Halloween. What a perfect time to talk about suffering. The two images today are part of a series titled “All Our Efforts Are Futile”. In the long view, everything we make seems to fall apart. No matter how much effort and how good it seems when it was first created our work, over time, will deteriorate. It’s just a fact of life. It’s a constant reminder of our own impermanence.
The foundation of all mental illness
is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.
~ Carl Jung
It seems to me that we spend most of our life trying to avoid suffering. But just like our own impermanence and the inevitable decay of all we build, suffering is a part of our life experience. But what is “legitimate suffering?”
Is it the suffering that comes as a result of the actions of others? Is it the suffering that comes from our own actions?
I once saw a mental health advertisement on a city bus: it was a quote from a Newsweek magazine article from 2014 that had the headline “One In Five Adults Suffers From Mental Illness Each Year”. Those are not very good odds by any standard. If you look around you every 5th person you see may be suffering from some mental illness. Now mental illness takes many forms and that descriptor is not exclusive to the more elaborate/newsworthy like a sociopath. But can be something as common as depression or melancholia. I wonder if it is wise to describe these conditions as mental illness because everyone experiences them at some point in their life it is part of life experience and any number of things can spark that fire. But mental illness is just one type of suffering. There is also the suffering from physical illness.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a couple of things. One is that life is filled with suffering; but that suffering changes and metamorphoses over time. In my younger years the suffering was more emotional but as I’ve gotten older the suffering has changed and become more physical just due to the natural aging of the body. A constant reminder of impermanence. I’ve also noticed something in my youth I did almost anything to avoid suffering. I ignored it, I joked about it, I lied about it, I would participate in activities that would temporarily subdue it. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to accept suffering much as one would accept a constant companion. I don’t enjoy it but I do accept it and try to give it the space it needs. I have found that this more nurturing approach actually eases the suffering and helps me understand it – including how my actions may have brought it on.
“Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”
~ Yoda (from Star Wars)
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret — it leads only to evil.” ~ Psalm 37:8 (NIV)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything. ” ~ James 1: 2-4 (NIV)
I have found this last quote to be especially true. We should consider it a joy to undergo suffering when it produces so many good things such as perseverance, maturity and a sense of completeness. We should not take the “consider it a joy” phrase as a directive to seek out suffering nor should we use it to justify causing suffering in others. Suffering will come automatically – usually when we least expect it, when it is unplanned and inconvenient. So when it comes welcome it. It’s okay and if you see someone suffering sometimes the best thing to do is not trying to ease their suffering (although many will argue that is what we should do) but to just be there with them in their suffering. Suffering is made more bearable when we are not alone. But be careful of being too empathetic so that you suffer along with them. Being with them does not require you to suffer because they suffer. Remember you are the supporter in that scenario.
I found tons of videos on YouTube that deal with escaping suffering including many well meaning gurus, religious leaders, teachers, philosophers and songs. It is so darn hard to find one deals with enduring suffering. In a world of escapism, quick fixes, and good vibrations have we forgotten the role of suffering in our lives and therefore put our own mental health at risk?