A Bad Rap for Suffering? Tell It to the Marines!

Interesting article on the Huffington Post called, "How Suffering Got A Bad Name" by Phillip Moffit, a Buddhist meditation teacher.

Here's how Moffit starts out:

"Suffering has gotten a bad reputation in Western society. We view it as a mistake, something shameful, or a sign of powerlessness and inadequacy. Our culture's debasement of suffering represents a major loss to us. It denies the validity of many of the significant emotional events in our lives. It narrows life such that we are constantly reacting to a set of questions: How do I get and keep what's pleasant and avoid or get rid of that which is unpleasant? Am I winning or losing? Am I being praised or blamed?"

It's an age-old question, and I can't count how many times I've asked and been asked it: "Is suffering necessary?" And like many of my answers, I say, "Yes and no." Now, I'm not trying to be evasive or snide or overly Zen when I give that answer. It's just that so much of what we experience is not in the event itself, but rather in our intention behind the action that caused the event, or in the reactive "spin" we put on the event afterwards. That being said, however, I do say that there are such things as "bad" suffering and "good" suffering.

Suffering because you abuse yourself and act out negative impulses is bad suffering. Suffering to complete a novel you're passionate about writing or to complete the New York City Marathon is good suffering. Suffering because you get caught cheating on your love partner is bad. Suffering because you have to leave a relationship that isn't working is good. So, let's get rid of "good" and "bad" and perhaps change it to "necessary" and "unnecessary."

But let's go still deeper. Even bad or unnecessary suffering can be useful if it leads to self-awareness and motivation to engage in some kind of healing process. In other words, even unnecessary suffering can be... necessary! Whew!

Here's more from Moffit's piece:

"The Buddha understood the ennobling power of being able to bear your suffering over 2500 years ago. In his very first (and most well-known) instruction--the Four Noble Truths--the Buddha taught that it is not your suffering but rather your reaction to it that is crippling. But if you can learn to separate your resistance to suffering from the actual pain and loss in your life, an incredible transformation takes place. You are able to meet your suffering as though you were a wagon receiving the load being placed on it. Paradoxically, the effect is that your load is lightened. You are no longer expending energy denying your suffering; therefore, you have the willpower to respond skillfully to your life's circumstances. Moreover, in surrendering to the ups and downs of your life, you discover the truth of your inner dignity."

Yes. That Buddha was pretty wise, huh? We are infinite, timeless souls living in a space-time continuum of very constricted proportions. We experience loss, the "passage" of time, and the need to make choices. That causes suffering. We need patience, courage, stamina to do a lot of the things we want to do. But that suffering doesn't have to cause us anxiety or depression. Anxiety and depression are initiated by our thoughts and judgments about our suffering. Animals in the wild, and even infants, experience their suffering without judgment, so they just go through their suffering, crying or howling out the pain if necessary, but that's all (Unless, of course, we convey our anxiety to them about their situation, but that's another parenting story.).

I saw an interesting quote on a T-shirt today, said quote attributed to the Marines. It said: "Pain is just weakness leaving the body."

Hmm... Not sure... I have to think about that one. Any Marines care to comment?

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