Most of my days I have some sense of discomfort. It’s either anxiety, anger, fear, stress, or physical pain. What a great way to start today’s article right. To point out that there’s a lot of suffering in my life. I am human too, I am not a saint that is positive and optimistic all the time. Although my brain tries to be this, I am not. I’m just as much a suffering and pain enduring being like you are. Suffering is in most people’s eyes something that should be eradicated or extinguished. It should be pushed down, torn apart, or ignored. We don’t want to suffer. Neither do I.
I’ve suffered from mental stressors all my life and my quest to get rid of these has persisted as they persisted. I never felt like I was done. There was always some new suffering, some new pain that popped up. I sat in meditation for hours, although not as much as a formal monk would. I journaled and wrote about my thoughts a lot, but never had it occurred to me that no matter how much I tried. No matter what I did to get rid of these feelings in some way suffering would always return. It would either be getting angry over a minor thing like spilling some of my coffee over my white desk. Or it could be anxiety for not getting everything done in time.
I wanted to get rid of these feelings and believed that this could be true. I believed that feeling alive, what Today I Lived is all about, could be achieved through healing every pain there is within us. Every piece of trauma, and suffering within me had to be faced and healed. Why? Because we are pain-evading creatures. We don’t want to suffer, which is logical, and therefore we create stories and believe systems for ourselves that one day the suffering will cease. I have looked at gurus, monks, self-development personalities, and many other people who seemed to have broken free from the ever-lasting suffering that is life.
It never occurred to me that they were still suffering. I just filtered it out. Today I was listening to a dutch podcast in which they spoke about the journey of healing. And for the first time, I heard clearly what I had been running away from all this time.
Suffering persists even past enlightenment
The podcast host and her guest spoke about their lives as they are. They have beautiful lives. Enough money to have everything they desire, they have a house, feel happy, feel peaceful, do something they love, have great family and friends, and yet they told the listeners that they still suffered. They still endured the usual human problems like anxiety, stress, fear, social anxiety, and much more. For the very first time, something clicked within me.
These people understood what life was about. They might not be enlightened in the sense that they moved beyond suffering, but they now recognized suffering in themselves without the need to change it. As I realized this I paused the podcast and thought about the past. I thought about the books I read, like Everything is Fucked by Mark Manson, Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, or the Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and as if all puzzle pieces feel together I remembered that all of these writers I adored told me one thing. That suffering is part of life, and that to feel alive we do not get rid of it, yet we embrace it.
That made all the difference. It has been the lie I’ve been telling myself, and the illusion that has been created in the self-help and mindfulness industry. I too have been part of this. I too have pleaded and shared stories of finding happiness and finding inner peace. That we should strive to get let go of feelings. And to be honest there is no one to blame for this. It’s part of the journey. It is through trying to get rid of suffering that we increase the suffering until we no longer take it and start to live with it. Only then will we realize that it was never the suffering that created the discomfort, but our perspective over the suffering that created this. It’s the belief that we can transcend or let go of suffering and pain that creates discomfort. We hold some kind of image in our mind that we have this magical touch that can get rid of all suffering by a snap of our finger. That when the suffering is healed and gone we can start to feel alive.
It is through trying to get rid of suffering that we increase the suffering until we no longer take it and start to live with it. Only then will we realize that it was never the suffering that created the discomfort, but our perspective over the suffering that created this.
This is a lie I’ve told myself, and that you are probably telling yourself as well. By believing that we can only be happy after healing our suffering, we are moving in the same direction as buying stuff to feel good. Only we have replaced things like a car, expensive clothes, or a house for books, seminars, podcasts, videos, and a sort of spirituality. In this way my meditations had become a way of getting rid of suffering, therefore they can’t be seen as meditation anymore. Meditative practice is nothing more than sitting and being completely content with whatever is within you. If we sit down to meditate to feel happy, peaceful, or any other desirable state we will find that we end up with more agitation afterward.
This is how we have come to think about suffering. That we can get rid of it. Whether that be by buying things, or by the need to be healed doesn’t matter. In both cases we are denying the present moment, only hoping for a distant and better future. In which we are constantly happy. This is the state of emotion that we associate with feeling alive. The enthusiastic, happy and excited state of being. Only this isn’t true, and that is a beautiful discovery. Suffering persists, even past awakening and enlightenment.
To be alive means…
So I sat down and thought about what being alive means. I came to one conclusion. It’s everything. Feeling alive, that excitement to be alive is found in everything. I believed that it could only be found after I had healed all my pain, but that would mean that my life right now was a waste. That right now as I am dealing with anxiety I wasn’t feeling alive. Nothing is more true as I realized that no matter what I did, no matter how much I healed myself and moved through minor traumas and self-created suffering, that suffering would persist.
To be alive, to fully indulge yourself in living means that we love the suffering. That there is absolutely no need to get rid of it, heal it, or change it. This has been the biggest illusion I created for myself. I now know that being alive means to suffer, but not in a bad way. I still feel the anxiety within me, it’s there, and it will leave some moment in time. Only I don’t let it determine the quality of my life. I don’t force myself in appreciating life even though I feel this anxiety. Instead, I stop to try and appreciate all the blessings my life gives me and appreciate the feeling of anxiety. I love it, just like I love the sun on my skin or the feeling of joy. I love that anxiety, and this suffering right here. Why? Because it means I am alive.
I am feeling, I am breathing, I am experiencing life as it is. I feel no need to change it, nor the need to be happy. I just experience what life gives me. Isn’t that beautiful? That’s what living is about. It’s about letting go of any need. No need to heal, no need to let go, no need to be happy, no need for anything. I now understand what Lao Tzu meant with
“Therefore the wise man, embracing unity as he does, will become the world’s model. Not pushing himself forward he will become enlightened; not asserting himself he will become distinguished; not boasting of himself he will acquire merit; not approving himself he will endure. For as much as he will not quarrel, the world will not quarrel with him.” ~ Lao Tzu
We feel no desire, no need, no push to be anything else than we want. That’s what being alive is. That’s what we are seeking. Not to be happy all the time, or to heal ourselves. No those are things that happen naturally, we need not do anything for those things. The only thing we are after is non-doing. With that, with the emptiness of not needing to be anything other than you are right now, everything will blossom before your eyes.
I now see the anxiety and smile at it. It’s peaceful within me, yet at the same time stressful. I experience anxiety and do nothing with it. I do not go after it in a desperate attempt to find out its source, nor do I try to let it go. I simply do nothing, letting it peacefully reside within me. That realization has made all the difference in my life.
“Beauty is everywhere” ~ Daan Uijterwaal
Think about it. Contemplate about it. But do not strive to understand it. Do not feel the need to see beauty in anything. If that becomes the goal, the result you are after will be lost. Do nothing but read the quote. Do nothing but read this text. Do nothing but feel what’s happening as you read. Do nothing but be in this moment.
Feel no need to get rid of suffering or to heal your pains. That need is the only reason why you are still not feeling like you are alive. Leaving any desire to feel different out the door allows you to be empty and peaceful with whatever is within you. That’s when you’ll see that beauty is everywhere.