Okay, you got me, I stole that title from a Beyonce lyric. It’s still very much true. I’m learning to believe that suffering doesn’t have to be negative. If we can change our perspective on this word that we can only see as negative, it might (dare I say) be a gift. We only go through something we perceive as negative because there is something to learn from it. We just have to be patient enough to get the lesson.
I’m a true believer that suffering gives us perspective on our humanity. Buddhism would say that life is suffering, but I don’t know if that’s something I want to identify with. I’d rather believe that life is life. Life is a wonderful finite experience with the potential for some suffering. How do you know something is alive? It suffers. This is why people choose to not eat animal products because we know that cows, chickens, and pigs suffer in our mass farming complex. Sometimes I wonder if plants suffer. Plants excrete poisons so that predators are averse to eating them. They must feel something, right?
For us to be fully alive, our hearts have to be fully open. People tend to say that they can’t open to hearts to everyone. They won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable due to the fear of being hurt. This is a fear of suffering. By closing our hearts, we not only try to protect ourselves from the suffering that may occur, but we shut ourselves from the love life provides, unknowingly. Opening your heart can be one of the courageous things to do because you consciously open yourself up to hurt.
You’ve heard the expression that pressure makes diamonds. This is how we should treat suffering. When we suffer, we receive a shift in perspective that lets us know what’s truly meaningful in life. Especially when it comes to grief, we start to realize that the thing we covet doesn’t last forever and see the illusion of control in our situation. This is painful, yes, but it only becomes suffering when we resist what’s happening to us rather than surrender. Once we purify ourselves from these thoughts, what’s left is our true self – a diamond in the rough.
We live in a world where escaping suffering is much better than dealing with matters of the heart. We do it with work, music, television, alcohol, or any other substance. Workaholism is merely an escape from one’s personal life. A Netflix binge can be an escape from one’s feelings of work or school. We use other people to form relationships in hopes that it will eliminate suffering. This issue we face is that we believe suffering and pain as something separate from us. As though suffering isn’t supposed to be a part of our life experience. It’s like a bug in the software that we are supposed to fix, but in reality, it’s a feature of life. Trying to change or resist the suffering only brings more suffering.
It’s much better to accept our experience as it is. There is nothing and no one who can take away your pain. Just like any substance, we can try to numb the pain with a vacation, but once the vacation is over the pain will be there waiting when you return. We have to take responsibility for who we are as humans when we respond to things we don’t find pleasant. These instances are how we grow, how we learn, how we cultivate our gifts, and give us the opportunity to share these gifts with the world.
Regardless of your belief system, there is at least one truth that is universal to everyone who’s touched this green, brown, and blue earth of ours. Every single person has suffered from Jesus to Buddha to Muhammad to Moses. You’re suffering isn’t unique. My suffering isn’t unique. Jesus went through 40 days of suffering just to prepare for his ministry (shout to everyone starting Lent in the coming days). If you don’t want to suffer, what you’re really asking is to become a robot. This is not to say seek discomfort. No one is asking you to be a martyr. I’m just saying that we should be open to suffering just as we are open to the pleasures in life.