Monday, February 11, 2013

The Importance of Pain and Suffering

Life can be a struggle against pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are ubiquitous aspects of living, in this world, in this community, in this body. Attempting to distance ourselves from this reality is a constant concern. Although it is understandable, distancing the mind from our actual pain and suffering is a wasted effort. The very act of distancing ourselves from any reality blocks awareness. Therefore, we must work toward not becoming overwhelmed by pain and suffering but not ignoring it either.

Our lives are filled with pain and suffering. Acknowledging this as a fact does not need to be a negative. It’s acknowledging the simple truth. Maybe, we do have everything we need, everything we want. Maybe, all those around us are wondrous, perfect people that comfort and support us or bring out the best in us always. If that is our reality, then we are truly blessed. Despite the most perfect of life circumstances, there is pain and suffering wherever else you look. Pain and suffering are everywhere.

In fact, acknowledgment of the pain and suffering aspect of life can free us. We can take care of our immediate condition, understanding that it is not a permanent situation. Our current condition is not static and never has been. Even chronic conditions vary over time. Sometimes chronic illness gets worse; sometimes it gets better. Even when it appears to be static, it is still changing on a very basic level. We’re still breathing, and with every breath we breathe new oxygen into our bodies and breathe out carbon dioxide. We’re constantly changing.

Our pain and suffering are also opportunities for understanding, patience and compassion. We can first develop these for ourselves, and then use our own experiences within that process to apply these toward others. The truth of pain and suffering is that it is something we all experience. It is the common ground, the common language of humanity.

Pain and suffering also avail us of the opportunity to see life as it truly is. We can be completely consumed with overcoming our own pain and suffering that we miss an opportunity for ultimate understanding. This ultimate understanding and awareness of the truth of pain and suffering is truly the only way toward bringing about permanent cessation.

Beyond that ultimate understanding and permanent cessation, we can direct our awareness of pain and suffering internally or externally. If our awareness is directed internally, the focus must be precise. Yes, we may explore pain and suffering with our awareness, but we must be careful whenever we do. Too easy we can be drawn into a “woe is me” attitude. Then, the exploration becomes an obsession. This fixation, this obsession is a cave of awareness. It doesn’t mean what we’re fixated or obsessed about isn’t real. It does mean we can be so immersed into our own pain and suffering that we become blind to anything else.

Similarly, explorations of the external world can blind us to the conditions of our internal world. We can be so attuned toward the pain and suffering of others, that we neglect our own condition; we stop taking care of ourselves. Whenever we our blind to our internal struggle, we limit ourselves, our capacities and our effectiveness.

Both our internal and external conditions are important. Despite this importance, we must remember that both have the illusion of solidity and permanence. These conditions are just that, conditional. Conditions are constantly in flux, in the act of coming together and falling apart all at the same time. Awareness of one aspect can block awareness of another aspect. We must be careful to grow an awareness of all aspects, all perspectives. This requires vigilance toward balance, which requires expanding awareness, not limiting it.

Despite the truth of the ubiquitous nature of pain and suffering in all of our lives, we can move forward with this life. It doesn’t have to become an obsession or something to ignore or neglect. We can use pain and suffering in so many positive and beneficial ways; we can use it to blind ourselves to our own condition or to the condition of others. It is always up to us, and we can make a different choice today.  We can be aware of it without creating more pain and suffering. We can become aware of it and move beyond it simultaneously.

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