Consciousness is suffering. – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Living requires suffering. More accurately, living is suffering. Once we acknowledge this, the suffering gets a little easier. It sounds a bit cliché but to do anything meaningful, we must suffer some. To be free we need to suffer the right way.
The kind of freedom we are sold by the mass market throws us back on our animal instincts, into an enslavement to the instinctual self, or what Freud called the “Id”. We are more than animals, we’re human. Being human requires doing something different from what animals do. All acts of human creation are painful, because they disrupt the status quo, and the instinct to exist at the lowest common denominator of existence. Creative acts are acts of courage and love if done right.
To love at all is to love some things more than others. To truly love anything or anyone, we must prioritize our efforts. We can find freedom and life through suffering for the right things. What I mean by suffering is doing difficult things. To write a book, have a good marriage (I am told), have a good business, run a marathon, become a good dancer, love God, or to learn to play an instrument, we must suffer the pain of both a) discipline and the b) elimination of the ego. We must be willing to hurt a little, and to accept the necessary pain for a new type of ecstasy, better known as joy, a covenant of accountability to something bigger than our immediate self.
Of course, in the pilgrimage of life, most of us are trying to do this the best we can. But when we remember frequently that all true living requires at least some suffering, we can prepare ourselves, steel ourselves, and strengthen ourselves for the difficult road ahead. We won’t be surprised when the challenges come. We can fast to build discipline for weight loss or to beat all sorts of addictions, we can study other heroic people and try to emulate them, we can practice being humble so that we’ll have the courage to try something new ourselves, and we can encourage other people along their path. We can journal or talk to a friend about the problems we face, so we can grow from them. These are just a few examples of preparing.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Roger Scruton, the popular British philosopher. One of the key themes he keeps coming back to is the conflict or duality between the object (material) and subject (conscious being). We know we ourselves are physical, material objects, but we also know that we are subjects, more than material objects, which creates our suffering. This is the essence of the fall.
We are spirits, souls, an “I”, who is conscious and capable of meeting with other accountable subjects, other “I’s” in a transcendent space of free will that can’t be completely described but must be created, negotiated, and experienced together. Like a beautiful painting must be seen and a beautiful symphony must be listened to, our lives are more than just a random occurrence of cells and tissue. A community that nurtures health is like a great work of art in that intentionality and accountability to both ancestors, the living, as well as future generations, meet within the context of a group of people bound together.
We are more than objects, and we must be willing to reach beyond and suffer a little to really live a good life.
This is where we may find beauty, goodness, truth, and neighbors. This is where we may meet God.
“We’re all in the gutters, but some of us are looking at the stars.” –Oscar Wilde
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