Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
For the past few days, I have been contemplating on the origins and nature of suffering. In my teens, I believed that we suffer when we commit a mistake or when a tragedy occurs, such as a loved one’s death. If that was the case, would it be possible to live a life without committing mistakes? Or, going through life without the loss of loved ones? This calls for a fairy tale existence. This explanation of suffering collapsed like a house of cards because it stood on shaky ground.
Later on, in my twenties, I found another explanation of why we need to suffer. This happened when I chanced upon Richard Bach’s Jonathan Seagull. Jon struggles and suffers from mastering flight by going against the rules of his flock. This ingrained the idea that to excel, one had to suffer. It was the price one had to pay for excellence. I tried aligning my life with this principle of suffering – to bring about excellence. The only thing I brought upon myself was more suffering.
A decade later, Viktor Frankl’s book fell in my lap. The book appeared to be a beacon of hope in understanding the true nature of suffering. Viktor is separated from the love of his life and imprisoned in a concentration camp. Under these trying circumstances, he realizes that any man who has a “why” can almost always survive the “how”. Man’s search for meaning it seems exists in suffering. This was radically different compared to everything I had come across till then. To suffer was an integral part of life. To decipher the meaning of life, one had to suffer. I carried this philosophy for the next 5/6 years. In every event of suffering, I tried to find meaning.
I was following a trail of breadcrumbs to understand the true nature of suffering. A few months ago, while working out, I listened to Jim O’ Shaughnessy‘s Infinite Loops podcast. Jim dropped Zen Black’s handle on Twitter. While discussing books, ZB told me Jiddu’s Talks With American Students profoundly influenced them. I read it immediately. This book would instruct me to question everything.
This is how things went after my first read.
Here’s a Q&A dialogue I had with myself on the nature of suffering.
Q: Where does suffering take roots?
Q: Why within?
A: Perhaps, because, it is of my own doing.
Q: If it is of my own doing, does the seed of suffering also lie within?
A: Maybe. Because the soil has to be fertile enough for a seed to take roots.
Q: Okay, so when do I suffer?
A: When I want or when I expect something, and it doesn’t go that way.
A: My expectation is what causes me to suffer! 💡
Q: But where does expectation arise?
A: From comparing what is to what should be. That’s the seed suffering sprouts from.
The gap between seeing life as it is and seeing life as we want to see it – is where the seeds of suffering exist. We see the present moment through the coloured lens of experience—our experience of the past. As a consequence, we end up comparing what is for what should have been. We compare, we expect, and we suffer. Rise, rinse, repeat.
We need to break this conditioning. To break it, we have to see life as it is. We need to be aware of it. Remind ourselves constantly of it. Nonetheless, it is an arduous task. Our awareness about this rinse, repeat cycle is the jackhammer needed to break through the conditioning of the past. Wielding it is the only answer. At least for me.
As a Mandalorian would say, “This is the way”.