Suffering – it is a Necessary Experience

We all go through periods of intense sadness or significant loss. Sadness that cripples, loss that shakes our bones and crushes them to powdered marrow; suffering that makes us feel as though we are less than human, sometimes. We may have lost a loved one prematurely, or have gone through a major health crisis, or, in some cases, have a corrupt fascist dictator telling us what to do on pain of death or torture (in some countries other than Amercica – hopefully…) There are many things that make humans tick.

What can we do to counteract this?

The answer is: (wait for it….drum roll!) Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What!? You will most likely protest at this seemingly ludicrous claim. You will most likely be thinking: Then  what is the point of being aware of it, and why on earth can’t I do anything about it? Let me explain – patience is a virtue, says the old cliche adage, for a very good reason. It is one of the key tools to alleviate a suffering mind.

You see, the thing is, suffering, while it hurts so bad, makes you want to tear your hair out, sometimes makes you want to jump off your apartment complex building, (which is the only thing that can make suffering moot, and render all your endeavors to be happy and healthy futile, and the endeavors of your family and friends futile, forevermore…Suicide is ultimately a vain and selfish act), The fact is… suffering brings out the beauty in life. Suffering is a necessary ingredient, in fact for happiness! Think about it. First of all, if we didn’t ever suffer, how can we know what joy feels like?

It’s like…take a running faucet. If you always run the cold water, how can you ever know what warm water feels like? Or, take a person with failing vision. How will this person know she needs glasses if she never gets her eyes checked? Then she puts glasses on, and the world is revealed to her.

dante inferno

Now, I know to suffer hurts. It hurts like the seven circles of hell. It hurts so much sometimes that we wish it would be eradicated from our lives forever. I live a comfortable middle class life and go to school at a prestigious conservatory of  music – nevertheless, I feel lack in my life at times, I also feel as if my life has been destroyed in some ways by certain experiences. In short, as my self-esteem withers, so does my happiness. I sometimes wish I could take a pill that would somehow give me an infinite amount of patience and eradicate any sadness, hate, frustration, or anxiety forever from my body and mind.

This, of course, is impossible.

If it was possible, it would be a lobotomy. Which is a bad idea. Lobotomies are when you essentially hack off a section of your brain that is responsible for a certain function of your existence. I have a friend who lives in Sacramento who once knew a young man – a college student, actually, who had decided that one of his main pursuits was to get what is essentially a lobotomy through an injection. What the injection does is target the pituitary gland, thus chemically inhibiting the section of the brain that produces certain hormones. In this case, the young man wanted to inhibit his sexual drive, because he felt that he needed to focus on what really mattered in his life, and that his sexual drive was keeping him from achieving his full potential.

It turned out, as my friend had told me, chuckling a bit over his torta that he bought from the university’s Baja Fresh, that his old friend – after receiving the injection, had less drive to do anything at all! He actually had less motivation to do anything he cared about and had less physical energy to go about doing those activities! Thankfully for him, the injection was a temporary “fix”. His hormones came back after a while after he stopped taking the injection.

After my fellow Sac state friend told me this little story, I was baffled by it, and all the possible metaphorical implications of the story.

So, going back to my originall point of the possible eradication of any type of suffering (and let’s be clear: what I mean is not the potential for external causes of the suffering, I mean the ability to feel it) I mean, is this not a great, if not infallible scientific example of the function of any human emotion? An affirmation that our survival and indeed, happiness, depends on all our human emotions? If this story is true, (and I trust my friend is not a lying sociopath or a fabricator of outlandish stories for their own sake), then suffering, too, frustration, anger, and all of what the tenets of Buddhism calls afflictive emotions, are natural and even necessary to live total lives.

buddha statue

Now…Buddhism. If you are familiar with the basic doctrines of the highly scientific religion of Buddhism, then you might disagree with me that there is absolutely nothing you can do about suffering. I hasten to explain myself: doing nothing does not mean one must sit there and let the emotions take root in their soul, and eventually lead them to jump off a cliff. No, ‘nothing’, in this case, means to let the emotions pass by. Like you’re walking through the scariest jungle in the world. You get nicks and scars and even gashes from the beasts of the jungle, but once you come out of the dark brush, you see a meadow and a river. Now, you are a more experienced person. That is all I mean. I just want people to know that experiencing suffering is a part of life that makes life more enjoyable and beautiful once you get through it. This will be easier if you take things and see them as they are, through contemplation and meditation. If you are interested in Buddhism and how to live with more compassion for others and yourself, I suggest the New York Times Bestseller: An Open Heart, written by the Dalai Lama. It will change your life, of course.

Because the key to getting through a hard time is to be kind to yourself and to others too.

Also, looking at the sky, the cosmos, and remind yourself that you are living. And mochi ice cream. And fried chicken. And dogs, too. Don’t forget a nice cup of lemonade on a hot day next to a swimming pool. There is solace in simplicity.





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