October 17, 2017

Why Not to Numb Out when Life feels Unbearable.

Life has suffering—any hope for real wisdom must start with this understanding.

The more deeply we understand the role of suffering in human life, the more capable we are at dealing with it in a way that allows us to go on living and loving to the best of our ability.

I wish someone would’ve told me this sooner.

Through my dealings with a severe chronic illness over the past couple of years, suffering has become central to my identity. Being in constant pain and discomfort has become normal. What I now understand is that we can either accept that this pain is a part of our experience and development as a person, or we can shut ourselves out from the world because the pain is too much. Or we can find somewhere in between.

I have experienced both of these responses.

The symptoms of my condition are horrifying, but that has not been the biggest challenge of my experience. The biggest challenge has been consoling how I continue to move through the world with any sense of dignity when I am at such a profound disadvantage. It has been less a matter of contending with pain and debilitation (although there has been plenty of that) and more a matter of contending with how unfair the whole situation is. The sense of injustice brought about by my illness hurts my soul more than anything else.

There have been so many moments where I have just wanted to disengage from the world completely—to step away from it all and have no part of the chaos of human life.

I’m sure this is a response a lot of people have to seemingly meaningless suffering. It’s like, “What’s the point? Why even bother trying to make our way in the world when we are starting so far behind everyone else? Why go on living when the game is rigged against us?”

I want to answer this, but first I’d like to share an Eckhart Tolle quote that comes to mind:

“It’s often humans whose major disability or huge difficulty in life becomes their catalyst for spiritual transformation that can surrender to it completely; allow it to be. Acceptance of the seemingly unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.”

Relating personally to the world is the very nature of existence; everything is connected. Even if we go meditate in a cave for 40 years, we are still on some level connected to everything else that is happening whether we think we are directly affecting it or not. The idea that we can somehow be separate from the world is completely and utterly false, no matter how badly we want that to be the case.

We live in the world, whether we like it or not, and in my experience it is better to embrace this fact than it is to turn away from it. We can’t let pain shut us out from being alive. It is our continual engagement with the world that opens us up to growth and change. We must live fully, no matter how torn up we may feel inside, and if we pursue this in spite of our suffering, we are ultimately better for it.

This has been my biggest takeaway from my experience with chronic illness: Don’t disengage. Don’t ever stop attempting to participate in the play of human life. Don’t ever stop trying to be a part of it all.

To think that we ever weren’t always connected to everything was an illusion. We may as well go all out and do our best to participate in the most powerful and effective way that we possibly can.

We must say yes to life. When we say “yes,” opportunities present themselves to us and beautiful things happen. Here, it feels as if life is supporting us, rather than always feeling like we’re moving against the weight of it all.

When we don’t let the pain of our experience shut us out from the world, pain becomes our greatest teacher in our journey of self-realization.



Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Cristian Newman/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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