by Troy Chapman
Americans have a strange view of suffering. Basically we see it as an injustice to be eradicated and when that fails, as it surely will, we have Plan B, which is to deny it. But these strategies create more, not less, suffering.
I know — I’ve tried them both. Alcohol and drugs were my weapons of choice in the war on personal suffering and I went to war with a scorched-earth policy. The result was disastrous, and years later I began considering a very different approach to the problems of suffering. I ran across the strange idea that suffering is just a natural part of life or, as the Buddha put it, life is suffering.
Obviously, if that’s true, then declaring war on suffering is just another way of declaring war on life, which is insane. Yet, the more I pondered suffering the more it did seem to be inextricably woven into life. It wasn’t an aberration, as I’d been taught to believe, but rather as normal and as pervasive as breathing. So my question changed, from how can I get rid of suffering to how can I learn to suffer well?
Looking back, I see the shifting of this question as one of the landmarks of my spiritual journey, because implicit in it is an embrace rather than a rejection of suffering. And again, for me that amounts to an embrace of life and truth itself because suffering cannot be separated from these two.
To live is to suffer, thus to live well is to somehow learn to suffer well. This month we’ll look at what it means to suffer well, to face suffering in ways that enrich rather than impoverish us and expand rather than constrict us.
Until next time, consider your own relationship to suffering. Do you see it as an enemy? As an aberration that needs to be “fixed” or as part of the mystery of life, perhaps even a passageway to compassion and greater self-realization?
Painting by Troy Chapman