So there I was researching a new script I am writing and something I was doing reminded me about a blog post I was going to write way back in June of 2011 titled Suffering Is Optional.
Now, as it turns out, my title was not original (I hate when that happens!) nor novel. What little I had written, while pithy (I like that word), really didn’t say very much other than: when things go wrong just let the suffering go. Things will always go wrong, but you don’t need to live through the suffering…unless you enjoy it in which case have at it.
There is a book I found on Amazon titled Suffering Is Optional which basically says (from the Amazon page): …pay attention, believe nothing, and don’t take anything personally. Very Zen. Actually the book is about Zen so that shouldn’t be surprising either.
So let’s look at those one at a time.
Pay attention. Hard to argue with that one. “Look out for that bus!…(thump)… Oh, if he had only paid attention…!”
“No he doesn’t.”
“He love you!”
“All sorts of things that don’t exist love me. But I think those are my meds talking…”
“You have an operable tumor that will kill you if we don’t operate!”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes, you do!”
“If I did, I would know about it.”
“I just told you!”
“But I don’t believe you!”
Hmm. Maybe that might not work out so well.
Don’t take anything personally:
“You need to take a bath.”
“Maybe you need to be more tolerant.”
“If you don’t get better at your job you’re going to get fired.”
Hands over ears: “LA LA LA LA LA LA…”
Perhaps we have this all wrong. Perhaps, at least in the United States, we are trying so hard to make life easy that we forget that life is hard. Life was never meant to be easy. At least not for most of humanity (the top 1% are almost a statistical abnormality). Not everyone can be the Alpha otherwise why strive to be an Alpha?
In one of my consulting gigs many years ago (I can’t believe how many years ago), a consultant who shall remain nameless (he was young, full of life and knew how to make money…which I didn’t and wasn’t) told me when he was trying to make arrangement for dinner for his anniversary: “…it’s okay that we can’t get into the restaurant we want or have the things happen that we want. No one remembers the special times where everything went right. People only remember the times where things went wrong.”
Which brings me back to the absurdity of optional suffering. Yes, yes, we do everything we can to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, but how many of us succeed at that? And for how long?
I was heartened by a quote from one of my favorite movies, Little Miss Sunshine. Let me set up the scene: a teenager is talking with his uncle about how much life sucks. They are standing by a large body of water. Take it away Michael Arndt (Frank is the uncle, Dwayne is the teenager):
Y’ever hear of Marcel Proust?
He’s the guy you teach?
Yeah. French writer. Total loser.
Never had a real job. Unrequited
love affairs. Gay. Spent twenty years
writing a book almost no one reads.
But… he was also probably the
greatest writer since Shakespeare.
Anyway, he gets down to the end of
his life, he looks back and he decides
that all the years he suffered —
those were the best years of his
life. Because they made him who he
was. They forced him to think and
grow, and to feel very deeply. And
the years he was happy? Total waste.
Didn’t learn anything.
So let that be a lesson to you from Marcel Proust! Pay attention, believe some things, and take some things personally (just not too many of them and don’t hurt others because of it).
Don’t discount suffering. It is all around us and we should try to minimize it, especially in others, but…learn from it. Think, Grow. Feel deeply. Be happy, but don’t believe for a minute that you can be a complete human being with that one emotional note. Happiness, while overrated, feels great, but suffering makes us who we are.
To be a total human being suffering is required.
[Updated 6/10/12: And just so you don’t think I am being all PollyAnna-ish: yes, suffering stinks. It hurts, it takes us to places we would rather not go and reminds us that we are, after all, only human. The alternative is novacaine. Choose your poison. You won’t be wrong.]
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, recruiter, psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or anyone with professional credentials who might actually speak authoritatively on life, the universe or anything. I’ve just been around a while. The above is for informational purposes only. Make up your own damned mind.