To live is to suffer.
Suffering is integral to the human experience, embedded in the very fabric of human life. It is an essential precondition of living, of being alive, and therein, it is not something that can really be lastingly avoided.
I’m sure this is all something we understand quite well, for unless we’ve been living in some kind of existential bubble, then it is likely that we’ve experienced one form of suffering or another throughout the course of our lives.
It is a familiar taste, is it not? Suffering is like an old foe, a repugnant relative, an unsavory in-law of sorts that comes around time and time again just to spoil our precious creations and to tarnish the fragile structure of our lives.
For some people, suffering is much more prevalent and pervasive than others, but the essential quality remains, regardless of the particular severity. What I mean to say is that suffering is entirely universal, and this must be understood if we are to proceed through our lives intelligently and with any sense of competence.
It is not a matter of being rid of suffering altogether; rather, it is about participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
What does this mean? What does it mean to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world?
At first glance, it seems like a sentiment of enhanced masochism to try and enjoy suffering in some kind of sick and distorted way. That’s not what I’m talking about.
We must acknowledge that life is suffering and do our best to derive as much joy from life as possible—to suck the marrow out of it, in spite of our pain and heartache. This is the only appropriate response.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our best to mitigate suffering outwardly, in fact quite the opposite. It is clear to me that it is only through contending with our own respective suffering that we can have a chance of making the world a substantially better place.
For example, let’s suppose that we are an absolute nutter, a complete crazy person whose entirely incapable of producing authentic human emotion, totally unable to empathize with other people, so full of inner turmoil and chaos that we can barely get through the damn day without visualizing ourselves strangling someone at a traffic light or a coffee shop line, and let’s also suppose that we are in the Peace Corps or Unicef or something.
Now, does the latter justify the former? Does our charity work make us any better of a person? Does handing someone a sandwich inherently make us a good person?
Of course not, for everything that person does will be shrouded in darkness and disorder. If we are out of touch—not in order, psychologically and existentially cast asunder—then we will not contribute to the world being a better place.
We start by recognizing the severity of the human condition, which is characterized as containing a certain amount of suffering no matter what—and from there, we do our best to understand how to improve our own state of consciousness and how to develop our awareness, so as to feel good even when we are surrounded by horror and monstrosity.
This is what it means to be human.
“The purpose of life is to find a mode of being that is so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.” ~ Jordan B. Peterson
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world, which is to say: Live in such a way that moves us beyond our own sorrow, or rather, makes us willing and able to contend with our own suffering.
We do this through engaging in methodologies that bring us fully upon the present moment, the immediacy of felt experience.
We are so accustomed to living with false intentions, always feeling as though there is something we need to do, or something we need to achieve, so as to be fulfilled. In actuality, it is only when we let go of these intentions—this need for results, this desire for “the next”—that we feel most alive and most ourselves. It is only when we allow ourselves to abide fully in the present moment, and live in total accordance with the here and now, that we might be lastingly satisfied and participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
This takes work. This takes lots and lots of work, but it is an entirely different form of work then that which we are used to. It is the work of transcending our own egos, of moving beyond our false sense of identity, of dissolving the barrier between subject and object so as to come fully upon the now.
There are many methodologies—from meditation, to artistic expression, to self-inquiry—and it is truly a matter of finding what is the best fit for us as individuals. For me personally, I am always questioning the nature of my thoughts rather than simply accepting that they contain some kind of inherent truth. I am always inquiring into the reality (or falsity) of the stories I tell myself, the inner narrative that dictates much of our lives—and in doing so, I have cultivated the capacity to simply witness the movements of my mind, rather than being constantly dragged around by them.
In developing this mode of being—this capacity to go inward and observe my own thought patterns, rather than simply be a victim of my own conditioning—I have learned how to live with a deep sense of power and fulfillment, how to act in accordance with my deeper nature, and how to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Flickr/Petras Gagilas
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina