Much of the suffering we feel in life comes from our egos. We all have an ego, and we all need an ego. But our ego relentlessly seeks to possess, control, and get recognition. Everything is always changing, however, and we can never completely possess or control anything. So the needs of our ego are temporarily satisfied at best. And when those needs go unsatisfied, we feel pain. It’s even more painful if we feel like we are failing or losing possessions or control we already have. That pain is needless, however. Even if the situation is serious, we can reduce the pain we feel by remembering not to identify with our egos, to put distance between our awareness and our ego so that we can watch ourselves clearly.
Even if we do this, however, we cannot completely avoid the suffering of life. In the larger sense, life’s suffering encompasses more than physical or mental pain. It includes all the limitations that come from existing in an imperfect physical state in an imperfect world. We have hopes, dreams, and good intentions that often go unrealized. We have moments of happiness and joy, but, like stars that glitter and then fade in the night sky, they don’t last forever. We have loved ones, friends, and other relationships that eventually change or disappear. And we never know when our time will come, or what the next day will bring. This uncertainty of existence is another unavoidable part of life.
This is not meant to suggest that we should avoid joy and happiness in life. Rather, it is simply a matter of acknowledging the universal truth that suffering is inevitable because we are finite, imperfect life forms. It means serenely accepting that suffering is a part of life.
When we taste the bitterness of life, we come to understand it more deeply. Understanding life’s suffering allows you to meet difficulty and challenges with more acceptance and grace. If we realize that life inevitably includes difficulty, we can feel less stressed, even when we experience painful events. We are better able to deal with life’s challenges in a calm, patient, and courageous manner. When good things happen, we are better able to relish those precious events with complete gratitude. We also have greater capacity for compassion and understanding for others who suffer amid life’s pain.
When we accept suffering as a part of life, we become more humble and truthful. Life is nothing more than a succession of painful experiences that are attenuated by flickering moments of happiness. Opening to this awareness is critically important to personal growth and spiritual development, what I think of as the path of Tao.
Those who truly and deeply realize that life is suffering do not remain at that stage. They may think, “Is life truly suffering, and is the essence of life really nothing more than this? Clearly, there must be some way to escape from this suffering.” From this realization, they set out on a continuous journey in search of that something that will relieve their distress. Along the way, they have many of their own realizations. They learn what provides temporary relief and what offers deeper and more satisfying peace. They find their own road to harmony with their inner essence. Approached with an awakened consciousness, the suffering of life can be a spiritual guide more wonderful than any other.
Note: I derived this blog post from one of my older books, Living Tao: Timeless Principles for Everyday Enlightenment, because I thought it was wisdom we needed to have in this time.