Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Do We Suffer?

by Chris Mcals

Many Reasons

Some people believe that we suffer because love is capable of suffering; others say that we are the ones to blame for our sufferings, because we make this world mostly darkness. 

Some people say that when we first acquired knowledge as a human species, we also acquired guilt and shame (see Original Sin as related to Adam and Eve). Ignorance is another reason why some people believe that we may suffer. For instance, many people don't know what their own self interest is, so they will vote for a political candidate that stands against their self interest, and therefore they will suffer. 

Those who believe in Reincarnation blame the victims' past transgressions for their sufferings. Others project the blame to God when they cry out in anguish, "Where were you, God, while I was being molested as a child?" Some people believe that we suffer because of our imperfections. 

Some say that if we knew no suffering, we would have no compassion. There are those who justify suffering by believing that suffering is necessary to help develop the better qualities out of a person. For instance, before flowers and vegetables became repeatedly genetically altered, they smelled and tasted better. Things in nature need to struggle a bit to retain their peculiar quality, and this goes for humans as well.

There are some who believe that we suffer so that we may learn that we don't have to suffer, and there are others who say that through suffering we learn to survive. 

Many believe that suffering is here to remind us that this world is not our home. Some say that suffering teaches us to come to terms with our problems, and others believe that sometimes bad things have to happen to avoid worst things from happening.

Some people wonder if God can get angry over what happens in Darfour. Why doesn't He intervene? Or perhaps God is the One who gives us the strength to help ourselves. We need to learn to accept responsibility for our sufferings.

Have you ever wondered why do we suffer? I'm sure that, like so many others, you too have developed your own personal understanding along with a strong coping mechanism to the mystery of suffering. There are countless opinions on the meaning of suffering. Some blame God, some blame other people or even society at large, while others, rather than assigning blame, look for ways to learn from their sufferings. What do you think? What do you believe? 

Most of our Suffering is Self Created

According to Eckhart Tolle, the world-known author of the popular books "The Power of Now," and "A New Earth," we suffer because we don't surrender - that is we don't accept the present moment as it is. We fight against it, and therefore most of our suffering is self-created.

Tolle goes on to say that suffering comes from our thought interpretation of a situation - not the situation itself. Hard to believe? Not if we are willing to admit that we all have preconceived ideas of how things should work, and that's why we have laws and Constitutions. 

Religion is no exception. For instance, Jesus said, "If anyone sues you for your tunic, let him have your cloak also." Matt 5:40. 

True freedom is not dependent on external situations, because our true enemy hides within us and it's called FEAR. Fear of loss, fear of retribution, fear of suffering, fear of death.

Jesus gave us many other teachings that are in opposition with the selfish popular belief that what's mine is mine, and no one has any right to it, but me.  Jesus was not pushing a political ideology. He was showing us the way to be free from fear. The more tightly we hold what we have, the more fearful we become to lose it and that's a recipe for unhappiness, restlessness and anxiety. Our possessions, great and small, strengthen our sense of duality and increase our sense of isolation and of separation from one another. 

Possession isn't necessarily attachment to material things. Possession can be any attachment. For example, if I value knowledge, I will be extremely embarrassed to be proved wrong by someone who knows more than I do (there will always be someone, somewhere), therefore the trust I place in my erudition becomes a source of constant insecurity and fear to me. To cope with it, I need to keep abreast of all the latest developments, I need to continue studying, and I also pray that I don't get a stroke or turn senile, because then I will lose all sense of self-worth, might become depressed and might even contemplate suicide.

As long as we retain this possessive, fearful attitude, we will inevitably suffer. 
The threat of losing something that belongs to me is always out there and this threat causes me to live in the fear of losing what I perceive to be mine, even though I know that I can only hold on to my things temporarily, because I can't take them with me when I die. 

The fear of loss goes together with the fear of the unknown (what will happen to me if I lose everything?) and the fear of the void or abyss (nobody will even know that I exist anymore) and that is what makes me suffer

What follows is a classic example of fighting fire with fire. Since I don't want to suffer, I have to make sure that I don't live in the fear that the awful scenario of personal loss will ever come to pass. However the great motivator for my doing what I do to avoid suffering from personal loss is fear. I use fear to insure I don't suffer or to minimize my sufferings, but in so doing I become a slave to the great motivator that is fear, because it's fear that dictates my every move. 

Fear is a task master, which is even more hurtful and cruel than suffering itself, because fear offers me no rest and no respite. It demands my constant alertness, my time, my efforts and my money to manipulate people and situations; in fact it demands my being in total control, and it may even ask for my very soul. 

Unfortunately we can't control everything, and we all live in the grip of fear to some extent, whether we realize it or not.

If you don't believe that we all live in the grip of fear, consider this: If we didn't live in fear, the NRA would be out of business, people would stop amassing goods and hiding them in underground bunkers, and insurance companies would lose their grip on us. 

But, you will rightfully argue, that's not how the world works. For instance, we buy health insurance because we fear that one day we might get sick. It's a situation motivated by fear, yes, but it's also motivated by responsible common sense, because we know that we all get sick sooner or later, and we want to be prepared. Sometimes our worst fears come true, and we will be glad to have made responsible provisions for when the bad times come rolling in. Some amount of fear is healthy, because it keeps us from getting hurt. Obsessive compulsive, controlling, paranoid fear on the other hand, is not healthy.

Self-inflicted suffering such as obsessive, controlling fear is rarely conducive to personal growth because it leads to worry and anxiety and it deprives us of our freedom to be happy.

When that kind of fear is taken out of the picture, all worries go out with it, and we become more secure and deeply grounded. We no longer experience the need to look good by making the other fellow look bad, the need to lie to exonerate ourselves, or the need to control anything or anyone through the use of money and power.

Of course not all suffering is to be avoided at all costs. In fact suffering is not without merit if it helps foster personal growth. Suffering that is beyond our control will always be an intrinsic part of our life, but that kind of suffering can help us, rather than hinder us. 

According to Eckhart Tolle, it's only when we are ready to change that there can be a disposition to end self-inflicted suffering. That means that it's only when we are ready that we may feel empowered to drop a bad habit, an addiction or a pretense. There are many people who will never be ready to change, and yet it is only when I stop inflicting suffering on myself through my negative interpretation of the present situation (i.e.: "looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking."), that I also stop inflicting suffering on others, because the two go together.


Nada te turbe
(Letrilla que Santa Teresa de Avila llevaba por registro en su breviario)
Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

May nothing disturb you!

(St. Teresa of Avila had these verses written in her Breviary)

Let nothing disturb you;
nothing astonish you;
Everything passes;
God doesn't change,
attains all.
Whoever has God,
lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.