Embracing suffering

Sudism teaches us that, through the course of our lives, we must each experience as much pleasure and joy as we do pain and suffering. Thus, one of the toughest lessons of sudism is to learn to accept suffering.

Many of us, especially if we live in a westernized society, are inundated daily with the opposite message: that we don’t have to accept any suffering whatsoever. There is always someone ready to sell us a pill to erase our aches, a gadget to solve our problems, or some kind of entertainment to help us escape our woes. When we start to hurt, we can usually erase the pain using medications, or distractions, or by burying ourselves in our favourite foods or drinks. And this approach can certainly work in the short term. Having successfully won the battle against one episode of pain, we tend to think we can use the same strategy again and again to win the entire war against all of our future suffering. After all, pain is merely a nuisance and an inconvenience. Or is it?

What we may not fully realize is that these pain-avoidance strategies, which often work in the short term, never work in the long term. Sudism teaches us that constant pain avoidance inevitably leads to chronic physical or emotional aches as well as anhedonia (the loss of natural pleasure). When we get to this stage, no matter how hard we try, we cannot get rid of the chronic pain. Desperate, we go see our doctor or healer begging for a pill, an herb, any cure that will erase this chronic ache so we can get back to our normal lives. But pain is life! We cannot go around it. We cannot have life without pain. This is simply impossible! In our personal voyage through life, it is our destiny to travel through as many unpleasant moments as pleasant ones, with those moments, like islands, surrounded by an endless sea of neutrality. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we begin to understand the source of all chronic pain, and the sooner we can resolve whatever chronic depression, anxiety, or body aches may be haunting us.

Embracing sudism means shedding the ideal of a pain-free life. While we can briefly eliminate our suffering with drugs or other strategies, we cannot avoid the vast, cumulative mass of pain that awaits us in this world. We have to make the paradigm shift from seeing suffering as an unwanted intruder to a welcome part of us. To be clear, it does not make sense to blindly accept all instances of suffering and to never act or react to any of it. If our house catches fire and we start to burn, should we sit quietly while we turn to ashes? No. But what many of us do not sees is that it equally does not make sense to shun all instances of pain since we are designed to suffer. So when we encounter natural suffering, whether it is a small headache, a moderate annoyance, or a major heartache, we should try to see these as opportunities, not setbacks. Opportunities to experience natural doses of unpleasantness, which will help us maintain a healthy balance between our joys and sorrows, and which in turn will prevent us from experiencing unhealthy pain or anhedonia later on. We should see these as opportunities to work on our patience, our endurance, and our tolerance. Opportunities to toughen ourselves up, which will make it easier for us to suffer in the future.

Furthermore, we can choose to let go of some of the modern comforts that we may have become used to. Like the perfect temperatures of our homes, vehicles and showers. The perfectly soft clothing and bedding brushing against our skin. Or the perfect-looking teeth, skin and hair and wardrobe that we are told we must strive for. Every time we let go of a piece of comfort and welcome natural suffering in its place, we let go of a piece of our chronic pain.

Pain is an integral part of our lives. And not only a little pain once a day or once a week. We can expect it to show up many times each day, though it appears in different forms. Recognizing the many forms of suffering is one big step we can take towards understanding and acknowledging pain. Embracing our pain is the next major step. If we can achieve these two simple but often challenging steps, we will be well on our way to restoring the affective balance in our own life. The more we embrace healthy pain, the more we let go of our unhealthy chronic suffering. And the more we are freed from the shackles of unhealthy pain, the higher we can soar.

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