I am grateful for my suffering.
I truly am. These are not words I utter in some halfhearted, feeble effort to brighten my mood or motivate my day.
Fortunately for me, I am not battling depression.
It’s been a challenging few years; Entrepreneurship. Battling Cancer. Cash flow. Covid. Battling Socialized Healthcare. Infected Stingray Stings.
The list goes on. When one problem is mitigated, more will arise. Count on that. There existed a list of excruciating pain points preceding those mentioned above. Some I thought I might not survive.
Even with all the mountains to climb there’s one truth that clearly resonates with me as I’ve aged.
Nobody. Not one single human on Earth, is suffering less than I am.
You may not comprehend the suffering heaved upon another. You may not agree that what causes them suffering would have a similar effect on you. Irrelevant. We’re all suffering.
I see it now.
Suffering is quite rightly described, by me, as an actual precondition for life itself.
I think people hear sentences like that and don’t take the time to allow the concept or thought to truly sink in.
This observation is true in the abstract:
Suffering is an experience. Not simply a feeling or an emotion. It’s a state of being. It’s an individual’s interpretation of the world inflicting itself upon them. It’s Adversity, Anguish, Hardship, Discomfort, Torture, Misfortune.
What stands opposed to suffering?
An opposite experience. I would probably say the word Joy would be most suitable to stand in contrast. Also, not simply a feeling or emotion, also a state of being. It’s Bliss, Comfort, Elation, Pride, Satisfaction, Awe.
One side of this equation necessitates the other. One cannot exist without the other. It couldn’t. You couldn’t interpret yourself as Suffering without the awareness of Joy, and vice versa.
Work through this in your mind. Think of the most joyful points in your entire life. Birth of a child. Marrying your true love. An orgasm.
Let’s go with that, for humor’s sake.
Let’s imagine that something went wrong, or right I suppose, physiologically, and you entered a state of perpetual orgasm. The sensation was not going to end for the remainder of your life.
At some point in time, probably much sooner than we’d like, we would adapt to the sensation to a point that we could navigate life in its presence. At some point, it would transition from something that was distractingly present, to something that simply was your lived experience of life.
Not long after that adaptation, you would move on to seeking more points of discomfort that never existed before.
Why do we do this? It’s coded in our genes. It’s not simply a mechanism of defense, though it can be lifesaving in that regard.
It’s a mechanism of action. And we are creatures of action. All organisms are in fact.
We respond to discomfort. Pain is a guide. It informs us of what matters and what actions we should be taking to manifest a more joyful existence. For ourselves as well as those around us.
The orgasm experience is precisely what modern society has done in response to Industrialization. If you invented a time machine in your parent’s basement, went back in time and recruited a young woman from, let’s say, 1566 (random # that came to mind), and brought her home with you to 2022 what would happen?
She would stand in speechless awe at the world surrounding her. She might faint in sheer joy simply at the degree to which your refrigerator is filled with viable calories and proteins. Not to mention the fact that something like a refrigerator exists in the first place. She had, thus far, spent every day of her life expending hard physical labor solely in an effort to not starve to death. Her starvation was the most pressing pain in her mind and time and thus, it guided her actions forthrightly.
Now. Let’s assume that shortly after bringing her home your time machine broke and you had no way of fixing it. The technology was lost. She was now going to live the remainder of her life in present day.
How do you feel her experience of the present-day world have shifted after a month? After a year?
She would adapt to the world around her and discover ways to suffer and thus, ways to move forward in action.
The cool thing, this observation, Suffering is a Precondition for Life Itself, is not purely abstract. It’s quite literal. It’s scientific.
What is Newton’s First Law?
A body at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by a force. Correct?
That statement holds true not just with the way in which matter behaves physically in the world, that statement also holds true with the way in which matter CHOOSES to behave in this world. This applies all the way down to the smallest organisms.
What are single celled organisms evolutionarily compelled to do by instinct? Eat, survive and reproduce.
Not unlike us, right?
If an organism fell into a state of perpetual satisfaction, ate something that provided the appropriate nutrients and energy for the rest of its existence and also had a mate never leaving its side, what would that cell choose to do?
Quite right. Nothing.
Without suffering, without scarcity, without competition, there would have never existed the necessary actions that took place and compelled the evolution of species on this planet.
Life itself cannot exist without Suffering. Without guidance. Without motivation. Without inspiration.
Suffering IS the force that acts upon bodies at rest.
I’ve been asked to speak many times relative to culture and leadership training as so many endeavor to obtain an insight into military systems and leadership development. I published an article years ago on how the Marine Corps creates leaders. Looks like it’s still posted after all these years here.
Have you ever wondered why the camaraderie is so uniquely strong within the military? Have you ever wondered why it’s even stronger than that with the Marine Corps specifically? Why when two Marines meet they seem to instantly be best friends?
Not only is it suffering, but ever stronger than that, it’s shared suffering. When you meet someone and feel you know precisely what they endured. That bond is immediate and strong. Almost religious.
That’s what drives culture. A shared struggle.
Maybe that’s why our culture is so weakened right now? The struggle isn’t shared. It’s not cohesive.
Agent Smith got a lot of things wrong in the Matrix. His understanding of purpose was just as wrong as his interpretation of humans as a virus. It’s not purpose that defines us. Unites us. He had not sharpened his focus quite enough. What generates purpose?
Some random tyrant with a microphone? Sometimes maybe. Abstractly though.
What generates the real purpose that creates passion and initiates action?
Suffering. The alleviation and eradication of Suffering.
Writing all this is not an effort to get you to stop attempting to solve for your own suffering. Press on! The world moves forward. Our species moves forward. Solve your problems. Alleviate your pain. Help others do the same. Make certain this world will be unrecognizable to us 500 years from now.
Let us be that time traveling girl standing in awe before the (now) simplicity of abundance.
The point of this writing is to help you see that we are all products of our Suffering in pursuit of our Joy.
I say this to both of my children all the time.
Embrace the Suck. Embody it. Face it forthrightly.
When a tough decision confronts you in life, go where it sucks the most. Why?
Because that is the place where the most lessons can be learned. That is the place where the most strength can be gained. That is the path no one else dares to travel and the dragon awaits. That dragon guards your treasure. Build the strength to take it down.
Once you do, don’t worry. Another dragon awaits.
And for that, be grateful.
I am grateful for my suffering.