I recently attended a funeral, and as I listened to the stories of loved ones who spoke of the wonderful memories of the deceased, it was clear they were experiencing real suffering — the depth of suffering we only experience at the death of a family member or dear friend.
I was very present while listening to the stories, and I was somewhat surprised to find myself feeling joyful. The joy was emanating from the fact the deceased had had such a profound influence on these people lives; they had so many wonderful moments with this person and that was what was allowing them to experience such deep suffering.
We can only suffer to the extent to which we have experienced joy. If you have moments of tremendous joy, you will have moments of tremendous suffering. You can’t have one without the other. It may sound odd, but we can also find joy in suffering.
Suffering also teaches us compassion. Without suffering, we wouldn’t know compassion. It is our own suffering that allows us to be compassionate when we see someone who is in pain. Suffering, joy and compassion are very much intertwined with one another.
At this funeral, I found myself joyful and grateful that the deceased had so many wonderful moments with their family, moments that can never be erased, moments that are everlasting because joy is something we feel deeply, at the core of our being.
Happiness, on the other hand, is shallow and fleeting. If I put on a winter coat that I haven’t worn in months and reach into my pocket and find $20, that might make me happy in the moment, but it won’t last.
Happiness is short-lived and superficial. Joy touches the soul.
We may miss people in our lives who have passed, the wonderful stories they could tell, their laugh, the way they made us feel, etc. We may miss their physical presence, but that’s not who they or we really are. The physical is just a shell that houses our true essence, our soul. The body is temporary; the soul is eternal.
When we deeply connect with someone, our souls touch one another. We recognize ourselves in the other because we ultimately are one.
Anytime you think your loved ones are no longer near you, I challenge you to do the following:
Find a place where you can sit comfortably, still your mind and be present. Put a clear image of your loved one in your mind. Focus your attention on them and allow yourself to experience the deep love you have for them. I’m willing to bet you will feel their presence with you in that moment.
I’ve done this with loved ones who have passed — my spiritual teacher, my grandparents — and I can tell you they never left me. Physically, yes, but that was their body. Their essence, their soul, has always been, just as yours and mine will always be.
You can experience your loved one’s essence too, for they have never left you either. The souls of those you have loved are always with you, you just have to make the effort to experience them, and when you do, I suspect you will find yourself feeling joy.
Spiritual teacher and therapist Sullins Stuart is author of "Living in Conscious Harmony" and "Imagine Believe Become." He blogs at sullinsstuart.com.