Love Your Suffering
Today’s topic might be slightly controversial, but I want to talk about it anyway:
Love your suffering.
What? What am I thinking? Can I really advise you (or anyone) to “love” their suffering?
Yes. Let me explain.
Many of us are familiar with the basic premise of Buddhism that life is suffering. This is the first of the four noble truths of Siddhartha Gautama (5th century BCE).
Here’s the thinking in a nutshell:
Human beings, by nature, become attached to things. As a result, we are bound to suffer, because the things we’re attached to change. Attachment, change, and the inevitable suffering are unavoidable.
Aristotle (4th century BCE) said basically the same thing, but in different words:
To perceive is to suffer.
If you’re human, you suffer.
If you see the world clearly as it is, you suffer.
If you have attachments, you suffer.
My thought is, if you and I know we’re going to suffer, wouldn’t it behoove us to learn about it? In order to learn about our suffering, we wouldn’t we need to refrain from running away from it? How can we learn about it if we are always running away from it?
So, I would suggest that instead of running from it, we need to turn around and learn about it, accept it, and – dare I suggest – love our suffering.
We are accustomed to running away from feelings we don’t like. Instead of feeling what we feel – bad, hungry, angry, lonely, tired – many of us (try to) self-medicate. We try to prescribe for ourselves happy thoughts, we eat cake (maybe too much cake), we zone out with time-wasting activities to distract ourselves from those bad feelings, or something else.
Here’s my thinking…Maybe we’re so accustomed to fleeing from our feelings that perhaps we don’t really know what we’re running from. Maybe “it” isn’t so bad!
So, next time you find yourself suffering, why not just allow yourself to suffer? Why not “dive into it” and explore the suffering to see what it really is?
As Robert Frost said:
The best way out is usually through.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe the only way to deal with our suffering is to live it, as opposed to trying to eliminate it.
I’m reminded of the Sesame Street character Grover, who in the book There’s a Monster at the End of this Book, tries to run away from what he believes is a scary monster at the end of the book. The book ends with him finding out that the scary monster is really just him.
Maybe your suffering isn’t so bad?
I can tell you that I’ve done this in my own life and had some success. I’ve tried to just be with my suffering and learn about where my mind goes when I do try to be with it (and ways I attempt to avoid doing so). It has been the most profound spiritual-religious practice I’ve done in the last five years. (And, it is a practice…while I’ve gotten better at it, by no means am I an expert.)
This week, think about “becoming friends” with your suffering. Be in your suffering, sit in it, try it out a little. Or at least stop running from it.
Try being in other people’s suffering, as well. That’s what the word compassion literally means – “with suffering.”
This week’s spiritual-religious advice: be with your suffering.
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