suffering

Losing our balance in a world of constant change is the way we live. There is no escape from this condition. Our constant effort to regain equilibrium is the cause for our suffering. Without realization of this condition we tend to perceive our suffering as trouble dispensed by some vengeful god or purblind doomster of Nature. That old lament continually resounds, “Why me?” How many times have you hear someone speak of the unfair circumstances that has fallen upon them? It would seem to many that the world has less good than ill and that ill follows them around like a shadow. A.E. Houseman, in his poem, “Terrance This is Stupid Stuff,” confirms the idea of the pervasiveness of ill over good:

“Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill.
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck a chance, but trouble sure”

Houseman takes his perception, of ill over good one step further, and prescribes a practice to aid us in this world of much less good than ill:

…”I’d face it as a wise man would
and train for ill and not for good”…

Another poet, Thomas Hardy, in his poem, “Hap” also confirms the idea of of much less good then ill. He cannot however, come to understand how this over balance of ill comes about. He is confused, angry, and thus despairs:

“If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my heart profiting!”

Then I would bear it, Clench myself and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
-Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan…
These purblind Doomsters had as readily
Strown Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.”

Is there, in truth, an overbalance of the ill or negative side of our world, against the good or positive side? I puzzled over this question some time ago, and here is how I understand it. At first glance, the question seemed to be a self-evident answer in the affirmative. My direct daily experiences and the opinion of people I respected, seem to confirm and support an affirmative answer. Yet, I felt something was lacking. I thought of the words from Alexander Pope’s poem, “From an Essay on Man”:

“Hope humbly then, with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore.
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now;
Hope springs eternal in the human breast-
Man never is, but always to be blessed.”

Frankly, I wasn’t satisfied with the prospect of living in hope and dying in despair.

I decided to watch my life very closely, examining it for evidence that would solve my puzzlement. I watched my life process for a long time. Watched its expectation. Watched its secret desires and fantasies. Watched its encounters. Then one Fall morning, I followed
a river, watching it as it flowed downstream over rugged rocks, bubbling white with agitation to undisturbed calm. I watched the wild fall flowers pass from the icy sting of the morning’s frost to the restoring warmth of the afternoon sun. Suddenly, all my watching and accompanying mixed thoughts become one thought, and I realized that I am part of a continuous rhythm of extremes, surging then ebbing away only to surge again, and that I can emphasize one or the other extreme. Thus in so doing, I can color in a perspective of either positive or negative. Therefore, it isn’t that the world contains much less good than ill, but that we humans judge our experiences to be more negative then positive. The world is absolutely passive without a predetermined disposition. However, the T.V. flashes audio-visual negative accounts every hour on the hour. The newspapers and magazines run negative stories, in-depth, twice daily, weekly, bimonthly, monthly, etc.. Our conscious mind is continually being influenced by the negative side. This kind of intensive influence produce deep negative mind-groves.

Although my search brought forth a satisfying answer, my curiosity was still piqued. I wanted to know what was it about the negative side that attaches and holds my attention? I wondered, if the river and the fall flowers had human awareness, how would they describe their daily encounters. The river would probably recount its movement through rugged rocks with more excitement and detail then its movement into calm; likewise with the fall flowers. It would seem that experiences involving an extension of our existence over the risk of injury, failure or possible death, creates an abiding, emotional attachment. A something extra, added to the event, a feeling of danger, high anxiety, great fear, or all these sensation wrapped into one. These kind of experiences, then linger on longer and stronger because of the greater intensiveness of feelings. The positive side is a purer encounter, without the added excitement or risk, and thus burns off its experience much more cleanly.

After the river’s encounter with the rocks, it recovers in the calm waters, and likewise, after their encounter with the frost, the fall flowers recover in the warmth of the sun. The river and fall flowers, in their true essences, accept the rocks and the frost with the same attitude as they accept the calm and the sun. Their perspective comes from the knowledge and acceptance of the continuously circulating extremes. Their emphasis is on adjustment and recovery.

Suffering is the way we live. We should work at pulling out what is positive from our negative experiences, just as we pull out the weeds to give nourishment to the plant. In this manner, by pulling out positive results from negative encounters, we enrich our lives, and we grow.

Jesus the Christ modeled for us the ultimate attitude towards suffering. By totally accepting his agony, and by offering it up as a sacrifice for the good of mankind, Christ transcended his suffering into a pure act of love.

There is no escape from suffering. We cannot live with true peace in our hearts unless we realize how to accept our own suffering.

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