Alfred Dawes | Embracing suffering
Pain and suffering are an inescapable part of life. If you have ups and successes, you are bound to have downs and failures. We are trained to focus on the highs and live in fear and dread of the lows. When we do end up facing the inevitable hard times, we get depressed and long for better.
Some believe that the meaning of life is to experience and grow. But if we only value the good times, we are only appreciating a fraction of what life has to offer. We must learn to face and even welcome the suffering that comes with living and allow those times to help to shape who we are and to value the good times even more.
Suffering can be brought about by loss of attachments such as losing love, objects, and situations that bring pleasure. But the pain of illness, guilt, or unfortunate situations brought about inadvertently by our actions are unavoidable even in those who avoid pleasure and live a pious life.
Simply put, your actions and attitude towards life will not prevent moments of grief. Instead of avoiding at all costs the inevitable, we should focus on changing our perception of suffering so we may benefit from it when it comes.
As we go through our daily routines, disastrous events are the furthest from our minds. We are comfortable. Each catastrophe has only a very low probability of occurring – a loved one dying, financial difficulties, a natural disaster, poor health. So, when they do happen, they catch us by surprise and our whole comfortable world is turned upside down.
But if one adds up the multitude of low probability events occurring, the chances of at least one of them happening to you becomes 100 per cent. That is, because there are so many things that can go wrong, the odds are that something must go wrong, even if the chances of that particular occurrence are extremely low.
You are bound to suffer. One must always remember this fact as we take our good lives for granted. How we face this suffering is what determines our happiness and growth.
Buddhist teachings have at their core the need to avoid suffering. For Hindus, suffering is a result of evil acts in a previous life and can be avoided in the next life if one lives a good life in the present.
LAWS OF SUFFERING
Islam and Christianity accept that as long as you are part of this world, you cannot escape suffering because of sin. We should then, if we do not believe in reincarnation, embrace the suffering and accept what it offers.
I share with you my laws of suffering.
I. During a stock market crash, most investors who are banking on continued success of the markets face grief as they watch their net worth get wiped out. This has led to suicide in some instances. They are fixated on the good times and do not make allowances for the improbable but vast number of events that can lead to the market tumbling.
In the midst of their suffering, however, a few persons are always smiling – the options traders. Options traders bet that the market will either go up or down. In the last market crash of 2008, those who bet that the market was going to suffer walked away with billions in profits.
If you look at negative events in your life as an opportunity, you can always win whether you are feeling up or depressed.
II . Depression is more than a feeling. Not only is there an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain, but the structure of the brain itself can change. As this happens, your thoughts and outlook on life change without you even realising it. This is a crucial point to be recognised if you are depressed.
You cannot fix your brain with a broken brain; you must seek help. Having others helping to work your way out of the depression brought about by your suffering is the only way you can get to a point where your brain is well enough to take over the healing process.
III. Realising that your suffering is most likely temporary is key to conquering depression.
Because our lifespans are so short, we do not have a proper concept of time. When we experience hard times, it may seem like it is going on forever but, in reality, it will be just a blip in your life. Whatever you are going through may consume you in the present, but time will always heal the pain.
Looking at the future not only distracts you from the present situation, but, more important, gives you something to work towards.
IV. An adverse situation is advantageous in that it shows you who your true friends are. At no other point in your life will you receive such clarity. Learn from this experience and nurture relationships accordingly.
V. If your suffering is caused by the loss of an attachment, it gives you an opportunity to reflect on your priorities. Are you dependent on objects, titles, and experiences for your ‘happiness’?
Reflect on what drives you, and if you are dependent on ‘pleasureness’, that will almost always lead to suffering.
VI. Suffering can prime your mind to rediscover a part of you that society has taught you to suppress: your spiritual person. It is with the realisation of helplessness that our mortality becomes apparent. We learn that what we have or who we are doesn’t matter in those seconds just awakening when the thoughts of our present situation come rushing in.
Helplessness can lead to surrender to a higher power, and that alone may bring comfort even without deliverance. Faith in a greater, unrevealed purpose can calm the cries of “why me?” Your suffering can lead you to repurpose your life by connecting with your spiritual side.
Preparing for suffering does not mean you look forward to it. You anticipate that one of the millions of improbable situations must occur, and like the options traders, you plan to embrace it and grow to be a better person.
- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.