Albert Einstein once asked the question, “Is the universe a friendly place?” He went on to say, “This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.” How you answer Einstein’s question can tell you a lot about the way you view your place in the universe – expansive or isolated.
If the universe feels unfriendly, humans tend to isolate themselves in discomfort; suffering. In a friendly universe, though, humans understand that pain is temporary. Suffering is not necessary because everything changes.
The tendency to suffer comes from many places, for instance it can become a lifestyle we choose based on our religious background. The Christian message is of selfless sacrifice; pain on earth to find joy in heaven. The denial of one’s joy in this life, however, is needless if we believe there is a middle way to exist – amidst both joy and pain.
Suffering is our reaction to pain in Buddhist terms. It’s how we feel when we don’t want to stay present with discomfort – to sit in darkness and try everything to make it go away. Pain is not the problem, however, avoiding pain is what leads to suffering.
How do we stop suffering, then?
The way to stop suffering is to embrace this truth: two realities can exist simultaneously. Even if you can’t see it, at this moment there is both light and darkness. There is joy and there is pain. There is sacrifice and there is self-care.
The winter solstice happens on December 21st. It is the day where there is perfect balance amongst the light and dark. And, although this is the day with the longest night, every day after becomes brighter. This is true for all aspects of life – some days are brighter than others. We find no problem with this because we can count on the balance changing if we just give it time.
With this season of light and darkness, the solstice tells us that we can experience sacrifice that may be painful, but we may also claim our joy. We are meant to feel the light. We are meant to feel the warmth and glow. We can rest easy knowing even our darkest days won’t last forever, but we don’t have to fear that pain exists in balance.
Awakening to the wholeness of ourselves, both light and dark, requires the awareness of each from within. It’s only when the balance is tipped that we forget we have a choice in whether we will allow ourselves to suffer.
Listen…there is no problem. A huge part of suffering is struggling with reality.
Our ego sends a message of fear when it senses a risk to survival. We don’t have to listen, though. What we can do is feel the feelings in our body and know that even in darkness, we can connect to the light. Joy, finding things that light us up, is the way out of dark times.
Ego is only meant to protect us. To find threats to our survival. Identify happiness as a feeling and then learn to trust that joy is safe. In order to come home to ourselves we have to connect with the feelings that our bodies give us, not our minds. Joy helps us feel elevated and nourished.
It takes courage to choose to stop suffering. And that does not mean life will be easy or free of pain. Courage is terrifying.
When you start resisting the pain or striving for happiness give yourself time to find balance again. Focus on the middle path where both joy and pain exist at the same time. Lean into the things that light you up. They are beacons that remind you pain is temporary and suffering is not necessary.
Please contact Rachel Gordon if you have questions about Buddhist psychology and integrative, holistic techniques to address mental health issues and promote total body wellness. If you live in the Denver/ Castle Rock area and would like to learn more about what Rachel has to offer through Humble Warrior Therapy, please call (303) 688-6698 or click here to schedule.
Tags: Buddhist Psychology, Finding Balance, Holistic Health, Living in the Moment, Pain
One Reply to “THE CHOICE TO SUFFER”
Thank you, Rachel, for such wonderful posts. They really give me something to work on which is not easy but lots of hope. Happy Holidays!