There have been periods in my life where there was only one profound thought in my head that kept repeating itself over and over:
“I have been hurt almost beyond belief!”
I have gone through periods of almost unbearable agony and suffering. I suspect most people do. Nobody I know has gotten a free pass in this damn life.
But geez! I have gone through intense periods of such inner pain, it was like my soul was being permanently branded by the searing heat of it. I could literally feel my soul, my psyche, being warped out of shape by the pressure of it.
“Life is pain,” said the Buddha, and he was not fukking around. Or maybe he was. You don’t really like to think about it; about pain. Just as you don’t really feel like listening to somebody else bitching and whining about their problems, unless its done in a stylish, cathartic way, like “singing the blues”; or the pie-in-the-face suffering of comedy; or a case of somebody failing in a way that makes you feel successful by comparison (gee, I thought I had it bad, but that poor slob); or if you’re a soap opera junkie/tragedy queen who gets off on weeping and wailing for the suffering of the world….. But most other forms of suffering are dreary to think about. And usually we go out of our way to dodge it; to avoid dealing with it. Gimme a handful of codeines and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I’ll out-flank that damn suffering by hook or by crook.
But suffering has a way of exploding all over your soul in a way that demands: “DEAL WITH THIS, MUTHERFUKKER!!”
My Father was a Methodist minister and one of the perennial questions he had to deal with was the suffering of man; i.e. “Why me?” In fact, many of his parishioners came to him specifically in the hopes that he could heal their suffering or, at the least, give them a prescription from the Heavenly Doctor in the Sky.
One night when I was a kid, I remember my Dad getting a late-night phone call from one of his faithful parishioners. By the grave tone of his conversation, I could tell it was “serious.” My Dad kept repeating over and over: “Tsk! It just doesn’t make any sense! Geez!” It turned out the guy’s 18-year-old daughter had just died on the operating table while they were trying to deliver her baby. The guy kept asking my Dad that one unavoidable question:
“WHY WOULD GOD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?”
What can you say? “Gee, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Take two aspirins and call me in the morning….”
I know some people who get very bitter at God for interjecting the suffering bit into what otherwise was a very wonderful blueprint. “I mean, what’s the deal here, God?! I could be sitting here enjoying nectar and manna and lolling around on fields of golden grain for all of Eternity with nubile virgins with large breasts and endless supplies of Old English Malt Liquor. But no! You had to add this damn ‘suffering’ thing to the mix. Mind you, its not that I’m questioning the wisdom of Your over-all plan, Oh Great Lord, and praises be to You and all the rest of it, etc., etc. But geez Louise! What’s the deal with that suffering thing? I mean, plagues, and locusts, and cancer, and painful rectal itch, and bad TV sit-coms. Talk about over-kill. What were You thinking, Big Guy? And another thing: that death thing. I could have lived without that, too”
I know some people who get so warped by the pain of life, they take the attitude: “There is no God! No God in His right mind would create a world as sick as this!” Others get so pizzed, they refuse to believe in God out of spite: “I don’t care if You are the Heavenly Boss! I ain’t getting down on my knees to You! You can’t break me. You’ll never take me alive! Um….”
The Greeks and the Romans sort of had the attitude that the gods play with mortal man for sport. The Hindus take it one step further by maintaining that God Himself is playing all the roles, that you are God, and He really isn’t doing anything to anybody but Himself.
But one thing’s for sure: It’s mostly pain and suffering that drives us to the spiritual path in the first place. “No atheists in fox-holes,” that bit. I know when I’m sailing along in a fat and happy state, the last thing I want to be bothered with is wrestling with the existential issues of Life. It’s only when I’m driven to my knees in absolute despair that I truly start asking the fundamental spiritual questions. It’s not so much that I’m looking for Heaven. It’s more a matter of: “GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL!”
And maybe that’s part of the answer too: “Why suffer?” If life is basically a game. And the game is basically Get Back to God. Suffering is the prime game rule that keeps us from veering too far off course. Suffering snaps us back to attention right quick.
Also, too, to continue with the Cosmic Sport analogy: Take basketball. Sure, you want to win the game. But you also secretly want to lose, too. I mean; imagine if you won every time. That would get boring. Sure, you could design the hoop so its 100-feet around; every time you threw the ball up you’d get it in. Yes! I’m shooting 100%! But how much fun would that be? Secretly, we want to lose half the time. It’s what makes the game work. Secretly, we WANT a game that’s difficult and full of suffering and frustration. We want to be puzzled by it all; otherwise there’s no fun with figuring out the puzzle.
Maybe this all sounds stupid, but that’s the only “meaning of suffering” that I’ve been able to come up with. And now I’m done with this column. You know what they say: “I’ve suffered for my art; now it’s YOUR turn.”