Suffering seems inevitable in life. But instead of trying to avoid it, can we find the willingness to accept it, and instead to discover what lessons it may have to teach us?
Suffering can be a valuable teacher in life. And when I say that, it’s not to suggest that we should try to create suffering in our lives. There’s plenty of that already. What I’m suggesting is that we utilize it as an opportunity to learn and grow, because it does in fact contain a great number of lessons.
Most of us deal with suffering by trying to escape it, or to sedate it, or by trying to distract ourselves. So we look for pleasurable experiences, or we go to the extreme of taking drugs and alcohol in order to numb ourselves and forget. Essentially, we’re always looking for ways to distract ourselves from it, not that any of these things actually resolve it. Because as soon as the experience is over or the drugs wear off, there we are faced with our suffering again.
So we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t run away from it, and we can only bury it for so long before it surfaces again. So if we can’t get rid of it by these methods, what can we do?
What I’ve found to be successful in my own life is to face the suffering when it arises, to be present with it, not resisting it, but allowing it to be there. And looking very deeply into it in order to understand it, to understand where it arises from, what’s behind it. And in my experience, the more I’m willing to do this, the more I come to understand my suffering, and the less it has power over me. In fact, gradually over time, it becomes less frequent and less intense.
So what I’ve found is that the way to resolve suffering, to get rid of it, is not by trying to escape it or pushing it away, trying to resist and avoid it, but to go deeply into it. And for a lot of people this might sound scary, maybe even crazy. But the reality is that suffering is there and until we understand why, that is, why it arises in the first place, what hope is there to be free of it? Even if we manage to escape for a little while, or distract ourselves, or sedate ourselves, that’s only a temporary fix. It doesn’t resolve the issue entirely.
If there are weeds growing in the garden and all you do is trim them, they keep growing back. And sometimes they grow back thicker and taller, because all you’re doing is pruning. You’re doing nothing about the roots. And the root is where all the energy is coming from.
So when we’re suffering, can we first of all accept it, just be with it, without trying to get away from it? And then can we simply observe it, notice it, watch it, just looking at it, feeling it, experiencing it without reacting or resisting? Just allowing it to be there.
And then ask yourself, what can I learn from this? What does this have to teach me?