Reframing Suffering


Life is full of joy, and life is full of suffering.  It seems part of the human medicament is to go through agony and ecstasy.  Is there one among us who has never experienced suffering?

Our reaction of suffering is typically aversive.  We push it away, struggle to hide from it, mask it with all kinds of drugs or stimulus, or find solace in grumbling and complaining and seeking sympathy.  Do any of these strategies work?  Do we find lasting peace in any of these ways?  To know what to do, we need to know what we’re dealing with.  What is suffering?

Distilled to its essence, suffering is the experience of misalignment with the flow of life.  Many phrases can be used to describe this state: In spiritual terms one might say identification with the dualistic aspects of existence, or in religious terms one might say separation from God.  In this state, suffering manifests in a million different ways such as the identification with the smallest dislikes – like someone eating our food, to life events or loss, to the greatest physical or psychological pains, depression, and fear of death.

As difficult as the concept may be to the ordinary way of thinking, can we try to flip the coin of suffering on its head?  Everything we experience is totally dependent on our perspective.  So, is there another perspective on suffering?

Why is it that we do not seek when we are comfortable, but when some tragedy hits us, we turn towards spirituality?  How can it be that one cancer patient can be at total peace with their condition, despite physical pain and a terminal diagnosis, while another suffers deeply.  The difference seems to be what we identify with.

Existence moves from one state to another by a leap, and those leaps are predicated by natural pressures, after which a shift to a new balanced state occurs.  Existence is always seeking balance, and where there is no balance, there are opposing forces at play.  When we struggle against suffering, we are struggling against a balancing force.

Our ego self is the agent of identification.  It’s the glue to which everything sticks.  The stickier the glue, the more elusive the peace.  What if we recognized every dislike, and even like, as the edges of our ego?  What would happen if we embraced life’s challenges as indications that we need to change direction?  What if suffering was like the GPS of life telling us that we have arrived at a fork in the road, and that we much choose between a path of ongoing slavery to our identifications and blockages, and a path of freedom from them.  What if every challenging situation was life signaling for change – maybe a small change, or maybe a big change.

Human beings come into this world with so much karma, and we go on creating more even while the old karma is working itself out.  All this is the maya of life trying to find balance while we struggle against it.  All of life’s challenges are karmic impressions seeking to dissolve.  Can we recognize that and give into the process willingly?  What would happen to our suffering?  The events themselves would remain, but suddenly their impact on our mind and body would not be such a big deal anymore.  Just as enormous gusts of wind hitting the tropics are just the earth trying to find atmospheric balance, when our perspective zooms out, we can see the winds playing out in our lives, seeking balance.

Let’s be graceful about how we move through this life, recognize that the process of suffering is the process of purification.  Let’s bow down to the process, in prayerful acceptance of what may come, and act out of self-compassion and love instead of rejection.

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