she discovered a small, sensitive lump in her breast. The oncologist wanted to perform a mastectomy straight away to remove her left breast. She was terrified and refused, running from the reality of her diagnosis. She cannot run anymore or deny the reality of the severity of her condition because the tumour is enormous.

So often we are like that, we run from our fears, skirting around them as if they are invisible hippos. In fantasy they seem so much bigger than they are in real life.

At present there is a dialogue between Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle, suggesting that only when we accept our lives as they are, including our suffering, we can find the relief and truth to move on. Somebody I recently met, an engineer and general manager, concurs, he says, ‘The only way to be generous into the future is to fully embrace the present’.

In May 2008 I had the privilege of learning this lesson from an Addo elephant, Avril, a matriarch and possibly the oldest elephant in that wilderness place. I was facilitating a Wisdom of Elephants experience with two guests at the time – a widow who had been grieving the loss of her husband for 15 years, and a 33-year old German lady who had to decide between the two men she loved, one resident in Germany and the other in South Africa. Practising my inter-species communication I was appealing to Avril to share with me her wisdom and asked that her herd would nurture and offer important life insights to my guests. I had not met her before, but recognized her by her tattered ears that had endured life, as she lumbered and lead her herd down the mountain side. The game vehicle we were in rested behind a tree she was approaching. She could have diverted her journey either way around the tree. She chose to come towards me, stopped parallel to where I was sitting, our 1-meter-apart-eyes met. We connected and she acknowledged my presence and my request, then she gently moved forward to nibble on the leaves of the next tree. She resumed eye contact for a few minutes, then turned her back to me and continued.

“Come back, please come back, I’m not ready for you to leave yet!” my soul pleaded. She replied, “I gave you what you came for – wisdom – you need to accept that our connection and acknowledgement was enough, all that you have in your life, is enough.” After that I re-named her Acceptance.

A client of mine practices Vipashna – a type of meditation where you clear your mind and body by sitting still for an hour. Apparently as one sits so immobile one begins to experience intense pain in rigid joints. It is important not to move away from the pain, but to endure it, and watch it as it moves up and down one’s body. Learn from it. The pain reaches an almost unbearable intensity and then the body experiences an incredible release and the pain is gone. It is the same process when dealing with emotional pain, don’t run from it, stay with it, watch it, allow it to give you wisdom. And when the pain feels like it is at its most intense, like the powerful peak of a wave, it crashes and dissipates in the sands of your soul – integrated, gentle and resolved. Now you can move on. There is space for new life, new energy and new opportunities to move in.

Obituary: 29th January, 2010 – 12 days after the death of Avril (‘Acceptance’)

Thank you for the lessons your taught me when you were alive, I hope in your death you find new life in a metaphysical form and become an ‘elephant angel’ continuing to communicate with us in our souls.

Mandy Young is a Psychotherapist and Ecotherapist. She uses her understanding of both animal and human behavior to translate participants experiences in Peace-of-Eden Self-Discovery Wildlife EcoTours with Eles, Dolphins, African Wild Dogs & wild Meerkats into personal insights that are transforming and life enriching. As a Psychotherapist she offers telephonic counseling. She is contactable on 082 445 4142 or info@peace-of-eden.co.za.