By Jimmy Warden
The origin story of the Buddha goes a little something like this. He was born to a great warrior in the heart of Nepal. His father did everything he could to make the Buddha’s life pain free. He put up massive walls to protect their palace from intruders; he had servants waiting on his son at every hour; he also showered his son with gifts at every moment he could. Despite the ease and luxury of his life, the Buddha was not happy. He knew there was more to life considering all of the ease that had transpired in his life up to that point. He wanted to see what life was like in the real world. He wanted to live among the homeless on the street. So one day, the Buddha escaped the walls of the palace to live on the streets.
There he lived, day after day, barely surviving. Some days he was on the brink of death. He had a realization that this new life of pure suffering was also not a life that should be sought out. While he was thinking about the polar opposites that he had lived, he came to another realization. He realize that the life of pure luxury was not meaningful because there wasn’t anything meaningful for him to do. Everything was already made for him. As for the life on the streets, that one was not meaningful either. It was just a survival test each day. Every individual on the streets was just looking out for themselves. The Buddha needed more answers. So he left the city and sought solitude: under a tree.
The Buddha sat there with the notion that he would sit there until he had a better understanding about the meaning of life. There he sat for forty-nine days. During that time, he came to the premise of Buddhism’s foundation.
Life is suffering.
That premise does not mean that suffering is the only thing in life, but it is the only certainty. We all inevitably face various amounts of suffering throughout our short lives. Whether it be physical health, mental health, deaths of loved ones, heartbreak, mistakes, betrayal, financial trouble, or anything in between; we all face our fair share of challenges and we suffer through them: whether it be suffering through the mentioned actions themselves or suffering its consequences after the action occurs. Regardless of the form, suffering is inevitable.
This idea has a tendency to get lost because of how much we’re exposed to the “glory” of life. We often get exposed to how things “should be”. We follow friends and celebrities via social media; we see the glamorous place they’re vacationing in; we see the status they’re conveying in their recent posts; we see and hear about the latest heroic story on the news (amidst COVID and politics, let’s be real); and we read about all of the positive things happening locally in the newspaper (amidst some negative publicity, just trying to keep it real).
We think that the images and videos we see on people’s social media, the heroes we see on the news, and the heroes we read about in books and newspapers are living that reality, daily. That is not the case.
We don’t see the sacrifices they’ve made to put themselves in the position that they are. We don’t know how many weeks they worked to pay for that vacation. We don’t know how many reps they put in at the gym or healthy meals they’ve eaten in order to produce that physique. We don’t know how long that person has been working on expanding their patience stamina to be known as the most patient person. We don’t see the intellectual sweat equity an individual has put in to be as well read and as articulate as they are. We don’t see the mistakes or trials and tribulations they’ve gone through. In short, we haven’t actually seen them suffer, so we think that their lives have been nothing but positive experiences on the “up and up”; so we think that that’s how life should be for everyone. Therefore we feel that our suffering isn’t serving a purpose, so we think that something is wrong with us. In reality, we are all suffering in different ways.
We suffer each day. Sometimes, even getting out of bed can be a big pain in the you know what, so that becomes a form of suffering. We suffer through challenges at work, in our relationships, with our families, with our personal dreams, and other areas of our personal lives.
However, if we can accept the fact that we’re going to suffer throughout our lives, rather than resist that notion, we’ll be able to handle our suffering more effectively. It will help make the suffering a bit more manageable. Understanding that it’s normal can help us change our perspective about it. Embracing it fully will allow us to work through these sufferings and grow as a human in the dimensions of life where our sufferings are taking place.
In order for this transition of perspective to happen, we must reflect on what is worth suffering for. Knowing it’s inevitable, regardless of the decisions we make, we should prioritize what’s important to us in order to understand what sacrifices need to be made in our lives. This gives us a sense of direction. For example, maybe we’re willing to suffer for our family, so we take on some small bouts of suffering like extra chores. Maybe, we’ll take on some bigger forms of suffering for them and try to be the shoulder to cry on after a death of a family member. Perhaps, we’re willing to suffer for our significant other, so we spend hours trying to prepare their favorite meal. Perhaps, we exhibit some empathy for them when they’re going through a personal rough patch, so we try to take on some of their emotional load. Sure, there could be some joy in the aforementioned actions, but the time and effort put forth with these actions are also forms of suffering.
Paradoxically enough, these bouts of suffering often lead to joy and fulfillment. There’s an old saying out there that states: “Nothing worth having ever came easy”. I truly believe that that saying is talking about the fact we have to suffer to obtain what we want. Suffering through the miscommunications and emotional rollercoasters of relationships; suffering through the responsibilities of your coursework to obtain a degree; suffering through the responsibilities of the dream job you finally earned; suffering through frugality while saving money for a house and seeing everyone else on social media spend money; suffering through the wear and tear of exercise and proper nutrition to be in the physical shape we desire; or suffering through the endless waves of negative thoughts and challenging emotions just to feel okay again.
So I’ll pose the question: “What’s worth suffering for in your life?”. Once you figure that out, the suffering won’t seem as bad anymore. There will be a dim light that can be seen through the bleakness of your suffering. You’ll be able to bask in the positive outcomes upon the completion of your sufferings. Your suffering will serve a greater purpose than yourself. And that, will be glorious.