Lessons From The Suffering

Alvin Kevin Walton King. Image: Ehirim Files


At this time, it occurs to me that what is need is a certain type of experience, the kind that does not readily show up on resumes or job descriptions. Folks with this type of experience, normally, we look down upon them, we pity them, discount them. Typically, we do not value them or their experience in life.

These are the folks that I have the privilege of seeing everyday as a psychotherapist. People to whom life has dealt a serious blow. They have trauma, distress, and have a hard time going on or going with flow. In fact, something has happened that has made it impossible for them to go on.

Maybe they have lost hope, or lost themselves, or lost meaning. Maybe they experienced a physical illness, a physical assault. An economic collapse. A natural calamity. A disability. A reversal of fortune. A death or loss of love.

And now they must start over. Life no longer makes sense. They don’t make sense. They now have the immense task of rediscovering who they are and who they can be. They may have to learn to walk again. Learn to talk again. Find a new way to make a livelihood. Learn how to trust again. Learn how to do relationships, in a way that works for them, maybe for the first time.

It is these people, from whom we rarely look to for advice, who have already been where we are now. They have experience with difficulty and trauma and distress. The have suffered and have learned to persevere and discover meaning and joy and a new identity and way of life. Isn’t it ironic that we would need to look to the bottom, to the end of the line, to find succor?

This notion of suffering and difficulty or distress is a prominent component of most if not all teachings of heft. Jesus and Buddha say pretty much the same thing, that suffering is part of life, but our human birthright is to be able to traverse through it. For the shaman and the hero therefore, suffering is an indispensable part of their training. It is not to be avoided, nor is it to be sought out necessarily, but if and when it arrives it is to be welcomed and embraced.

Is it not an interesting point that none of our sages state categorically that suffering is bad? What is bad is chronic or unending suffering. That is what they describe as a hell of torment. So, what can the sufferers tell us that can help us with our present distress.

First, they are able to help us understand the essence of life. That life is an eternal cycle. Birth, maturation, death then repeat. That is the blueprint. Life is generative, restorative, and transformative. We know then that this situation, this form, whether good or bad or in between, will come to an end. We suffer when we confuse the form, that is the circumstance in which we find ourselves, for the energy and essence of which it symbolizes, and then as the form dissolves and dies we die and suffer, with it.

This is the truth that comes with experience. The sages say test it out, see if your life does not come back again, after a great loss or setback, in the same that you come back to yourself in the morning after entering into the dream world at night. So too will your vitality and identity and purpose and joy return after you let it go and bless its essence.

So, if the lesson is that life is constantly transitioning and realigning itself, we can learn to do the same as well. If our identity is as a teacher and we love education. It matters not the shape or manner in which the learning takes place but that it does. The same is true if we are a healer, or artist, or skilled craftsperson, or government official.

One great thing that is happening as we speak is that a lot of our identities or attachments are also now fading away. They served us well in their time, and we can be grateful for that, but now they are less useful. So nowadays we hear scant attention paid to political parties, or economic philosophies, or religious affiliation, or ethnic or racial identity, or even gender. We are all turning our attention to the essence or the essential or true. Yes, life involves suffering. And the quicker that we learn how to face it the better we will all be. And yes, for that we must turn our attention and respect and gratitude to those who have. Your thoughts, resonances, and dissonances are greatly appreciated. And let’s continue to take good care of ourselves!

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