Why Suffering is a Good Thing

afterlight

Life is suffering. It’s the first of Buddha’s four Noble Truths. Suffering is the inevitable accompaniment of physical life.

I used to tear myself up about this. My internal conflict. My tortured soul. When I was younger, I drank myself silly over it. I couldn’t understand why/how other people were not as affected as me. How they could just go about their very similarly situated lives dealing with it so much better than I could. My rationalization was that they just didn’t think about things as deeply as I did. But, I couldn’t decide whether that was better or worse. They say ignorance is bliss and those of us who think and feel ourselves crazy, know that if not for all these thoughts in our heads, we could be pretty happy. But, what kind of happiness would it be? Would it be as fulfilling? It could very well be, given that you’d be ignorant of any other kinds. Ultimately, I suppose it’s all relative and I think it’s safe to say, comparison doesn’t ever really lead to feeling better…at least not when it comes to the nuances of the human condition.

So, this is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time…as long as I can remember discerningly thinking about the world and our place in it. Suffering. Misery. Pain. I feel these things acutely. So acutely, and very often for no explicable reason. I get over emotional and (unadmittedly) over dramatic. Words in a book can jump off the page, shake up my heart and incite tears to stream down my face. Watching the lives, real or imagined (like the specials on Pacquiao or Mayweather before their big fight, or episodes of Empire) of people develop and unravel can also rattle me to my core. I feel their pain (even when it’s fiction!) as my pain. I used to think there was something wrong with me…that I was just crazy. And I really resented my emotions. I saw them as a flaw, a kink in my personality that I needed to fix…or rather drown with alcohol…which ironically, just made me even more emotional the next few days as the chemicals in my brain would readjust to the reality of being sober.

Then a friend said something to me that started to shift the way I viewed my emotions and suffering. I was going through one of my usual conniptions, reeling and wondering what the fuck was wrong with me. I had a pretty glorious childhood: no traumatic incidents, I was sufficiently provided for and there was no deficit of love or support. If anything, they overpraised me (which can cause it’s own slew of problems, I know…sometimes, it can even be worse, but that’s a whole other topic). So, I couldn’t understand why the fuck I felt so tortured all the time. And she said to me, something along the lines of: Maybe your emotions and the way you feel is a gift that allows you to empathize with things even though you haven’t been through it yourself. She probably doesn’t know it, (though I’ve told her, she probably doesn’t realize the impact that simple statement had on me) but she really opened up a new paradigm for me.

Pain…suffering…misery…I don’t have to look at these things as simply negative experiences meant to be avoided at all costs anymore. Not only did I realize that these feelings come with the capacity to empathize and hold compassion for others, but it also opened me up to other ways of thinking about it as well. I’ve started to view my suffering and excessive emotions as signs pointing me towards things that are really important to me. I think in the same way that physical pain lets us know that something in our body is malfunctioning, emotional pain is trying to bring our attention to things we need to work on and heal in our lives. That something is bubbling under the surface and needs to get out…and the more magnified that pain is, the more likely we are to do something about it. Because that’s kind of how we’re built as humans, right? None of us are going to run to the dentist when our tooth just hurts a little bit.

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