The Answer to the Problem of Suffering is Living a Meaningful Life.
Every religious doctrine, philosophical creed, and spiritual tenet throughout human history seems to proceed from the same assumption: Life is suffering.
The first truth in Buddhist tradition is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery—and boy, did they hit the nail on the head. Human life is profoundly difficult—and difficult in a way that strikes us to the core of our being.
Human life is suffering, because we are at once singular individuals while everlastingly contending with the sheer magnitude and eternal nature of all things. We are at once dancing in the vast cosmic infinitude, while also inhabiting physical bodies that are subject to death and decay.
There is an inherent contradiction here which puts us in a very strange predicament as the thinking ape—aware of the immortal nature of the universe, as well as the mortality of our own existence.
I mean, wow. Could anything be more of a bummer!? What a weird dilemma to wake up to, like some kind of bizarre dream.
Suffering is an absolute certainty, because we are caught up in the celestial game of life and death, and we don’t have even the slightest sense of how it is we ought to be in spite of all of it all.
If life is suffering, then what would be the purpose of living?
Well, that’s simple really, and Dr. Jordan B. Peterson sums it up quite nicely, “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.”
Living a meaningful live is the antidote to suffering—or at least works to soften it enough so as to get through the damned day!
If we can move through the world with a deep sense of purpose and connectedness, then the weight of the human condition ceases to feel as heavy and burdensome. Our pain doesn’t matter as much and feels entirely secondary to the more positive elements of our existence.
Through my trials and tribulations with a severe chronic illness, I’ve had to pose this question to myself time and time again. Of course, my situation might be a tad more severe than most, but fundamentally I contend with the same problems as everyone else. “I’m suffering immensely, in ways that are entirely unfair and arbitrary, so how am I to continue living in a way that fulfills me?”
Whatever each one of us are is dealing with, it is important to ask ourselves this question, in some way or another, and ask it again and again.
It is important along this path of self inquiry and psycho-spiritual development to acknowledge both the personal and impersonal aspects of our suffering, the specifics of our condition, as well as the condition of being a human in a more general sense.
For me, I’ve had to contend with and console my own personal misfortune with illness, which has led to me to doing the same with the impersonal suffering that comes along with being human.
This is what I’ve come to understand…
Living a meaningful life essentially boils down to the quality of our awareness—or rather, the extent to which we move in accordance with the immediacy of present moment experience.
I don’t approach attaining meaning as some kind of external endeavor, or at least not purely an external endeavor. I look at it in terms of how aligned we can be with our most essential nature as pure consciousness—how connected we are with our most fundamental passions and intuitions.
Regardless of what we think about the essential nature of human beings, it seems as though when we allow ourselves to abide in pure experience, rather than simply be driven by the movements of our thoughts, then we feel much more powerful and capable.
To be entrenched in the immediacy of felt experience, the now, is to deepen and broaden the scope of our perception, and this comes with a profound sense of our lives having substance and consequence.
We actually experience meaning here—not necessarily the meaning of this or that, but a pure and unadulterated sense of one’s life containing meaning in and of itself.
The reason this is the case is because meaning is intrinsic to life, as far as I can tell, and in that it is merely a matter of aligning ourselves with this innate quality of meaning, rather than going about trying to induce a pseudo sense of meaning from whatever culture that happens to surround us.
We feel the most empowered when we embody those moments of stillness in between the incessant movements of thought—when we give total credence to this holy space that sits quietly beneath the perpetual fluctuations of the mind.
In essence, to be fully present and “wholly attending to the felt presence of immediate experience” (in the words of the late great Terence McKenna), is to transmute the pain of the human condition into a deep and abiding sense of meaning and power. At the very least, it cushions the blow of our suffering enough to feel a moderate sense of comfort and satisfaction.
The answer to the problem of suffering is to live in a meaningful life, and we live a meaningful life through being in close quarters with the here and now.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Instagram @walkthetalkshow
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina