Why All This Suffering?

March 16, 2012


Van Gogh knew about suffering.

The geriatric patients at the hospital where I volunteer love to tell me about their lives. Some have only months to live and others may be dead by the time I come in for my next shift. They talk to me about how much they are suffering right now and the topic soon turns to what else they have suffered in their lives. Read any novel, or watch any film, and the narrative is the same. It is often said that in fiction there are only about seven stories which get repeated and reworked through the ages. I disagree. There is only the one story. Take these very common examples.

A young woman meets a young man, and she immediately takes a shine to him. She spends hours imagining what it would be like if he were her man. They date and as the relationship progresses, she finds herself extremely happy. After a few months, he calls her less often, their dates are less frequent and he seems more distant. Then one day she finds out that the man is now seeing someone else. The young woman suffers. Other variations on this narrative are that after years of marriage, one of them dies and the other is left grieving.

Consider another scene. A couple dream of owning their own home. One day they find enough finances to purchase their ideal house. They spend years fixing it up the way like. Then one or both of them lose their jobs, and they can no longer pay the mortgage. They are forced to walk away from their house. Naturally, they suffer. Variations of this are, the house burns down in a fire/flood/earthquake. Or perhaps instead of a house it could be a child, a friend, a car, jewelry, designer clothes, anything tangible.

Final scenario, a young man works hard and becomes a success in his chosen career. He enjoys all the rewards of that success, praise, respect, admiration. Perhaps he is even acquires fame. Then one day he falls ill with a serious condition, perhaps cancer. Or he simply ages and loses his edge. He is no longer admired and respected. He suffers.

It seems to me that these, and any other narrative you can imagine, have the same underlying arc. There is a desire which promises lasting happiness. The person purses that idea, attains it and enjoys it for a time. Then something or the other beyond his control brings that desire fulfillment to an end. Either the object of desire perishes or the person loses interest in that object. Isn’t that what all suffering boils down to?

When I look back over the course of my life,  I see that it has been only the one mistake responsible for my emotional pain. Time and again I have expected people, places, things of the temporal world to bring me lasting happiness. What an unreasonable expectation! This world is time bound, and so of course everything within it has an expiration date. When the object of my happiness is destined to either decay, fade, break, or die, investing emotionally in it will certainly bring heartache. And the amount of suffering I experience is directly proportional to the happiness that thing or person or place had brought  to me.

Now that I know this fact, is there a way out of my suffering? Can being acutely aware, each and every moment, about the fragility of life make me immune to hurt? I believe it can. To the extent that I am able to keep mindful, to that extent I feel free. This does not mean I cannot enjoy the things of the world when they present themselves. Though I do not hanker after them  anymore. I can’t get obsessed about anyone or anything. When the time inevitably comes to say goodbye to the objects of pleasure, I helps to expect it. I am more ready for its loss. This has diminished my pain greatly.

What is more, some lesser desires have evaporated altogether. Reduced hankering has meant reduced agitations of the  mind. And a calmer mind is a happier mind.  A calm mind can fade into oblivion, and at such moments there is a glimmer of a lasting, unassailable happiness which is independent of everything.

Fiction writing may not have given me fame or riches, but it did give this valuable insight. For that I am grateful.

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4 Responses to “Why All This Suffering?”

  1. Louie Auslander said

    Hi Pradeep,
    Very well said. There is going to be pain in life but to suffer for extended periods of time is a choice not worth making. I have been thinking along these lines lately. I have a deeper love for life when realizing its impermanence. It also helps me to pick up the pieces and choose not suffer for extended periods of time knowing that this physical lifetime is not permanent. I think you touch on an important point that is learning to live in the moment.I look forward to looking at more of your writings.

    Louis J. Auslander @ http://runlourun.com/

  2. Vic Lawrence said

    Hi Pradeep,

    I can really empathize with what you are saying in this passage. I have come to realize that the more I try to look for happiness from other people, the more it eludes me. Happiness truly does come from within.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Ann Mullen said

    Thank you Pradeep for your message. It reminded me of something a wise man once said about not putting all our faith, trust, hope in another human being because all will fail us, if only by dying. He recommended faith in a higher power. I am glad you reminded me of this.

  4. Expectations are a doozy and only a behavior template used by mind in order to attempt feeling in control…

    Reading through your articles, enjoying them!

    ~Kate/ I AM

    😀

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