It is the one thing that we all strive to avoid at all costs. We find the mere mention of this word to be utterly abhorrent and wickedly distasteful. What word am I referring to? Suffering.
I want you to pause for just a moment, close your eyes and say that word, "Suffering" out loud. Examine it in your imagination. What do you see? What images does your mind place before your eyes?
It is highly unlikely that you envisioned anything pleasant, uplifting, or motivational. My question to you however is this: Why not? Why do you only associate suffering with pain, ignominy, discomfort, and undesirability?
I challenge you to begin to associate suffering with nobility, honor, motivation, goodness, and virtue. Suffering is your friend. The more you believe this, the more your life will be drastically upgraded and you will begin to see some major progress in your life.
Here are some things about suffering and some silliness about human nature. I am going to propose the following items as universal axioms – feel free to disagree … (at your own risk).
Axiom #1: You Cannot Avoid All Suffering.
Do you disagree? I think it is fairly obvious that you cannot escape all suffering. Can you prevent, avoid and hide from some of it? Of course. But there is no way to avoid it all. Suffering is going to happen to you. You will suffer from your own decisions and choices (i.e.: things you can control) or you will suffer due to outside forces acting upon you (things you cannot control).
Axiom #2: Given the truth of Axiom 1, it is silly, stupid and ridiculous to go through life thinking you will not have to suffer.
Seems pretty obvious as well yes? Why do you and I get so upset when we suffer? If we suffer the slightest affront, insult, inconvenience, etc. why do we become so put out? Who do you and I think we are? That is good content for another blog, but at for now, I'll just say that I think it is your over-inflated ego. “ME?” Your ego asks, “You mean I have to suffer? Surely I am above such things?” If this was a texting conversation between you and “Life” this is the part where “Life” would text back, “LOL”.
So what is the solution? You have already agreed that all suffering is not avoidable – this means you are going to suffer. You have no choice in the matter. You have also agreed that it is petty and stupid that you act so put out when you do suffer (since you know you are going to suffer ahead of time). The solution I wish to propose to you is taken from the ancient wisdom of warriors all over the world and across all cultures and time periods.
SOLUTION: Embrace suffering.
Do not fear suffering. Rather, fear a lack of suffering. If you are not suffering at all, odds are, your character is not growing, improving or upgrading. When I say suffering, I mean it in the broadest spectrum terms possible. You getting cut off in traffic can be suffering. You only getting a 65% on your last exam when you thought you aced it could be suffering. Obviously, your suffering could be more earth shattering like the sudden death of a family member, or being told you have cancer.
Whatever your suffering is, embrace it. Let me state it another way: Think about how much anxiety, depression, worry, stress and overall fear is caused by you and I not wanting to suffer. Picture it in your mind. Really think about this with me: What is the origin of most of your chronic stress, pain, and anxiety? Odds are, it centers around you wanting to avoid suffering.
If this is true, then if you can transform yourself into someone who embraces suffering; as someone who sees suffering as an opportunity to grow in virtue and upgrade your character, you just nullified most if not all of the power that suffering has over your life.
Fear of suffering is what holds you and most people back from accomplishing basically anything. You won't ask that girl out you've had a crush on because she might say no and cause you to feel the suffering of rejection. You won't have that difficult conversation with your child about pre-marital sex because you will have to feel the suffering of being uncomfortable and not knowing exactly how to broach the subject. You won't get up and start working out like you know you need to because you might have to suffer the pain of feeling tired by waking up early than you are used to. Can you come up with an example in your own life where suffering is controlling you and stopping you from doing something you need to do?
Let me be VERY clear. I am not advocating for masochism or self-harm to “increase your suffering”. But can you make yourself uncomfortable? Sure. Remember, I don’t just mean physical suffering but suffering in a broad spectrum sense.
Begin to endure suffering to your ego by allowing yourself to get cut off in traffic, and do not respond with your usual slew of expletives. Let your spouse say something you don’t entirely agree with, but let it stand unchallenged and suffer your ego to be silenced. Even if you are going through great pain, I challenge you to view it through the prism of “how can this be used to benefit me and my loved ones?”
I am by no means an expert at this. I am human just like you – but that is what makes our striving noble. We strive against our weaker self; and do you know what? It feels damn good to know that in any given situation, you took control and didn’t allow suffering to beat you.
If you visualize suffering as a human enemy seeking to destroy you, are you going to let it? When suffering “breaks into your home” late at night seeking to deal death to you and your family, are you going to capitulate or are you going to fight? Fight against suffering by removing it’s power through acceptance then through embracing.
I want to offer a final analogy that may be helpful. When fighting, you can usually do one of two things against an enemy trying to exert a force against you – push back against it, or go with it. I submit that the more you try to push back against suffering, the more it overcomes you. You become more stressed and for good reason. Does it take more energy to walk against the current of the river or with it? If you can embrace suffering and “flow with it”, I think you will find you have drastically cut out a great deal of stress, pain and agony from your life. Remember, fighting doesn’t always mean pushing back. Sometimes, fighting means embracing, going with, or receiving.
Do not fear suffering anymore. For it is not your master. You are your master. You control yourself. If you don’t, this is why fear, suffering and pain control you. How has that been going for you so far?
Live in the suffering-ground,
Alexander Lanshe Sensei
Welcome to the Anatomy of a Warrior Blog!
National Speaker, author, blogger, and life-long student of warrior arts and science.