How can we grow through suffering? The immediate experience and the cultural notion of suffering are often negative. Though if we relate suffering to the effects it has on us, we can clearly see that our personal response to suffering is what can make us virtuous and puts our personal, cultural and physical beings on the path towards growth.
As is often mentioned in psychology, especially for those with some form of anxiety, the brain can become accustomed to anxiety and develop a constant state of ‘fear perception’ and resistance. Some reflection has lead me to believe that I can see this in my own mind’s behaviors, and also the minds of others, by observing the following tendencies:
- Tendency to become passive - or even lethargic - without high clarity of challenge and reward -> low risk taking, feeling the need to confirm safety before taking any action;
- As opposed to just doing things, bringing forth action and change that will result in new choices to be made. This instead of becoming passive, where no true change or challenge surfaces easily.
- An overall fear of confrontation, both personally and physically. Confrontation is not bad, it’s merely potential for either resolution or more escalated conflict. There’s substantial meaning in conflict (be it with people, yourself or your environment);
- To see discomfort as a reason to relax and distance oneself, instead of as a reason to persevere. This coping strategy leaves little room for relaxing during good times, as a reward, instead of as a coping strategy for challenging times;
- Responding defensively instead of being inquisitive. Resisting, rather than taking control and deciding what to do. Forcing the discomfort of confrontation onto oneself can lead to a true experience of the power we have, merely by influencing the way we react to external stimuli.
This constant, very much subconscious notion of fear in our conceptions of the world leads us to value abstract ideas around morality and the ‘good’ more, it seems. The more we use the notion and the softening effects of ideas around ‘true’ good, the more we calm our effectively tormented souls. Jiddu Krishnamurti, too, noted that we are only scared of our own thoughts.
We are scared of fear itself, and not of reality. We miss the goodness in the world as it really is, because our thoughts reflect the torments of our minds on the world we perceive, causing us to guide ourselves towards ideas of good that often result in bad judgement and higher sacrifice for the good. Sacrifice itself is immensely valuable and underlines the power of ideas, but we should use it sparingly to not get caught in the trap of ideas.
This sacrificial tendency causes more suffering, and takes away our focus from the trivial discomfort needed to actually achieve these long term ideals. This suffering is akin to martyrdom, and merely exists for an idea and not in a well attuned response to reality. What then, are we creating, beside a world based on ideals, based on a feeling that doesn’t exist in harmony with reality either? How more can we diminish reality to something that we can neither experience the suffering, nor the true beauty of?
But I feel we need to continue to expand our soul, and I hope I'm not alone in this belief. I want my mind to be capable of being ‘here’ and ‘now’. Keeping my mental and physical posture under the stresses of the world, so that I can shape myself into a being that can live in harmony with reality, well accustomed to its hardships and rewards. This is, to me, achieving something close to true happiness.
The first step, I believe at the time of writing, is to let go of the notion of some ‘continuously perfect equilibrium’ that we see in concepts like ‘good’, ‘balance’, ‘happiness’, ‘trust’ etc. These things have an interesting effect on the mind, whereas they make us compare what is to what could be whenever we judge a situation subjectively. Of course, the notion of ‘ideas’ is the very essence of our intelligence and constitutes a large portion of our extraordinary capacity to adapt to our surroundings. Yet I feel that in this world where I’m generally very safe, I’m guided by this tendency to extrapolate the notion of ‘perfect good’ into my judgements of the trivial. It evolves in my tendency to avoid trivial ‘discomfort’.
Avoiding discomfort is bad, avoiding real danger is good. Discomfort, for me, is my tendency to avoid work, procrastinate my tasks and generally be more lazy and seek for the easiest path. Naturally, this has a certain pragmatism to it: I leave room for more and novel discomfort, by preventing the discomfort I can predict. However, our lives are so comfortable nowadays, that I am not actually getting used to discomfort (and therefore, true adaptability) anymore. I’m used to being able to avoid it very very efficiently, mentally.
I see the detrimental effects of our inability to embrace suffering as a part of ourselves and our reality in my social anxiety, disorder in my living environment (postponing cleaning) and my general sensitivity. This causes me to be more neurotic than I have to be. I would thrive on making trivial discomfort one of my habits. Things like this are cleaning, exercising and a general focus on achieving order, intellectual prowess and aesthetic greatness.
We predict the experience we might have by the effect we could have on reality, by undertaking something (I will feel this feeling, if I do this thing). The thing is, the world is way too complex for us to predict even our own experiences, and were we to get in touch with the world more, we would find ourselves confronted with challenges and situation equally complex and rewarding to our own intentions. Let’s look for the small change, the trivial discomfort, while we try to aim even higher while being fully capable of bearing the true equilibrium of life: change. Achieving less, doing more.
Of course, goal setting and the notion of some ideal attainable thing we can work towards, is important for our happiness. I’m merely trying to reflect on the fact that there is a lot of space for the trivial between where we are now, and the future goals we aim for.
In essence, we decide how we judge our own experience and how we react to our own feelings. Our feelings are as they are, but our conception of what to do with them is where trivial suffering and the ability to welcome it, with a feeling of exhilaration and appreciation, truly allows us to control our mind's reactions and with this, our lives.
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