Suffering is Good

Life is a continuous stream of decisions, and I hate having to make decisions.Especially when I have no idea what to do. Furthermore, you often won’t know if you did the right thing until after it’s done. So, what makes a decision right or wrong, good or bad? It’s not always black and white, but the right decision is one that offers a real solution for us. One that leaves us feeling *genuinely* good. There may even be several good solutions. The wrong decision, however, may be an attempt at some solution, but it is unreal. For example, one of my favorite “solutions” is avoidance. It is so unreal that it doesn’t even pretend to be a solution (except to hope that things will “resolve themselves”). There are a countless number of unreal solutions to any problem. In contrast, there will be only one, or perhaps a small range, of genuinely good, or “real” solutions.

So, how do we know if something is real? This may seem a bit too simple, but we have to “feel how we feel.” Feelings are a simple and natural way to navigate the extremely complex world we live in. Basically, anything positive is real, and anything negative is unreal. It is extremely simple, yet for most of my life I couldn’t believe such a thing. I used to think that feelings and emotions were unreal, that they confused people and distracted them from reality. My sense at the time was that reality was some sort of detached impersonal unchanging truth, nothing to do with the ever‑changing fickle whims and fancies of people’s feelings.

It was clear to me then, and I still believe it now, that the greatest mistakes made by people occur when they get led astray by their feelings (usually in the form of needs and insecurities). However, I overreacted and became a victim of what I feared (getting led astray by my feelings). Thus, I failed to see the other side; that the only real and genuine good from people comes from their emotions as well.

So I’ve always distrusted my feelings, as well as those of others. No wonder though; society is very off-putting, like the hypocrites of the church. People act one way, even though it’s not really how they feel. Who would want to be a part of a world of emotions if it required becoming fake and superficial like everyone else? Of course, I was throwing the baby out with the bath water.

And I know I was going in the wrong direction because my life was steadily getting worse. I was becoming more and more confused and frustrated. Instead of becoming more stable, focused and clear minded (as I envisioned) by doubting and suppressing my feelings, the exact opposite was happening. I was completely lost and felt like I was going insane. Of course I was. I was rejecting my self. And feeling bad, as I said before, is how you know that you’re going the wrong direction.

For so many years I’ve conditioned myself to distrust my feelings, that I now have to constantly struggle against that tendency. This is the work of awareness. Being able to see and accept where you’re at, and slowly digging oneself out of your life’s worth of garbage. It’s tempting to wish that I had better parents (conditioning) from the start, so I didn’t have to go through this pain. But without suffering, how could anyone appreciate the depth and importance of these lessons? I can’t think of anything else that could motivate me enough to actually change.

Furthermore, how can anyone help others who are lost, confused and suffering, without first experiencing and conquering struggles of their own? Would you rather be a benign blob that lived out a monotone existence (with minimal experience of suffering)? Or would you rather experience the full range of lows and highs that life has to offer, becoming more and more able to relate to and genuinely help others?

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4 Comments on “Suffering is Good”

  1. John Grabowski Says:

    I notice there are two kinds of people in this world. (Note: there are two kinds of people in this world–people who think there are two kinds of people in this world and people who don’t.) One kind saunters into any complicated situation full of self-confidence. They don’t think too much. They don’t analyze, and look down on people who do. They start wars, for example, and invade countries without thinking too much about the repercussions or the costs, either financial or human. They famously say they only look in the mirror when they comb their hair, and they aren’t big on book-readin.’ They generally are rash and of limited ability and intellect, but they sure don’t know it. They think they are astoundingly successful at everything they do, any and all evidence to the contrary. Then there are the second type. They look at things much more carefully, worry about what they do, and aren’t as self-confident because they can see the effects and the consequences far more deeply. But people in times of crisis, or just in general, tend to gravitate towards the first type of person. Why? Because the first time projects confidence. He or she also takes the burden of responsibility off the people who do the gravitating: don’t worry, just follow me and everyone will be all right. Just think of John Wayne telling the nervous travelers how he’s going to lead them over the mountains and through Dead Man’s Rapids to safety, even though no one’s ever done this before. We can relax–he’ll take care of it. We’re relieved of responsibility. For some, religion is a good source for this: God will take care of me. I don’t have to worry. Most fundamentally-religious people fit the first mode. The unsure ones are the atheists, the agnostics, the analyzers, the searchers, the doubters. Think of Wagner vs. Mahler.

    Being the inquisitive, analytical person that you are, you are going to lean the second way. But you can’t lean so much that way that you are paralyzed into inaction and drift. You have to keep in mind that no decision is perfect and all will have negative consequences of some sort. In short, there are no completely “right” answers: there are only choices that allow you a certain number or variety or range of future options. The “best” decisions are the ones that allow you the greatest number of future options while getting the job done now. Tomorrow you may find, if you’d known something yesterday, you’d have made different decisions. That’s fine; you weren’t “wrong,” it’s not your “fault.” This is life; it’s not perfect.

    Playing chess really teaches you this, really drives home its importance, which is why I’ve often asked you if you play chess. You might want to start (play against some computer online or download a free basic chess engine; it’s a cheap way to dip your toe in the water). You’ll find that you’ll get better at learning to live with a decision once you’re “stuck” with it. That’s a microcosm for life. You’ll also lose many many games where you’ll say, “If only I’d seen that two moves ago, I’d have done this instead of that.” Oh well. You did what you knew at the time. You’re not going to go to hell for it. You’re going to become aware of your mistake, be temporarily depressed, and improve.

    That’s chess. That’s life. You get better at both the more you play, and the less you fret about losing. It’s taken me a long time to learn this. Good luck! You have lots of friends in your corner rooting for you.

  2. John Grabowski Says:

    Oh, by the way, I meant to mention that the type of people who rush in and make a decision with no fear have a tendency to make *bad* decisions. So it’s a bitter irony, but probably not surprising, that the people who fear decision-making the least tend to make poorer decisions. Those who second-guess and are uncertain generally do make better decisions, whether this gives them solace or not. Of course there are exceptions; I am speaking in generalities. My point is being at ease with decision-making does not mean you’re making great decisions. There are all sorts of people who “know” everything: much certainty, but little wisdom in this world. Hell, for hundreds of years doctors “knew” that bleeding was a valid medical treatment. Never mind that there was no evidence whatsoever to support it (kind of like the U.S. position on the WMDs).

  3. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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