By Steve K.
I’ve never been a fan of suffering during my life. I’m ashamed to say that I have a track record of trying to avoid it as much as possible, and would suggest that this fear based tendency is a key factor in my history of substance, as well as other types of dependency.
This resistance towards suffering and adversity is effectively an attempt to avoid or control life. As most things in life beyond me are outside of my control, this tendency is futile. The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is “all life is suffering.” Suffering is an inevitable part of life, and in trying to avoid it I have suffered much more than I needed to, as well as stifling maturity in the process. The substitutes we choose to avoid suffering, in the longer term, usually create greater suffering than if we had honestly faced our adversity in the first place.
My tendency to resist inevitable suffering is often reflected in my negative response to it. Resentment, hostility, self-pity, anxiety and depression in the face of suffering have unfortunately been very familiar to me. Why is this tendency so? A lack of self-love and deep insecurity seems to be the culprit, according to the wise. A love of self, and therefore a commitment towards life and growth (a desire to self-actualize) seems to be the answer then – to my allergy to suffering.
How do I learn self-love? I need help from others to show me the way, through their example of acceptance, compassion and empathy. I can engage in this type of relationship through community or fellowship. I can also search for a healing therapist. A part of my commitment to self-love is developing a practice of moral and spiritual virtue in order to grow. Why is this so? To face suffering effectively I need a strong, compassionate and positive character, and mine has a few “defects” (or, put more kindly, ‘defenses’) as we like to say in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Although we may not choose to suffer, we can choose how we respond to it to a certain degree. The greater my moral virtue, my strength of character and self-compassion, the more likely I am to respond to suffering and adversity in an accepting and positive way. A key attitude in constructively dealing with life’s hardships is to look for the meaning and purpose in one’s suffering – to see the value in it. (1)