Suffering Required

“There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my suffering.” -Dostoevsky

The reality of suffering is the antithesis of modern commercial culture. A quick review of the messages that inundate us daily through television, print, and internet media make one thing abundantly clear:

Pain, heartbreak, work, and struggle do not sell. Comfort, ease, and a life full of rewards, but seemingly devoid of sacrifice, does.  No surprises here. And while this type of media surely loosens our hold on our hard-earned money, there is a deeper and far more innocuous consequence to these messages as they make their way into our consciousness.

Draw your attention to most social media feeds and what do you see?  Vacations.  New jobs.  Proposals. Six-packs, asses, and mimosas paired perfectly with Sunday Brunch.    Despite our best attempts to ignore reality, we cannot avoid our knowledge of the truths lurking below the surface level posts of our friends, colleagues, loved ones…ourselves.  The job offer that never came.  Divorce.  Self-hatred. Addiction.  Loss.  We know that these things are present, always present, but we refuse to acknowledge their existence.

In the age of COVID-19, health services have warned that our overreliance on antibacterial products will inevitably lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of our in-born immune systems. Shielded from exposure to common pathogens, our immune systems atrophy and weaken. Our unrelenting quests for protection, ironically, make us more susceptible to harm. In the same manner, our reluctance to both share and acknowledge the suffering inherent in human life makes us less able to respond to challenges when they do arrive. Our sanitized and protected lives make us unable to respond to life itself.

What is the solution? Should we intentionally subject to ourselves all of the horrors and sufferings of the world? Should we replace the motivational fitness videos and healthy recipes populating our social media feeds with montages or death, poverty and plunder? Of course not. Our path must lay somewhere in between these extremes.

Failure to recognize the realities of life leave us unprepared and caught off guard when challenges inevitably arise. Likewise, being overly focused on difficult images can leave us defeated, pessimistic, and depressed.

We choose to live in reality. We embrace beauty, love, and possibility while recognizing that our existence is at times fragile, trying, and tragic. In holding these two ideas simultaneously, we are driven closer to the things we truly value. We train our bodies harder and approach each day with intention. We develop our minds and steel our spirits-not with an expectation of calamity-but with a healthy respect for the beautiful and violent nature of being. We live in the light, we train for dark and, in this way, we become integrated, whole beings- fully ready for any joy or challenge that may come.

man standing in dark tunnel

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