“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.” ~Unknown
We all hate to suffer, and avoid suffering at all costs. I’ve gone through great lengths to avoid discomfort, pain, and sorrow.
I stayed with the wrong people to avoid the suffering of letting go; I indulged in tasty, fatty snacks to avoid the suffering of not eating them; and I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day to avoid the suffering involved with quitting.
I stayed in bed for longer than I should to avoid the discomfort of waking up when I needed to. I didn’t exercise to avoid the misery of running and doing pull ups, even though being unhealthy causes a lot more pain. And I avoided the aching uncertainty by staying within my comfort zone instead of going into the unknown.
Oh, yes! I’ve avoided hardship in so many ways; however, this constant avoidance of temporary distress led to a postponed agony and never-ending pain.
My life was out of my own control because of this constant avoidance of suffering. I found temporary pleasure in cigarettes, alcohol, sleep, chocolate, procrastination, and T.V. And so I tried to constantly numb myself with these external pacifiers to keep myself from doing and thinking.
I didn’t want to think; I didn’t want to face my inner demons because I knew that would bring an even bigger amount of pain. It was like a Band-Aid that I didn’t want to rip off, and so I was slowly taking it off and putting it back on.
I was miserable most of the time, even while I smoked a cigarette with a glass of wine, but at least they numbed the pain. They made my time endurable but not enjoyable.
I had a never-ending list of things, errands, and problems that needed addressing, but that I kept postponing. Procrastination is the mother of instant gratification and long-term suffering.
My life was far away from what I had hoped for or wished for, and there was no one to blame but myself.
I needed to suffer. I needed to suffer for the right reasons and in the right direction. I needed a temporary amount of suffering so I could have a more durable amount of happiness.
I needed to feel tired and get things done, I needed to crave that chocolate and not eat it, I needed the suffering of nicotine withdrawal, and I needed to look deep inside myself and suffer so I could fix what was broken.
I needed to stop fearing the pain and embrace it as part of the battle to achieve something greater, something better.
Suffering is not bad if you know what your suffering is worth.
I remember when I told a swami, “I don’t know how to quit the things and people who are bad for me, because it causes me pain to let them go.”
He replied, “Yes, it might cause you pain, and so what? You suffer a little bit and you gain so much more in return; you avoid greater suffering in the future from getting lung cancer, becoming an alcoholic, getting treated badly, losing your job, etc. Don’t fear suffering if you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Nothing ever gets done without a little bit of pain.
And this is all right. When I pushed myself to what I thought was my limit, I realized that it is limitless on the other side of pain.
A wise man once told me “Pain is just part of the process of commitment. Nothing ever gets done without a little bit of pain. And when you see the result the pain is gone.”
Change Your Perception About Suffering
Pain, discomfort, and displeasure. They’re negative emotions and feelings we need to avoid, right? Not always. It is this precise perception I had toward suffering that kept me enslaved to many things.
That painful moment when my alarm clock shouted at me to wake up, with my eyes still closed, my head spinning from the glasses of wine I had drank the previous night, my lungs burning from all the cigarettes I had smoked and my heart empty of satisfaction.
For those few hours of fun, five, maybe six hours of “pleasure,” I had to endure sixteen hours of pain, and this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, how could I endure the displeasure of not drinking and partying on a Saturday night? “Who cares about tomorrow?” I would think. This is the clearest example of instant gratification and long-term suffering.
Sometimes we indulge in things that are bad for us only to experience a short amount of pleasure, overlooking the long-term effect.
Enduring short-term suffering can bring on a greater amount of long-term happiness and pleasure. When things get done, when I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and meditate, exercising and fitting into my clothes, freeing myself from abusive people, when I wake up with a clear head and no hangover. And so, suffering becomes pleasurable.
Slowly, with one foot after the other, I push myself to long-term happiness. Sometimes I give a step back but always remembering the sweet pleasure that suffering can bring me if only I decide to ache for the right reasons.
Man on a cloudy night image via Shutterstock