Throughout every single layer of the Western Society is permeated the faulty concept that haunts us by stating without any shadow of doubt that the path to reach what one wants can only be pursued if suffering occurs first – no pain, no gain! – and countless religions and spiritual doctrines reinforce the same idea that suffering is our only path to God. We are told that if our spiritual practices and efforts are being really difficult it’s because they must be working, and that which doesn’t kiss us, can only make us stronger!
Before ever looking at suffering with a feeling of pride on ourselves due to what we overcame, as if raising high a flag with a sense of honor, we must never forget that suffering is neither the point of anything, nor the end result. Along our path, our ego will show us resistance disguised in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, by presenting us challenges and tests of our true will. On the spiritual road we all travel, this resistance we call suffering can certainly be the first and most evident thing we find, and we must learn to never equate all this discomfort and resistance with spiritual growth.
What is suffering?
Even though no one likes to suffer, some form of it always tends to knock on our door or follow our footsteps from time to time. We are perfectly aware that most of our Human societies are far from perfect, so we learn at a pretty young age that some suffering will always occur, and sometimes we wonder if there’s any spiritual healing that comes from it, or any other type of benefit. Smiley optimists would say “Yes!” and follow the affirmation with the logical reasoning that through suffering some lessons are learned and those lessons can be vital to our evolution and survival.
Sometimes, suffering can unfold in front of us the difference between fears that are real and others that are purely imagined, so by suffering in really painful moments we learn to separate both and become stronger and more confident, or even gain a feeling of dependence on a higher power that certainly will give us the grace and purely divine love to never get stuck in moments of crisis. But if suffering can also simply be an illusion we believe in so strongly that we learn from it, how can we learn to overcome it and live an equally emotionally rich life and be even happier and at peace than those who see suffering as the stairway to personal and spiritual growth?
What is NOT suffering?
First of all, it’s essential to understand that even though pain is inevitable, suffering is but an option. Even though this can sound a bit far-fetched, it’s actually a much more interesting perspective and it’s shared by the Buddhist and Zen tradition, and other religions alike, which presented the same concept but with different light angles and explanatory language. But the core idea is a common to most of mankind’s great religious preachers.
For instance, Jesus said “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.” And also, “Take no thought for the morrow. Let the evils of the day be sufficient there to.” And even, “Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” And to conclude he ends it with the following line, which seems to make moralists always forget to mention it: “. . . for He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.”
The root problem with the approach to most formulations of such sayings it that they seem be telling you that suffering is nothing but your own fault. And nothing can be further away from the truth, for suffering is not our fault and we certainly don’t choose to suffer, it’s just that we were never told that we can choose not to, so we never opt not to suffer. But there are ways not to suffer that you’ll find out about later in this article.
How/When/What causes suffering?
The path of spirituality requires both discipline and determination, and for the most of our lives, our ego seems to have been running the show and making sure it stays in charge. The ego can convince us to let go of meditation or to skip our yoga practice because we’re too tired for it. The ego will make sure we’re way too busy to attend a workshop and that no money should ever be invested on spirituality. But as we shift our focus from ego to the spirit, the latter definitely declares itself as the one and only guiding light in our lives, and that’s the main purpose of spiritual practice – discipline and unbreakable determination are necessary; however, suffering is utterly optional.
To engage in a regular and methodic spiritual practice can turn out a real battle because the ego always throws in its bad temper by reminding us that tomorrow is a much better day to do anything that requires effort, and we deserve a day off instead. But when we meditate, the ego can react and make us mentally or physically disturbed and uncomfortable – our mind starts racing and we feel anxiety kicking in, so we struggle and twist as we try to maintain focus. But underneath all this discomfort, there’s always a constant sense that we are doing something amazing for ourselves; underneath all that resistance there is a silent and peaceful feeling of joy – we are doing what is right, we are allowing our spirit to take the biggest role in our lives and it’s the lack of that sense of accomplishment that makes suffering come with torturing intensity.
What are its advantages/disadvantages?
Suffering is a way for us to know how important we are to one another and how much we depend on someone and how much someone depends on us, and how amazing that feels! Suffering teaches us to cooperate and struggle together to make deep changes in our lives and, as a consequence, the whole world around us. It can teach us that alone by ourselves we may certainly fail, but with the aid and guidance of a good friend or a spiritual mentor you can fail, fall, cry… And overcome it all!
Suffering makes you develop a sense of empathy that allows you to shift your attention out of yourself and unto others, for nobody can feel bad about not having shoes when confronted with a person born without legs.
Suffering is a way to eliminate differences in beliefs, races, class, sex, or any duality-inducing concept, for we all suffer in one moment or another regardless of our social class, because we are all created equal and nobody is above the laws of the universe.
What to do when you identify with suffering and how to deal with it?
There is no need to ever wait for happiness to come – one may wait for it indefinitely and it certainly won’t come until the causes of suffering and destroyed. So when one is suffering, the main thing to do is to look deeply into ourselves and find the real causes for such negative feeling. It’s crucial to stop longing and wishing for happiness and just stay in a dreamy motionless state. If you are suffering, acknowledge it and understand what’s causing it – is it anger, jealousy, an inferiority complex?
And as you go deep into your suffering as a meditation, watching it, analyzing it, becoming it to the deepest of its roots, a miracle happens – it disappears – for you have nothing more to do than becoming aware of it and watching it in peaceful awareness, because you have found the authentic cause of it and it’s now starting to disappear. Imagine suffering as a bad plant with deep roots. You can be impulsive and simply cut it from the stem, but it will grow back again! But if you take your time to understand what is the plant made of and where does it starts and ends, you can eliminate it all the way to the very root of it – forever!
If the root is still unconscious to your awareness, make an effort to bring light to it, for the moment you are deeply aware of what causes it and which implications it has on your life, it simply vanishes. And in that moment you will feel like a dark cloud evaporated and made the sky clear, and with it all the sunrays could enter your life without any struggle – happiness is in the awareness of what causes suffering whenever it exists!
And it’s equally crucial to stop self-monitoring. As you move focus away from your pain, suffering tends to go away but only for some time; but as you move attention off yourself, suffering stays away and joy has free access to your heart. Simply become aware of the greater picture and not only of yourself, and new ways and paths full of lovely colors and cosmic dimensions will be unfolded in front of you.
Pain is inevitable and we will never escape from it, but we can certainly opt not to suffer because of it.
Conclusion and final words
Suffering can be described as the over-awareness of ourselves, so if we practice living our lives with focus on the greater whole picture, we’ll realize that our suffering is nothing but microscopic when compared to tremendously great reality around us.
When it comes to taking great care of our soul, we learned many bad habits from our parents, from each other, from the culture we live in, as if the air we breathe in doesn’t carry the knowledge of the cosmos anymore. But now is the time for us to take control of our attention and learn to direct its focus away from what’s irrelevant and straight to what brings us bliss.
By moving attention away from the pain – and ultimately off oneself – we are blessed with the opportunity to realize who we really are and how we’re connected with everything and everyone around us. Happiness resides in living outside of awareness.