September 5, 2012

The Value of Suffering (’tis nobler to suffer).

Photo: David G Arenson ND

Is suffering the true mark of a hero? Our greatest teacher?

Who hasn’t suffered?

It can feel downright dark and painful down here in the jungle.

What is suffering and can we avoid it?

When the Buddha described life as “Dukkha” he was talking about a concept way beyond the oft-quoted “suffering.” The Pali word “Dukkha” has many meanings including that everything is “temporary,” “imperfect,” even “unsatisfying.” This broadens the meaning of his statement.

Buddhists refer to physical cravings and wants as those that can never be satisfied for long, thus leading to suffering. If you feed a starving man, the pleasure will be ephemeral and soon his hunger will return. Satisfaction is temporary and fleeting, never quite finding fulfillment.

Or, as Woody Allen put it:

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.

Image: Luiz Fernando Reis

Is the condition of man to suffer? Are we destined to suffer?

If we recognize suffering and can accept it, then at some level of our being, we can transcend it. When we live passionately, are we not destined to suffer for our efforts? Surely if you care enough, however much you gain, ultimately you cannot escape loss?

It seems that our greatest efforts and achievements, arise from the ashes of suffering. The hero within all of us must pass a test.

Winning Olympic gold can only be achieved via overcoming the pain barrier. Yet, spare a thought for the person who came stone last. He only had the suffering. He must continue, appreciating the achievement of making the stage, knowing that a hero faces setbacks as par for the course.

Or perhaps, he’s a hero even to have made it to last place. That way surpasses most of our athletic performances.

What pain did you face and overcome to achieve your greatest victories? How much greater is the resulting emotional pleasure when you’ve overcome setbacks?

Suffering is part of the divine idea.
~ Henry Ward Beecher

Suffering has been spoken about as intrinsic to creation, a fait accompli of the human condition. Have you ever come across a person who hasn’t suffered an illness or loss? I’ve had moments when my body has shut down, or when I’ve been so depressed I can hardly find the hope to move. I’ve had moments when I’ve felt so lost, I can’t even scream.

The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.
~William Faulkner

Who are our greatest teachers?

Those who have suffered and emerged victorious at the end, or those who have never suffered at all?

There is something noble in human suffering. Even if the cause is hopeless.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
~ Khalil Gibran

If we can just hope for one more dawn, one more chance at another breath, shouldn’t we?

I’ve got a friend who has suffered intolerable pain for years. He cannot afford the surgery that would help him. His pain continues unabated, relentlessly reaching into the realm beyond anything he could have imagined he could live through. And yet, somehow he survives, he continues with one more breath, he lives on.

Suffering is an enigma too. Often we cannot remember it when it’s gone. We don’t want to imagine what it felt like. Suffering is not to be glorified. We shouldn’t deny its existence and pretend it will go away if we ignore it. We should talk about it, share it, and let people know that every night (even the darkest) has a dawn.

Suffering does end. It always does. Even if death is its final word.

If you reach out and touch the depths of your soul, you will find that we’re moved by suffering. Something changes within us, our awareness shifts. We hear another’s cry and are moved to tears because we know what it’s like. We forgive another, show compassion, empathize.

Painting by David G Arenson ND

Suffering will always be there to remind us what life is about.

Even if you could escape it, ultimately you would be missing out on truly experiencing the fullness of life. Your greatest joy would lack the soulful immensity of passion that comes when emerging victorious from suffering.

Suffering is a companion, an enemy, a friend.

Photo: David G Arenson ND

The fear of suffering may stop you from taking risks, reaching for your heart’s desire. If you knew that suffering was universal, then perhaps you would act more fearlessly. Without suffering, what meaning could we find in overcoming the odds to achieve something we’ve always dreamed about?

Without darkness, how could there be light to shine?

Without suffering, would we be having a truly human experience?

It is by suffering that human beings become angels.
~ Victor Hugo

Isn’t it time our culture started glorifying the actions of the brave instead of deifying status and celebrity?

It is by suffering that we find ourselves as human beings.

Suffering. ‘Til death do us part…

Photo: David G Arenson ND

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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