“There are two ways to escape suffering in the Inferno. The first is easy: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the Inferno, are not the Inferno, then help them endure, give them space.” ~ Italo Calvino
Pain is a natural part of life. There’s no way around it. When we don’t get what we want, we suffer. When we get what we want, we seem to always want more, and we suffer.
When we are hungry, we suffer. Even when we fill up, we seem to always have our eye on our next fix, and so we suffer. But there are ways to experience pain in healthier ways. There are ways to suffer more successfully.
Those of us who learn how to experience pain in a healthy way cease to suffer, and we are more likely to make the best out of the inevitable pain that comes with being alive. “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” ~ Unknown
Here then are five ways we can learn to limit our suffering by experiencing pain more successfully.
1.) Learn how nothing puts life into perspective like death
“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.”
~ Martin Heidegger
When we embrace death, we encompass life. We go from merely living, to dynamically existing in a state of authenticity that Karl Jasper’s called Existenz. We go from the tyranny of being in the world as a desperate being caught in the throes of attachment, to the freedom of dissolving our ego through the non-identification with form.
We free ourselves to be a self with soul and vitality, instead of merely a self with an ego suffering from mortality. We become what Martin Heidegger referred to as Dasein: an experience of being fully present and engaged with being both alone and not alone, both alive and potentially not alive, as an interdependent being in an interconnected world.
It’s a matter of disposition, of daring to seize one’s existence as one’s own. People who experience Dasein realize that in order to live authentically they must not allow themselves to be defined by the arbitrary rules of others, especially by inauthentic Dasein who are lost in the “they.”
They dissolve their ego from the inauthentic, preconditioned state, and thus free their soul to engage with the cosmos in an authentic way. They embrace their life by embracing their death, realizing that both are as unique as their fingerprints and can only be experienced by the individual Dasein.
Transcendence is thus achieved and the authentic self emerges as a force to be reckoned with.
Like Heidegger said, “Transcendence constitutes selfhood.”
2.) Understand that there is no permanence
“The good news is: If you can recognize illusion as illusion, it (the illusory self) dissolves. The recognition of illusion is also its ending. Its survival depends on your mistaking it for reality. In the seeing of who you are not, the reality of who you are emerges by itself.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Change is inevitable. Permanence is an illusion. In order to end our suffering our longing for things to remain the same must be let go of so that we can experience the pain of change in a healthier way.
Suffering occurs when we want things that are impermanent to be permanent. The only Hell that really exists is the state we find ourselves in when our unreasonable expectations are not met.
If we sacrifice the need for permanence, and instead embrace change, then Hell will continue to elude us. If we cannot sacrifice our need for permanence, then hell will continue to consume us, and we will continue to suffer unreasonably.
Suffering also occurs when we destroy the cycle of nature’s impermanence. Eco-theologian Jay McDaniel speaks of “green grace” and “red grace” as ways to experience a sense of healing in relation to suffering.
Green grace arises from spiritual contact with the earth and a sense of awe for the world as a miraculous whole. Red grace is symbolic of blood and reminds us that we too have a hand in the suffering of the world.
So just breathe. Accept things the way they are: permanently impermanent; and let go of your unreasonable expectations, and happiness (despite the inherent pain of living) will not elude you. And that happiness will manifest itself in the emergence of your authentic self.
3.) Realize that meaning is a matter of perspective
“There will always be pain in life. This is something we learn as we progress spiritually. We also learn that if we resist pain, if we fear it, then we create additional pain called suffering. Our resistance to pain stands between us and full-bodied living; it keeps us at war with our problems and from making peace with life’s dual nature. When pain arises in your life and you stand to greet it with calm curiosity, you will know that you’re making progress on the path.” ~ Chogyam Trunpa
Nietzsche’s idea of Perspectivism implies that there is no way of seeing the world that can be taken as absolutely true, although there are ways of seeing the world that can be more probable than others.
With this idea Nietzsche wants us to be honest with ourselves about the fact that we are all interconnected, while at the same time we all have our own personal experiences. We all experience our sense of interconnectedness differently.
Indeed, our independence directly affects our interdependence. And that has to be okay if we are to learn to suffer well. There are over seven billion people on this planet, and every single one of us has a different psycho-physiological reaction to any given stimuli.
Our “reactions” to things are as unique as our own fingerprints. If I say the word “spork” it creates a different psycho-physiological reaction (however minute) in you than it does in me, than it does in her, than it does in him.
We all have different experiences, different memories, different ideas, regarding the concept of “spork,” even though we can all agree that we’re looking at a spork. The same thing applies to everything else: a spoon, a tree, the concept of love, the concept of God.
And so instead of suffering in the futility of attempting to get on the same sheet of music as other people, we can use the tool of perspectivism to leverage empathy into our conversations by understanding that we all have different perspectives. And that’s okay.
4.) Meditate on the worst case scenario and then let it go
“Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.” ~ Joseph Campbell
When we can meditate on a worst case scenario, fully immerse ourselves in the misery of it all, and still imagine a way that we can adapt to it and choose happiness over misery, we become stronger when we awaken from our meditation. Imagine the worst, adapt to it, overcome it, and then let it go.
When we let go of what we are, we become what we might be. When we let go of what we might be, we become what we are. This is a way of learning how to laugh and cry at the same time.
We cry from the pain of it all, even as we’re laughing at the absurdity of it all, thus allowing our sense of humor to become our saving grace. In the face of pain, in the face of suffering, we can rise above our resentment for the slings and arrows of life and embrace our pain as merely information to be capitalized upon.
We free ourselves to use the inevitable pain as a sharpening of our powers. Indeed, as a Nietzschean self-overcoming. This reaffirms life by flipping the tables on the mortality dynamic; where we become flexible swords open to being sharpened by pain, instead of fixed stones blunted and edgeless from our suffering.
How to survive anything: adapt, overcome, play, celebrate, surrender, and repeat.
5.) Learn how to transform suffering into art
“We do not solve philosophical problems, we get over them.” ~ John Dewey
Being aware is what makes us human. Being aware of the many vicissitudes of life is simply being someone who can be fully present with the way things are in the here and now. It is only by taking our infinite interconnection with the cosmos into account that we can dissolve our ego and transform it into soul.
This delivers thought from its slavery to mortality. It is only by devoting our allegiance to this Infinity that we can prevent the inherent meaninglessness of the universe from turning our lives into a nihilistic joke within which we are the punchline.
It’s all fantastically counter intuitive. It’s all ridiculously absurd. Indeed, the path is excruciatingly painful, which is why most people suffer.
But, like Søren Kierkegaard said, “It is not the path which is the difficulty. It is the difficulty which is the path.”
And the few who have learned how to suffer well have more than likely learned how to turn the difficulty of the path into an art form.
“One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is to teach us how to suffer more successfully.” ~ Alain de Botton
When we can transform our suffering into art, we inadvertently flip the tables on mortality itself. We go from suffering in the absurdity of our mortal condition, to thriving in the providence of our own authentic existence.
We go from being a victim to being a warrior, from being merely mortal to being a creative god, relishing in the ecstasy of being a creature torn between spirit and flesh, between ego and soul; and then having the audacity to reveal the agony/ecstasy of it all through an artistic medium.
Our very lives become a glorious canvas that’s open and hungry for the infinite colors and eternal vibrations of the cosmos to stitch its patterns into. It’s only in hindsight that we realize the difficulty of the path meant everything. And suddenly we’re over it, and Nirvana itself becomes our megaphone.